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Sudanese's embattled ruler wins support from rivalling autocrats as anti-government protests rage



Autocrats, even those at odds with each other, have come to the aid of the Sudanese Republic's embattled ruler, Omar al-Bashir, after a month and a half of continuing anti-government protests sparked by a hike in bread prices, and decades of corruption and repression.

The United Arab Emirates, which bankrolled the 2013 counter-revolution in Egypt and has backed dictators across Middle East, has donated $ 300m (£ 228m) in loans and more than 1,12 million tons of fuel to shore up the regime Bashir.

Analysing travel documents, Ukraine's security service announced Last week that Russia has been deploying officers of its GRU military intelligence agency to Sudan, while activists have accused mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked Wagner contractor of involvement in the crackdown.

In recent days Mr. Bashir visited Qatar and Egypt, and is expected to travel to Kuwait, winning offers of diplomatic and financial support for his 30-year-rule. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as Russia, have offered diplomatic and financial support to the regime, which is being challenged by peaceful demonstrators, echoing the aspirational democracies of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and demanding that Mr Bashir step down.

More anti-government demonstrations were expected across Sudan on Tuesday afternoon, scheduled for Khartoum and other cities. The day has been dubbed the "march of the martyrs", marking the 14th anniversary of the massacre of protesters in Port Sudan

Sudanese men shout slogans during an anti-government protest on January 18 (AFP / Getty Images)

Speaking alongside Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during a visit to Cairo on Sunday Mr Bashir was defying, blaming unnamed parties, the press and social media for destabilizing his country.

"We do not claim there is no problem, but it is not of the size or dimensions that some of the media portray," he was quoted saying: "This is an attempt to copy the Arab Spring in Sudan. These are the same slogans and appeals and the very wide use of social media sites. "

Sudan has had a complicated relationship with regional leaders, and was for many years allied with Iran. But in recent years it has improved ties with Saudi Arabia, especially after dispatching military personnel to help in the effort against Yemen.

"Arab leaders are not sure what they would like to see in Sudan but what they would not like to see is anarchy on their doorstep," said Ahmed Soliman, a specialist in Sudan and the horn of Africa, at Chatham House.

"They're more comfortable with a military regime than with the uncertainty of what would come next in any transitional period in Sudan."

Demonstrators march at an anti-government rally in Khartoum (Reuters)

Many democracy advocates had hoped the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings would weaken the region's ossified political class and inject some measure of pluralism into political systems dominated during the latter half of the 20th century by dictators and monarchs.

But the widespread support for Mr. Bashir is the latest sign that the informal brotherhood of Middle East's autocratic and hereditary rulers was battening down the hatches against any democratic movement. Rulers appear keenly aware that the original Arab Spring uprisings were inspired by a month-long uprising that felled the leader of Tunisia, which like Sudan rests on the political and geographical periphery of the Arab world, and are determined to prevent a repeat.

The widespread regional show of support for Mr. Bashir comes despite criss-crossing layers of hostility across the Middle East. Egypt and Sudan remain at odds over usage of the Nile River. Turkey and Qatar constitute an informal axis on the opposite of a number of regional issues to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Russia is mistrusted, although courted by all countries of the region.

"It's a reflection of Sudan trying to balance regional alliances at a time of heightened regional tensions," said Mr. Soliman. "It shows that Bashir has been adept at balancing those relationships when it's become difficult to do."

Qatar, which last year signed a $ 4bn deal for the Red Sea port in Sudan's Suakin, hosted Mr. Bashir last week, granting him a meeting with the ruling Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, where the two discussed "the current economic crisis Experienced by Sudan and Sudan's efforts to get out of the crisis, and the role of brothers in general, and Qatar in particular, to help Sudan, "according to Al-Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed, the Foreign Minister of Sudan.

Saudi Arabia has also offered an unspecified amount of cash. Saudi ministry of commerce and investment, Majid Al-Qasabi, traveled to Khartoum last week to publicly assure that Riyadh "would not hesitate in supporting Sudan at any time."

Sudan was stripped of much of its oil wealth when the Republic of South Sudan seceded in 2011 after a decade-long civil war.

Russia and Turkey have offered assistance that includes fuel and wheat. Reuters reported Sudan's oil minister Azhari Abdel Qader said, in reference to the Russian and Turkish assistance: "We accepted it as a normal matter between friendly countries in light of the current circumstances that Sudan is going through."


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