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Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Middle East Press on Saudi Era, Charlie Hebdo and Al-Aqsa: New Age Islam's Selection, 22 September 2020
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
22 September 2020
•The End of The Saudi Era
By Marwan Bishara
•Al-Azhar Keeps Up Campaign Against Charlie Hebdo
By A Correspondent In Egypt
•Israel Installs More Loudspeakers at Al-Aqsa Mosque
By Ahmad Melhem
•Trump Administration Leveraged Terror Designation to Push Sudan To Recognize Israel
By Jared Szuba
The End of The Saudi Era
By Marwan Bishara
As we approach the second anniversary of the state-sponsored assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia continues its retreat, losing direction and influence in the Gulf and Middle East regions.
More than 50 years after the Saudi kingdom began its rise to regional and international prominence as the leading member of OPEC and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), it now finds itself on a path of steady decline.
Home to Islam's holiest sites and to the world's second-largest oil reserves, Saudi Arabia's misguided policies are wasting the religious and financial clout it has accumulated over the years.
The past five years have been especially painful and destructive. What began as a promising and ambitious drive by the rather Machiavellian Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), soon turned into a reckless venture.
Guided primarily by his mentor, the other Machiavellian prince, Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), MBS is running the kingdom to the ground.
Paradoxically, nothing testifies to the decline of Saudi Arabia more than the abrupt rise of its junior partner as a bellicose regional power, interfering in Libya and Tunisia and supporting dictators and war criminals, like Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Syria's Bashar al-Assad.
With Riyadh paralysed by mostly self-inflicted blows, Abu Dhabi is recklessly dashing forward and dragging Saudi Arabia with it.
This is also evident in MBS's support for MBZ's gambit to link Gulf security to Israel's as a way to safeguard their rule and regional influence.
It is an astounding reversal of roles, considering Saudi Arabia began its rise to regional and global prominence in the late 1960s, before the UAE had even come into existence.
The early rise of Saudi Arabia can be traced to the fall of Egypt's pan-Arab project after the disastrous 1967 war, and the subsequent death of its leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970.
Already a leading member of OPEC, Saudi Arabia organised the first meeting of the OIC in 1970 to magnify its influence beyond the Arab League, which was dominated at the time by the secular, Soviet-friendly regimes - especially Egypt, Iraq and Syria.
The windfall from the oil boom after the OPEC boycott following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war further enriched Saudi Arabia and financed its petrodollar diplomacy and influence.
Egypt's decision to sign a peace treaty with Israel at the end of the decade all but assured the kingdom's regional rise.
The 1978 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran elevated Riyadh into an indispensable strategic ally for the United States in the Muslim world.
Saudi regional standing was strengthened further in the 1980s with Iraq and Iran drained by a destructive eight-year war, and Syria and Israel sucked into the Lebanese quagmire following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
The Saudi-US alliance reached a new height during the 1980s, as Riyadh supported the US against the Soviet Union and its clients, notably through their successful covert assistance for the Afghan Mujahideen which ended in Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan by 1989, but also paved the way for the 9/11 attacks more than a decade later.
All attempts by the likes of Iraq's Saddam Hussein to regain the regional initiative ended in disaster. America's decisive victory in the Cold War after the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc and the Gulf War, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and its pursuit of a double containment policy towards both Iran and Iraq, further improved Riyadh's regional and international positions.
In 1991, a triumphant America convened the first international Arab-Israeli "peace conference" in Madrid. Saudi Arabia was invited, while the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formally excluded.
In short, Arab failure has somehow led to Saudi success, whether by default or by design.
The Saudi-American honeymoon came to an abrupt end in 2001 with al-Qaeda's 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. Riyadh may have expelled Osama bin Laden, the Saudi leader of al-Qaeda, a decade earlier, but 15 of the 19 hijackers were nonetheless Saudi nationals.
Then, once again, Riyadh was saved by circumstance, or by another American folly. The Bush administration's decision to extend the so-called "war on terror" beyond Afghanistan made Saudi an indispensable ally yet again.
In April 2002, President George W Bush received the de facto Saudi leader, Crown Prince Abdullah, at his own private Texas ranch, considered a privilege to any foreign leader. A month earlier, Abdullah was instrumental in getting the Arab League to adopt his concocted "peace initiative" that basically committed it to the land for peace formula in negotiations with Israel.
A year later, the complicit Saudi regime looked on as the US invaded Iraq under false pretences, leaving the country destroyed and the US treasury exhausted by years of war and occupation.
From then on, Saudi Arabia's luck began to run out.
Saudi Arabia became increasingly vulnerable as its exhausted patron, the US, began to turn its back on the region in the 2010s under the Obama administration.
