US Foreign Policy and Biden’s Dilemmas in Sudan
Throughout Sudan’s post-colonial era, coups have been common. The last one, which took place on October 25, was the country’s 17th since Sudan gained independence in 1956. Since dissolving the Sovereign Council, the military junta led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has worked to consolidate its power with support from regional actors, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel.
Many Sudanese citizens and organizations are bravely taking to the streets to demand civilian rule and democracy while continuing their civil resistance. Over these past two-and-a-half months, security forces have killed at least 60 protestors. There have also been hundreds of injuries.
One month after the coup, which initially overthrew Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok before subjecting him to about four weeks of house arrest, the military reinstated him as Prime Minister. Nonetheless, many Sudanese citizens recognized that the military was simply using Hamdok to give a civilian face to the coup, rather than to re-empower civilian leadership. Thus, many in the anti-coup resistance, including the National Umma Party and the Forces of Freedom and Change coalition, opposed the Burhan-Hamdok deal.
On January 2, Hamdok resigned. “I tried as much as I could to avoid our country from sliding into disaster,” explained the former Prime Minister amid his resignation speech. “But despite my efforts to achieve the desired and necessary consensus to give citizens security, peace, justice and to stop bloodshed, that did not happen.”
Now it is unclear where Sudan is headed. Perhaps the junta will find another civilian figure to replace Hamdok for the purpose of whitewashing the coup. Time will tell.
“The most important implication of Hamdok’s resignation is the military’s direct role in governing,” Dr. Imad Harb, the Director of Research and Analysis at the Arab Center Washington, DC, told Newslooks. “Hamdok provided the generals with a fig leaf for their control and influence in the country and its institutions. Now, no veneer of deniability. The added problem of this is the military’s feeling that it is cornered by the Sudanese people. If it cannot deliver (and it will not be able to), it will expose itself as incompetent and out of ideas, which, in turn, may make it desperate and go out more in force and attack demonstrations. That will be bloody.”
Indeed, there is good reason to fear that the Sudanese military regime’s crackdown on dissent will become increasingly harsh. “With the departure of Hamdok, the military will likely continue to solidify its authoritarian grasp over the political landscape of Sudan,” Jon Hoffman, a doctoral researcher at George Mason University, told this author. “This has already been demonstrated as the military continues to escalate their repression of peaceful protestors and the media.”
Some experts also warn that the military regime might seek to provoke violence from the pro-democracy movement so that citizens demanding civilian rule can be depicted as insurgents (not peaceful protesters). This could give the junta somewhat of an excuse to escalate its violence.
Implications for US Foreign Policy
As the October 25 coup derailed Sudan’s democratic transition, the Biden administration faces a dilemma. As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden vowed to pursue a foreign policy that promotes human rights and democracy, contrasting himself from Trump who constantly displayed a cavalier attitude toward embracing Arab strongmen like Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman and Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
The White House did react to Sudan’s October 25 coup by freezing USD 700 million in aid. But the Biden administration’s response has been mostly rhetorical. The US leadership has received criticism for failing to hold the junta accountable.
“The Biden administration’s approach, and the approach of Washington’s regional partners, has been to use empty rhetoric calling for a peaceful settlement while tacitly supporting the counterrevolution in Sudan,” said Hoffman. “This represents yet another example of Washington’s flawed approach to the Middle East rooted in the ‘myth of authoritarian stability,’ blatantly contradicting Biden’s claims of a foreign policy rooted in human rights.”
There are many conflicting interests in play which can help explain the Biden administration’s reluctance to apply more pressure on Khartoum. With the Sudanese military being far more likely to keep the country in a normalized relationship with Israel than any civilian wing of the government (which would be more representative of public opinion and less aligned with Abu Dhabi on the Palestinian question), the coup will probably bode positively for Tel Aviv. This factor has contributed to Israeli support for the junta.
Also not lost in the equation are geopolitical dynamics of great power politics. Specifically, there are concerns about US pressure on Sudan pushing Khartoum even closer to China and Russia at the expense of western influence in post-Bashir Sudan.
“The position of the United States is very delicate because it is linked to various assessments: US interests in Africa and the Red Sea; involvement as key broker in the Abraham Accords; security relations with Gulf actors; power competition with China and Russia,” explained Dr. Giuseppe Dentice, an associate research fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Center at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies. “Each one of these issues shows Sudan as a key player in these multiple and interconnected dynamics. That’s why, Washington has shown flexibility towards the context, but little clarity in terms of political response.”
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Newslooks.com