16.1 C
Frankfurt am Main

[OPINION] Erdoğan might be a threat to Sudan’s military leaders

Must read

Türkmen Terzi

The political turbulence in Sudan following the ousting of Omar Al-Bashir in 2019 by the Sudanese army has seen the country’s dream of transitioning to civilian rule thwarted due to the inability of the political opposition to form a cohesive front against Sudan’s robust military council. Since April 15 a conflict between Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s army chief, and Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, also known as “Hemedti,” the leader of a powerful paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, has plunged Sudan into a deep crisis. The fallout has been disastrous, with over 3,000 lives lost, more than 6,000 people injured and upwards of 2 million displaced from their homes. Amid this chaos Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has become a significant player, closely observing the developments, given its significant investment and historical ties with Sudan.

Sudan, a strategic country in northeastern Africa sharing borders with seven nations and having a long coastline along the bustling Red Sea shipping route, has attracted the interest of numerous international powers, including the US, Russia and China, as well as regional Arab nations such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, all having solid political and economic stakes in the nation. Turkey, a country with deeply rooted historical ties with Sudan, has been keeping an eye on Sudan’s ongoing developments.

Amid the current turmoil in Sudan, Turkey, under President Erdoğan’s leadership, stands as one of the most affected parties. The Turkish president, during a 2017 visit to Khartoum, signed several agreements and announced Turkish investments of close to $650 million. Erdoğan extended an offer to mediate the conflict, inviting the contesting parties to Turkey, a proposition that the generals have so far ignored.

Given widespread allegations of corruption against Erdoğan in Turkey, there has been growing speculation about the line between Turkey’s geopolitical strategies and Erdoğan’s personal interests. If one were to believe the allegations made by a former confidant, Erdoğan is one of the world’s wealthiest leaders, and he takes kickbacks in every kind of lucrative deal that involves the Turkish government and businesspeople. Turkey’s president is known for his tendency to vigorously protect his interests; therefore, it wouldn’t be out of character for him to consider deploying Turkey’s security forces to Sudan, an operation that, given the permanent presence of the Turkish military in Somalia and Libya, would not be particularly shocking.

Unquestionably, following the military overthrow of Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Omer Al-Bashir of Sudan emerged as Erdoğan’s closest ally on the African continent. The political ideologies of Erdoğan and these leaders are rooted in similar Islamist sentiments. The downfall of Morsi was a significant blow to Erdoğan since his Justice and Development Party (AKP) has struggled to establish a productive relationship with Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s administration for a decade.

Despite the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) warrant for Al-Bashir’s arrest due to alleged war crimes in Darfur, he attended the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in İstanbul on Dec. 13, 2017. Mere weeks later, Erdoğan made a historic visit to Khartoum, becoming the first Turkish president to set foot on Sudanese soil. This visit was marked by the signing of numerous strategic agreements in areas ranging from defense cooperation, mining and agriculture to education, tourism and environmental conservation, and even the establishment of a strategic council.

Erdoğan publicly acknowledged Turkey’s investments in Sudan of around $650 million and stated ambitions to increase trade volume, first to $1 billion and eventually to $10 billion. The most striking outcome of his visit was the lease of Sudan’s Red Sea Suakin Island to Turkey for 99 years. Erdoğan expressed an eagerness to revamp old Ottoman buildings and to construct a naval dock on Suakin capable of accommodating both civilian and military vessels. This agreement, suggestive of Ankara’s military aspirations in the Red Sea, unnerved Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations.

Furthermore, Sudan allocated 780,500 hectares of land to private Turkish companies for investment as announced by the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture. In 2018 the Turkish Petroleum Corporation and Sudan’s Ministry of Petroleum and Gas signed a $100 million oil exploration deal, while Summa, a Turkish construction company, secured a contract to build Khartoum’s new airport.

Erdoğan’s primary strategic focus lies in safeguarding the agreements he signed with the now-ousted Bashir. In August 2021 Sudan’s de facto leader, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was invited to Turkey by Erdoğan, resulting in further agreements in the energy, defense, finance and media sectors. However, junta leaders Burhan and Hemedti, the architects of Bashir’s downfall, still recall Erdoğan’s close camaraderie with Bashir and his involvement in their prior arrangements. As a result they opted for Saudi Arabia over Turkey for peace negotiations.

Hemedti, who supplied troops to support the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, maintains robust alliances with the United Arab Emirates and Russia. Amid the current turbulence, Turkey was forced to relocate its embassy from Khartoum to Port Sudan following an attack on the Turkish ambassador’s vehicle. Furthermore, Turkey carried out an evacuation of its citizens from Sudan.

While Erdoğan has yet to directly confront Burhan and Hemedti, he is furious, viewing the coup against Bashir as an affront to Turkish interests in Sudan. Furthermore, Erdoğan has nurtured a strong relationship with Ethiopia, a nation whose use of Nile waters has sparked a dispute with Khartoum and Cairo. In this geopolitical chess game, Ankara seeks to maintain robust ties with both Sudan and Ethiopia as a counterbalance to Egypt’s Sisi government.

The Darfur region, from where Hemedti hails and where the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) has given millions of dollars in aid, is another source of Erdoğan’s discontent. His displeasure is exacerbated by the support the Russian paramilitary Wagner group lends to Hemedti in Darfur. Despite having strong economic relations with Russia, Turkey finds itself at odds with Wagner since the group also backs Erdoğan’s adversary, Khalifa Haftar, in neighboring Libya.

While making efforts to repair Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Egypt-led bloc, Erdoğan continues to enjoy a strong alliance with Qatar, a nation that previously supported the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed in Egypt. With numerous Qatari-Turkish joint investments in Sudan, any threats posed by Sudan’s junta leader to these interests may force Erdoğan, bolstered by substantial financial backing from Doha, to intervene militarily in Sudan, as he previously did in Libya.

Liked it? Take a second to support Turkish Minute on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
More News
Latest News