The US became the world's leading oil producer thanks to the shale revolution, and hence less interested in Saudi or Gulf security.
It also became less inclined to intervene militarily on behalf of its rich clients, just when Iran's influence began to grow at the expense of Iraq.
And if that was not enough, the US and Iran signed an international nuclear deal in 2015, paving the way for lifting the international sanctions, emboldening the Islamic Republic and enhancing its standing, to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, the outbreak of the Arab uprisings across the region starting in 2011 put the Saudi kingdom and its satellite authoritarian states on alert.
The Obama administration's initial support for democratic reform and regime change further complicated matters for the Saudis.
Utterly frantic and exposed, the Saudi monarchy went on the offensive after the death of King Abdullah, under the new leadership of King Salman and his ambitious son, Mohammed, who was appointed the new defence minister.
Making Saudi Arabia Great Again
Guided by his Emirati mentor Bin Zayed, MBS wasted no time to start a war in Yemen on the pretext of taking on the rebellious Houthis, considered allies of Tehran.
He promised victory in weeks, but the war has dragged on for years, with no end in sight.
In June 2017, MBS and MBZ manufactured a crisis with neighbouring Qatar on the fake pretences of countering "terrorism" and foreign interference in order to impose a new pliant regime that would abide by their dictates.
However, the Trump administration reversed its initial support for the planned coup and what was meant to be a quick win has caused a major fracture in Gulf unity which will not be easy to mend.
In November 2017, MBS lured the prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri - a dual Lebanese-Saudi national - to Riyadh, forcing him to condemn his coalition partner, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, and submit his resignation on live Saudi television.
This move also backfired causing international outrage and making the Saudi regime look even more foolish.
Despite the scandalous blunders, MBS rose through the ranks with every failure, becoming crown prince in 2017. Soon after, he took over all the pillars of power and business in the kingdom, purging princes and government officials through abrupt incarceration, humiliation and even torture.
From then on, the repression continued unabated against all opposition figures, including former officials, religious figures, academics, journalists and human rights activists, reaching a new climax with the horrific assassination and dismemberment of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
Thus, just a few years after King Salman took power and set his young son on the path to the throne, Saudi Arabia has come to be known for brutal violence and recklessness rather than its generous charity and pragmatic diplomacy. In the public eye, the country has come to be represented not by the symbol of the Red Crescent, but the image of a bloody bone saw.
MBS's brash adventures may have strengthened his grip on power, but they have terribly weakened the kingdom.
Despite hundreds of billions of Saudi arms purchases, the five-year war on Yemen - the worst humanitarian disaster in recent years - continues unabated.
Worse still, the blowback from the war is now felt in Saudi Arabia proper as the Yemeni Houthis have escalated their missile attacks on the kingdom.
Once a major Saudi achievement, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is now utterly paralysed because of MBS's short-sighted policies.
The kingdom that once prided itself on being a pillar of regional pragmatism and stability has become a belligerent and destabilising force.
Instead of embarking on major political reforms to pave the way for economic transformation, the young inexperienced MBS followed in the footsteps of the UAE, but without its tactfulness, turning the country into a repressive police state with the trappings of social liberalisation.
But as the consumer drive wore off and the entertainment circus of professional wrestling and pop concerts faded away, the kingdom was left with budget deficits and domestic discontent.
The initial optimism and excitement about greater social mobility and empowerment of women soon gave way to pessimism and despair, as Saudi economic reform and multibillion-dollar megaprojects stalled, while youth unemployment remains at a high 29 percent.
The Saudi kingdom is in disarray, its regime utterly disoriented and disrespected throughout the region and beyond.
Unable to deal with the failures or to meet the challenges ahead amid rising tensions with Iran and Turkey, MBS is desperate. He may try for a comeback during the upcoming G20 summit hosted by Riyadh, but that will prove too little too late.
The growing likelihood of his American patron, Donald Trump, losing the US elections in November, has left him high and dry.
Israel As A Last Refuge
Instead of reversing his destructive policies, ending the war in Yemen, reconciling with Qatar and strengthening Gulf and Arab unity to neutralise Iran, the Saudi crown prince has been cementing the covert alliance with Israel to pave the way towards full normalisation with the occupier of Arab lands.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, MBS has encouraged the UAE and Bahrain to normalise ties with Israel as a prelude to imminent Saudi normalisation, but without the consent of his father. King Salman is reportedly adamant that Saudi Arabia normalises relations with Israel only after the emergence of a Palestinian state.
Regardless of whether this is true, or merely father and son playing "good cop, bad cop" with the Palestinian cause, a diplomatic and strategic rapprochement with Israel may prove to be the straw that broke the camel's back.
