While a majority of Sudanese support the Palestinian cause, the normalization of relations with the Jewish state, initiated under pressure from Washington, has become a subject of political confrontation.
“There is no sign of normalization with Israel, and there are no talks, at any official level. »Scathing, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi did not mince words in her daily interview The National, end of September. Asked about the premises of a normalization of diplomatic relations between Khartoum and Tel Aviv, this figurehead of the Sudanese political scene – she is the daughter of the former prime minister turned opponent Sadiq al-Mahdi, founder of the Umma National Party – showed his firmness on the subject.
Admittedly, the Sovereign Council, the interim government that has ruled the country since 2019, canceled last April a law dating from 1958 instituting the boycott of the Hebrew state. But that “does not mean that we are considering opening an Israeli embassy in Khartoum,” insisted the minister. He added: “Any decision in this regard should be taken by the transitional parliament”.
At the beginning of October, however, a very discreet delegation made up of Sudanese soldiers did make the trip to Israel. At its head, Abdul Rahim Hamdan Dagalo, deputy commander of the Rapid Support Forces, who is none other than the brother of the powerful Lieutenant-General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, known as “Hemetti”, vice-president of the Sovereign Council. For two days, the officers – including Lt. Gen. Mirghani Idris Suleiman, who heads the state’s defense industry systems – met with Israeli officials. If no information has filtered, both on the personalities met by the delegation and on the exact content of its mission, this secret visit has caused a controversy in Sudan.
At the top of the state, two camps oppose head-on on the subject. On the one hand, civilians, led by Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, stand against any prospect of rapprochement with Israel. On the other, the president of the Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane, and the soldiers who sit there, much more inclined to a diplomatic – and security – rapprochement with the Hebrew state.
At the top of the state, civilians and the military clash head-on on the subject
In a country where most of the public opinion is for the Palestinian cause, “civilians can hope to mobilize support among the population, even as they are engaged in a competition for power with the military”, analyzes Jérôme Tubiana, researcher specializing in Sudan. “The cost of too big a step forward in warming relations with Israel would be too high politically,” he assures us. Last April, when tensions escalated again in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, the Sudanese street sided with the Palestinians. The Arab Socialist Bath Party, which previously belonged to the ruling coalition, then demanded the outright suspension of the normalization process initiated by the transitional authorities.
On the contrary, for the military, “the main concern is to stay in power, and they see security cooperation with Israel as a form of insurance,” explains Marc Lavergne, researcher at the CNRS.
Under pressure from Washington
The lines of fracture are not, however, so clear: within the Sovereign Council, some civilians have aligned themselves with the position of the military. If Mariam Saddiq al-Mahdi has repeatedly proclaimed that no progress will be made without the approval of parliament, this position is contested by the Minister of Justice, Nasr Al-Din Al Bari. On the sidelines of a visit to the United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, October 13, the latter even officially met the Israeli Minister for Regional Cooperation, Issawi Frej. Almost immediate response from the Minister of Foreign Affairs: in a press release, she distances herself from her colleague and ensures that her services have not engaged in any formal discussion with the Hebrew state.
The agreement to normalize relations with Israel, signed by Sudan on January 7 under the aegis of the United States, has not yet materialized. “The official resumption of relations with Israel is an American initiative and not a Sudanese one,” insists Marc Lavergne. Khartoum has certainly affixed its initials but is moving slowly, and under strong pressure: Washington in fact conditions the withdrawal of Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism and the release of a billion dollar loan. to this standardization.