Turkey, Qatar influence weakened by turmoil in Libya, Sudan

Sudan and Libya have become sites of confrontation for geopolitical influence between Saudi Arabia, the UAE on the one hand and Turkey, Qatar on the other.

DUBAI - 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 said.

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, said.

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

Iranian factor

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".

Another key factor in the dispute is the influence of Iran, as Doha has been accused of seeking closer ties with Saudi Arabia's regional arch-rival. 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 Sudan.

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

"Sudan is standing with the kingdom against all threats and attacks from Iran and Huthi militias," Dagalo, widely known as Himeidti, told the crown prince during their meeting, the council said in a statement.

He added that the military council would continue deploying Sudanese troops to support the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.

It was Dagalo's first international trip since Sudan's army generals took power after they backed protesters in ousting Bashir last month. The statement, the council's first major foreign policy announcement, amounted to a continuation of the deposed leader's policy.

Bashir deployed troops to Yemen in 2015 as part of a major foreign policy shift that saw Khartoum break its decades-old ties with Iran.

Hundreds of Sudanese soldiers and officers are fighting in Yemen and have often suffered casualties spurring calls at home for withdrawal.

Sudanese media reports claim that many of the troops deployed in Yemen are from the Rapid Support Force (RSF) paramilitary group, which is headed by Himeidti and is now part of the regular army.


"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.

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. They said the move was aimed shoring up the Sudanese pound.

In recent years Sudan has been hit by an acute lack of dollars, a key factor behind the nationwide protests that first erupted in December and led to the toppling of Bashir.

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 vehemently oppose -- as was the case in Libya in 2011 following the ouster of dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Doha's support for the Muslim Brotherhood -- which Saudi Arabia and its allies blacklist as a "terrorist" organisation -- is one of the reasons 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.

For leaders of the protest movement in Sudan, neither regional camps should play a role in the country.

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

"We are really concerned about the intervention of Gulf countries because they are trying to use our country as their battlefield.

"We want a balanced relation with regional and other countries."

The main protest movement -- encamped outside military headquarters in Khartoum -- has drawn together a wide range of factions, including secular parties, and some are keen to make a break with sharia altogether.

'Diplomatically open up'

Another regional struggle over power is 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 stand accused of militarily supporting Haftar, who is leading an offensive against the UN-recognised government in Tripoli. Haftar, meanwhile, has accused Turkey and Qatar of supplying weapons to his rivals.

Fighting between the two parties has left at least 510 people dead, according to the World Health Organization.

Between "six and 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".

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

Guidere said Doha's influence in both these countries had allowed it to "diplomatically open up" and attempt to counter the isolation imposed by its former allies.

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

According to Bitar, those with the most to lose remain the countries in which these geopolitical rivalries are playing out, as the "Qatar-Saudi proxy wars will only prolong and aggravate" crises.