Not only is it far-fetched for Israel to get involved in Gulf regional security, which is already saturated with American, French, and other world powers' involvement, but it is also unlikely, not to say unthinkable, for the "Jewish State" to sacrifice its soldiers in defence of Gulf monarchies.
And whatever Israel could offer in terms of know-how, technology, and arms, is already on offer at a discounted rate by world powers.
Yes, Israel may be trigger happy and eager to join the Saudi-Emirati "anti-democratic league", but this will prove counterproductive, considering the degree of Arab revulsion it may provoke.
After a decades-long occupation and oppression of the Palestinians, Israel remains the enemy for most people in the region, with an absolute majority of Arabs seeing it as a threat to regional security and stability.
But MBS, like MBZ, is mostly hedging his bets in anticipation of a likely Trump defeat that is certain to leave him isolated or even shunned by a Joe Biden administration.
And yes, Israel may be able to help the discredited Saudi regime in Washington, and more specifically in the US Congress, but that will come at a high price, including Saudi total acquiescence to both American and Israeli hegemony.
In other words, MBS's gamble on Israel may prove as foolish as his other gambles because it will prove more of a burden than an asset to the kingdom.
If the US and Trump himself could not save MBS's Saudi Arabia from imminent decline, you can be sure Israel will not be able to, either.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
It seems that the repercussions of the angry Islamic reactions to derogatory cartoons of Prophet Muhammad recently republished by French magazine Charlie Hebdo are far from over.
Egypt's El-Nabaa newspaper published Sept. 13 a report released by the Foreign Missions' Department under Al-Azhar Sheikhdom stating that several European countries have refused a request from the department to open Al-Azhar offices on their territories to welcome more Al-Azhar missionaries in those countries.
According to the report, the Foreign Missions’ Department linked the rejection of the request to the media campaign that Al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb launched against Charlie Hebdo because of the republication of several caricatures deemed offensive to Prophet Muhammad.
Tayeb had issued a statement released in Arabic, English and French Sept. 3, stating that insulting the prophet is a breakdown of all humanitarian and civilized values.
Several regional newspapers and observers believe Tayeb’s statement openly criticized French President Emmanuel Macron, as it said “justifying such insult under the pretext of protecting freedom of expression is a misunderstanding of the difference between the human right to freedom and the crime against humanity under the plea of protecting freedom.”
In a press conference Sept. 1, Macron announced that he will not forbid or condemn the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad and justified that by saying France is a state that “enjoys freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of the press. It is not the president’s business at all to judge the editorial choices of a journalist or newsroom.”
The satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine on Sept. 2 began republishing the controversial caricatures of Prophet Muhammad with the beginning of the trial of al-Qaeda-affiliated members who were involved in attacking the newspaper premises in 2015, killing 12 people and injuring 11.
A faculty member at Al-Azhar University told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars and Tayeb did not ask Egyptian authorities to make any official response to the French authorities’ silence regarding the drawings under the pretext of defending freedom of expression and opinion, or on the stubbornness of some European societies vis-a-vis the establishment of offices for Al-Azhar administration for missions in their countries.
However, the source noted that few Al-Azhar faculty members wished Egyptian authorities had issued a statement to respond to French authorities, especially regarding the drawings.
The faculty member said official stances of Arab governments play a key role in alleviating the attack on Islamic sanctities and symbols and toning down hate speech against Muslims.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia recalled their ambassadors to Denmark in 2006 and 2008 and voiced their official objections to several controversial drawings of the prophet published in 2006 and republished in 2008 in the Danish Jyllands-Posten daily newspaper. The drawings were halted in Denmark in 2008 and have not recurred in 12 years.
Although the source wished an Egyptian or Arab stance were issued against the French drawings and against French silence, the source said faculty members at Al-Azhar understand Egyptian authorities' strategy in dealing with the crises calmly and solving them through negotiations and understandings and away from the language of condemnation “which might add insult to injury.”
The source added, “We trust that the wise administration of President [Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi will contribute to resolving the crisis of establishing Al-Azhar offices in Europe, because Egyptian authorities believe that Al-Azhar is among Egypt’s key soft power tools and a means to fighting terrorism and extremism.”
Akram Azab, a London-based opposition journalist and former expert on Al-Azhar affairs at Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian authorities might be putting pressure on Al-Azhar to halt the campaign against Charlie Hebdo and the French authorities, especially after the resonance of the social media campaign dubbed ‘Everyone but the Messenger of God.’ The interests and ties between France and Egypt are much stronger than those between Egypt and Denmark, especially following the alliance between Egypt and France against Turkey’s military intervention in Libya.”
