How Omar al-Bashir’s ties to Qatar alienated his allies in his final hours

Sudan's ousted President Omar al-Bashir. (File photo: AFP)

President Omar al-Bashir’s final hours reveal how his close ties with Qatar were a big part of why the ousted president was becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East in the lead up to his downfall.

The night before ousted President Omar al-Bashir was removed from power, Sudan’s intelligence chief Salah Abdallah Gosh had reassured the former leader that the protests outside the Defense Ministry would be crushed, according to a Reuters report.

But when Sudan’s then-leader awoke early on April 11, his palace guards where gone and replaced with army officers who were waiting to take him to the Kobar prison in Khartoum where he remains.

“There was an order from the presidency that night to deal with the protests once and for all using the security apparatus. Members of the Supreme Security Committee in Sudan all unanimously rejected this. We decided it was time to stop the bloodshed and side with the people,” Jalal al-din al-Sheikh, the deputy head of the National Intelligence and Security Service, told Al Arabiya.

At Kobar prison, al-Bashir is awaiting trial for the killings of demonstrators during the anti-regime protests that led to his removal from power.

The lead-up to al-Bashir’s fall

In a documentary titled “Al-Bashir: The final hours”, Al Arabiya spoke to several sources including members of al-Bashir’s immediate family, his office staff, and his closest security advisers. Those sources said that weeks before al-Bashir’s downfall, Gosh had been contacting political prisoners and Sudanese opposition groups to gain their support to remove al-Bashir.

Three days after Al Arabiya aired the documentary, a Reuters report confirmed the account of al-Bashir’s final days in power. The Reuters report spoke to several sources, including an unnamed former government minister and a member of the coup. They described al-Bashir as a skilled manipulator who was able to control rival extremist and military factions within Sudan, but also said that he was becoming increasingly isolated regionally and internationally.

His reluctance to eliminate extremist influence in Sudan and join Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt in severing ties with Qatar because of its support for terrorism compelled opposition leaders to devise a plan to remove him from power.

An opposition leader told Reuters that in early January, Gosh began visiting political prisoners to ask them to support plans for a new political order in Sudan.

Gosh continued to meet with senior Sudanese officials – including the defense minister and the army’s chief of staff – to plan when to remove al-Bashir from power and prevent Qatar and its allies from exerting its power in Sudan.

“If the army was planning to interfere, I said I would’ve been the first to welcome them,” al-Tayeb Mustafa, al-Bashir’s uncle, told Al Arabiya. “We knew that we wanted a peaceful transition rather than jumping into an abyss,” he added.

Relationship with Qatar

Al-Bashir had long considered Iran and Qatar close allies. However, in 2014 he began to respond to the UAE’s moves to counter extremist groups in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2014, Sudanese authorities ordered the closure of Iranian cultural centre in the capital Khartoum.

From 2014 until the Qatar boycott in the summer of 2017, Al-Bashir sought closer ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

In February 2017, al-Bashir met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss plans to counter extremism in the region. According to Reuters, between March 2017 and March 2018, the UAE donated $7.6 billion in aid to Sudan’s central bank through the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development and private investments. According to a Reuters report, al-Bashir had promised the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince that he would reject the influence of extremists.

However, al-Bashir refused to join Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt in severing ties with Qatar in June 2017 for threatening stability and security in the region, undermining their sovereignty, and embracing various terrorist and sectarian groups.
Under the influence of extremist allies, al-Bashir maintained his relationship with Qatar, and in March 2018 the two countries announced plans to jointly develop the Red Sea port of Suakin off Sudan’s coast.

That same month, the Eritrean government released a statement accusing Qatar of funding extremist groups in Sudan.

“Followers of the radical Islamic Cleric, Mohammed Jumma, opened an office, under extreme secrecy, in a secluded area to organize political and military activities as well as to train their members. Funding of their activities is provided by the Embassy of Qatar in Khartoum. Training and other logistical functions are managed by the Sudanese Security and Intelligence Service,” the statement read.

In what was his first trip abroad since the anti-government demonstrations broke out, al-Bashir arrived in Qatar in January 2019 to discuss “bilateral relations,” SUNA, Sudan’s state news agency, reported.

The Sudanese leader then met with senior officials in Qatar, including its ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the official news agencies in both countries said.

A new government

Following al-Bashir’s removal from power, Sudanese authorities cut ties with Qatar in a long-awaited move by opposition leaders.
When a Qatari delegation headed by Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani traveled to Sudan in April 2019, Sudanese authorities refused to receive it, a source confirmed to Al Arabiya.

The Qatari delegation then left the Sudanese capital and returned to Doha.

The Sudanese source told Al Arabiya and Al Hadath that the Qatari delegation was refused because diplomatic protocols were not followed.

On April 21, the UAE and Saudi Arabia announced they would deliver $3 billion worth of aid to Sudan.

The two Gulf countries shared their support for the continuation of dialogue in Sudan as different parties sought to reach an agreement.

After Sudan’s military junta and civilian protest leaders concluded a power-sharing deal, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash congratulated Khartoum on July 5 and said it would stand with the new government in “good times and bad times.”

Saudi Arabia also confirmed its support for the power-sharing deal on July 5, according to the Saudi Press Agency, and expressed hope that the deal would start a new phase of security and stability in Sudan.

On July 4, the Associated Press reported that the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which spearheaded the protests, said on its Facebook page: “Today, our revolution has won and our victory shines.”
 

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:59 - GMT 06:59
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