By shifting its foreign policy orientation from Iran to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies (and by extension the United States) over the past two years, Sudan had hoped to boost its long-sagging economy. However, despite the easing of U.S. sanctions in 2017, the country's economic problems and its instability continue to heap pressure on the government in the capital of Khartoum.
Protests against the government of President Omar al Bashir have been withering since escalating on Dec. 19. The country's long-running economic stagnation is driving the latest cycle of unrest, which has been worsened by a plunge in the value of the Sudanese pound and by the doubling and tripling of the price of basic goods, including bread. The government in Khartoum is scrambling to find a way out of the deepening malaise. Even though al Bashir has weathered similar crises before, these protests do threaten his hold on the presidency. Should the battle-scarred president go down — which remains a big "if" — the country's stability would be shaky until a new political order could emerge. That unpredictability would complicate Khartoum's relations with its neighbors and its allies in the Gulf and elsewhere. And the violent protests and declining economy would make it even harder for businesses to operate in the North African country.
Why It Matters
The current resistance to al Bashir's 30-year rule could have a serious impact on Sudan. The wily leader is maneuvering toward re-election in 2020, but some reports note that the political opposition, including some of al Bashir's former allies, has called for his resignation to pave the way for a democratic transition. Thus far, the United States, which has welcomed Sudan's recent rejection of erstwhile ally Iran and ended some sanctions on Khartoum, has remained quiet on al Bashir's bid for another term. Should protests and heavy-handed security crackdowns persist, Washington may be forced to weigh in on the matter. In addition, al Bashir is desperately seeking financial assistance from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others. Given that Sudan provides troops to the pro-government coalition in the Yemen conflict, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi may help out their struggling ally.
What to Watch for
Even though protests continue to rage, Sudan's security forces appear to be unwavering in their loyalty to al Bashir and his government. Two upcoming events will provide clues to the country's future stability. A march to the presidential palace in Khartoum is planned for Jan. 6, and three days later the opposition is set to march to the National Assembly in Omdurman to hand over a letter demanding the resignation of parliament. Defections from crucial state bodies could follow these heated events. In addition, al Bashir could hemorrhage support in his ruling National Congress Party. But a surge in investment money from his allies could help ease the crisis. Even if his allies come through, al Bashir can no longer expect an easy road to re-election in 2020. The current protests have taken the shine off that prospect.