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article imageTurkey, Qatar risk losing regional influence: analysts

By Claire Gounon (AFP)     May 24, 2019 in Politics

Turkey and Qatar risk losing geopolitical influence due to turmoil in Libya and Sudan, as regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates extend their own reach, analysts say.

Doha, a long-time ally of deposed Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, has silently watched developments unfold in Khartoum following the veteran leader's ouster on April 11.

Talks between Sudan's military rulers and protesters on a transition to civilian rule remain deadlocked.

Bashir, who came to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, had long been able to count on foreign aid from energy-rich Qatar, which -- along with Turkey -- supports Islamist groups, primarily the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Doha has lost influence in Sudan amid the revolution," Andreas Krieg, a professor at King's College London, told AFP.

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's new military council, "has stronger ties to Abu Dhabi than Doha", Krieg said.

Key regional power brokers Saudi Arabia and the UAE have voiced support for the transitional council, while they continue to isolate Qatar for allegedly supporting "terrorists" and seeking closer ties with arch-rival Iran.

Sudan is part of a UAE and Saudi-led military coalition fighting Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen.

Krieg said Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are "trying to cement their personal relationship" with Burhan and "consolidate long-term control" in the country.

Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy chief of Sudan's military council, met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah on Thursday, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

In the council's first major foreign policy announcement since it ousted Bashir, Dagalo vowed to back Saudi Arabia "against all threats and attacks from Iran and Huthi militias", according to a council statement on Friday.

Dagalo also told the crown prince that Sudan would continue sending troops to support the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, the statement said.

- 'Battlefield' -

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have each deposited $250 million (223 million euros) in Sudan's central bank as part of a three-billion dollar support package following Bashir's departure.

The two oil-rich countries oppose any kind of popular uprising in the region that could lead to the rise of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which they blacklist as a "terrorist" organisation.

Doha's support for the Muslim Brotherhood is one reason behind the ongoing diplomatic dispute with Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut all ties with Doha in June 2017 over accusations it supports "terrorists". Qatar denies the allegations.

The struggle between the two blocs has played out across the region, including in Khartoum.

"There is a struggle over power and influence in Sudan between those in favour of the Qatar-Turkey camp and those inclined to join the Saudi-UAE camp," said Mathieu Guidere, a professor at the University of Paris and a specialist in Arab politics.

For leaders of the country's protest movement, Sudan should be left to resolve its own affairs.

"The political change has been brought by Sudanese people and has nothing to do with any other country," a protest movement official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"We are really concerned about the intervention of Gulf countries because they are trying to use our country as their battlefield," the official said, adding that Sudan wants "balanced" ties with countries across the region and beyond.

The protest movement has drawn together a wide range of factions, including secular parties.

- 'Diplomatically open up' -

Fighters loyal to Libya's internationally-recognised Government of National Accord near the fro...
Fighters loyal to Libya's internationally-recognised Government of National Accord near the frontline during clashes against the self styled Libyan National Army
Mahmud TURKIA, AFP

Another struggle is playing out in Libya, where Doha similarly risks losing influence.

While Qatar and Turkey back the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), Saudi Arabia and the UAE support strongman Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

The UAE and Egypt are accused of militarily supporting Haftar, who is leading an offensive against the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.

Haftar has accused Turkey and Qatar of supplying weapons to his rivals.

Fighting since Haftar launched his assault on Tripoli in early April has left at least 510 people dead, according to the World Health Organization.

As many as 10 countries are "permanently interfering in Libya's problem" funnelling arms, cash and military advice to the country, UN envoy Ghassan Salame warned Wednesday.

For Karim Bitar, an expert at France's Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, Sudan and Libya "have become fields of confrontation between rival powers in the Gulf".

The camps are "engaged in a military struggle in Libya" and an "economic and financial" one in Sudan, he said.

Guidere said Saudi Arabia's and the UAE's engagement in Libya and Sudan may "reduce Qatar's influence and aggravate its isolation", he said.

According to Bitar, those with the most to lose remain the countries in which these geopolitical rivalries are playing out.

"Qatar-Saudi proxy wars will only prolong and aggravate" crises, he said.

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