The April 11 military coup that ousted Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir after 30 years of Islamist rule seems to have the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan extremely worried. Pictured: Omar al-Bashir. (Photo by Omar Rashidi/PPO via Getty Images)
The April 11 military coup that ousted Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir after 30 years of Islamist rule seems to have the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan extremely worried.
The Turkish government, in its attempts to prop up Bashir's ailing government, had invested heavily in Sudan. The ouster of Bashir, after months-long protests, has thrown the cooperation between the Turkish and Sudanese regimes in intelligence, economics and military, among other matters, into uncertainty.
Although Turkey is a member of NATO with long-standing aspirations to become part of the European Union -- while Bashir came to power in 1989 by overthrowing Sudan's democratically elected government and was later indicted by the International Criminal Court as a war criminal -- Erdoğan and his loyalists are blaming the United States, Israel and other "global powers" for toppling their ally.
Turkish newspapers aligned with Erdoğan are even claiming that Bashir's ouster was indirectly aimed at Ankara. The reason for this false accusation is that Sudan -- which borders Egypt and Libya, and is close to Saudi Arabia -- has held both strategic and political significance for Turkey. Erdogan's close ties to Bashir appear to have had the goal of expanding Turkey's economic and military influence in Africa as well as in the Gulf. After the ouster of Bashir, however, all of Turkey's endeavors in Sudan, including a key Turkish strategic project on the Red Sea, could now be in jeopardy -- bad news for a Turkish government that already facing serious economic problems.
Bashir, subject to a warrant by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes, and other atrocities, visited Turkey at least twice, in 2009 and 2017, to attend meetings of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation; Turkey, for its part, during the past decade, entered into dozens of bilateral agreements with the Bashir regime.
One agreement, signed in May 2011, created a comprehensive roadmap for military cooperation between the two countries. Six years later, when Erdoğan became the first-ever Turkish president to visit Sudan, the two leaders signed 22 additional agreements.
Erdoğan delivered speeches at the Sudanese parliament and the University of Khartoum, and was awarded an honorary doctorate. During his acceptance address, Erdoğan, referring to Bashir as his "dear brother" and his regime as Sudan's "commonsensical administration," went on to accuse the West of "turning a blind eye" to Israel's supposed "state terrorism and persecution of Palestinian children."
"There is not a single value or a principle they [the Western world] would not stamp on for money and for their interests... The riches of Sudan are being exploited by the West," he said.
The pro-government newspaper Sabah reported that "Erdoğan's Sudan visit was... part of a larger political and economic drive to increase Turkey's ties with the [African] continent."
During the same visit, Bashir granted Erdoğan the use, near Egypt and Saudi Arabia, of Suakin Island, a Sudanese port city in the Red Sea conquered in the 16th century by Ottoman Turks, who ruled it for the next 300 years. Erdoğan responded by saying that the island "would be restored in line with its original form."
The Turkish press reported that Ankara was preparing to build a "military base" on the island, which would turn it into the "second Turkish eye in the Mediterranean after Cyprus."
Meanwhile, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency has already restored a number of Suakin's Ottoman-era artifacts and mosques, while the Turkish Foreign Ministry denies reports that Bashir's ouster means the end of Turkey's use of the island.
In addition, according to the Turkish financial newspaper, Dünya, billion-dollar business deals -- including Turkey's investment in a new airport in Khartoum, as well as in the fields of agriculture, textiles, and oil -- could also be in jeopardy.
Turkey was one of the few countries that had amicable relations with the Bashir regime. Both states shared sympathies for the Muslim Brotherhood. Bashir belonged to the Islamic Movement, which then became the main component of Sudan's ruling party, and was seen as Sudan's equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood. His political affiliations, as listed by the Sudanese Tribune, were with the Muslim Brotherhood, the National Islamic Front and the National Congress Party.
As Erdogan's government is also a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, the ideological cooperation between Turkey and Sudan is at risk as well. It remains to be seen whether the future Sudanese government will be involved with any form of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Erdoğan's government must therefore be nervously observing what has emerged as a violent aftermath of the coup. On June 3, clashes between the interim Transitional Military Council government and civil opposition groups led to the killing of at least 100 protesters. A disagreement between the military and oppositionists appears to be over a draft of the new civil constitution that omits rule by Sharia (Islamic) law. Ironically, the military that overthrew the Islamist Bashir insists that Sudan be governed by Sharia.
Ironically, Erdoğan -- who has prosecuted tens of thousands of political opponents and jailed more journalists than any other world leader -- has urged Sudan to employ a "normal democratic process" and overcome its upheaval peacefully, through "national conciliation."
The ouster of Bashir means that Erdoğan, a close ally of the Sudanese dictator, has lost his major backer in northeast Africa. How the transitional government will treat the existing agreements with Erdoğan's Turkey remains to be seen.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.