Laying their strategy on the table to play a major role in Sudan after long-time regime leader Omar Bashir was overthrown, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are announcing major investments in the country. The latest plan is for $3 billion in aid to be sent to Sudan, including a $500m. investment to the central bank, according to The National in the UAE.
The report notes that Sudan's economy has suffered in recent years and that the price of bread and basic food is rising. "The country has been hit by an acute lack of foreign currency, which became a key factor behind the nationwide protests that led to the removal of the president Omar al-Bashir by the army this month."
Sudan's future is very much in flux now after months of protests culminated not only in the military seizing power, but then in a rapid second change in power as Lt.-Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan came to power and Defense Minister Awad Ibn Auf left office after just days in the chair. The turnover leaves a lack of clarity about what may come next. Will the military entrench or will the protests continue and civilian rule or will elections eventually result?
Sudan is in the middle of a contest for influence in the Horn of Africa between Turkey and Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE on the other. Although this simple binary of two alliances of states plays out in a more complex manner on the ground, the reality of the dispute can be seen in media in Ankara, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
While the UAE and Saudi media seem hopeful about Sudan, Turkey and Qatar are more concerned. This is because Turkey was a close ally of Bashir's regime, and had hoped for major investments, including using an island in Sudan, in the coming years. But as the military vows to hand power to civilian rule, Qatar and Turkey must tread carefully because they do not want to seem to be opposed to civilians having a say. They hope to find favor with local Sudanese and hope that their prior role with Bashir, who was feted by diplomats in both countries, will be forgotten.
In each case the role of pro-government media in Turkey, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia help broadcast the view of the various governments towards Sudan. As such, the decision by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to invest heavily is an important sign of support for the new government. Therefore Al-Jazeera in Qatar does not report about the aid coming from Saudi Arabia, which is Qatar's regional rival, but instead focuses on the opposition complaints in Sudan against the military's rule.
It is hard not to see Sudan partly as a pawn now in these games of greater middle eastern powers whose governments and media – often controlled or influenced by the states – convey messages about Sudan that may have no resemblance to what is going on in the country itself and largely ignores the average person in order to use them to support one side or another.
Seth Frantzman is The Jerusalem Post's op-ed editor, a Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.