Social media activists reacted to Al-Azhar’s Sept. 3 statement with the Arabic hashtag that translates into “Everyone but the Messenger of God.” The hashtag became the most trending on Sept. 3-4.
Azab added that Al-Azhar’s campaign against Charlie Hebdo and French authorities might further complicate relations between Al-Azhar and Sisi’s regime, especially with the tensions between them given Sisi’s call on Al-Azhar to modernize its religious discourse, and his call to annul verbal divorce and limit issuing fatwas to the Egyptian Dar al-Ifta rather than Al-Azhar. Several opposition newspapers supported by the Muslim Brotherhood tackled these disputes, while Al-Azhar denied them on several occasions.”
Al-Monitor tried to contact Saleh Abbas, Al-Azhar’s current undersecretary, to comment on the matter, but he did not answer his phone. And Al-Monitor's source at Al-Azhar stressed that his institute hasn't been under any pressure from the presidency to stop its campaign against Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
Abdul Qader Atta, a retired professor of political science at Assiut University, ruled out the possibility of a potential dispute over Al-Azhar’s campaign against Charlie Hebdo and French authorities between France and Egypt on the one hand and the Egyptian regime and Al-Azhar on the other hand. However, he indicated that this might expedite a dialogue between politicians in Egypt and France, and perhaps Europe as a whole, “about curbing the hate speech against Muslims, their sanctities and symbols, because it is a main cause of terrorism and extremism.”
He argued that French authorities have double standards in their support for freedom of expression and opinion. Muslim minorities in Europe might feel persecuted and react violently. He said, “France pursues anyone who denies the Holocaust, and the French president chided a French journalist for exposing details of his meeting with Hezbollah leaders during his visit to Beirut. Yet French authorities did not see these pursuits or scolding of the journalist as behavior against free speech and expression.”
Israel Installs More Loudspeakers At Al-Aqsa Mosque
By Ahmad Melhem
Sep 21, 2020
Tension is ongoing at Al-Aqsa Mosque, with daily raids by settlers and Israeli police and what is seen as an increasing attempt by Israeli authorities to bring about changes in the mosque and undermine the sovereignty of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf (religious endowment). It is also seen as an attempt to undermine the Jordanian guardianship of Jerusalem’s holy sites and impose Israeli sovereignty.
On Sept. 6, Israeli police set up ladders at the entrance and minaret of Bab al-Asbat Gate and mounted them to install huge loudspeakers on the north-western wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The devices were placed on the roof of Al-Aqsa High School adjacent to the Bab al-Asbat minaret and on the roof of the Islamic School for Girls adjacent to Al-Silsila Gate. Two devices were placed on Bab al-Hadid.
Mohammed al-Ashhab, director of public relations and media at the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, told Al-Monitor the Waqf had earlier rejected a request by Israeli police to open the door to the Bab al-Asbat minaret to cross from it to the roof of the northern Al-Aqsa Mosque wall and install loudspeakers. After the refusal, he explained, the police used ladders to reach the roof and forcibly installed them.
Ashhab said four loudspeakers have been installed on the northern and western walls of the mosque, which are supplementary devices for surveillance cameras and sensors that police have installed there over the past years in order to monitor the worshippers, noting that Jordan is now associated with this new violation by virtue of its guardianship over the mosque.
Jordan has the right of guardianship over the Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian pledge of allegiance to Sharif Hussein bin Ali on March 11, 1924, which continued until after the West Bank joined Jordan following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, as Jordan was the last local authority to oversee those sanctities before Israel occupied them in 1967. The pledge remained in force as stipulated in the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty signed in 1994, until President Mahmoud Abbas signed the guardianship and sovereignty agreement with King Abdullah II on March 31, 2013.
Ashhab said Israel is committing various violations against Al-Aqsa such as daily raids and pursuing Waqf employees and dismissing them from the mosque. Nearly 30 dismissals have been recorded against mosque guards since the beginning of 2020, in addition to preventing Islamic Waqf restoration projects inside Al-Aqsa — all of which were committed with the purpose of changing the historical and legal status of the mosque.
In August 2017, Israel installed loudspeakers for the first time on the roof of the Omariyeh College near the Bab al-Ghawanima minaret after the Bab al-Asbat protests, which became known as the battle against electronic gates. The addition of even more loudspeakers allows Israeli authorities to disturb worshippers during prayer and give instructions during any confrontation or incident at the mosque without necessarily coordinating with the Islamic Waqf.
Ekrima Sabri, head of the Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem, told Al-Monitor Israel is intensifying its monitoring tools against Al-Aqsa worshippers in order to change the current status quo of the mosque.
The Islamic Waqf issued a statement Sept. 6 noting that “the occupation's attempt to change the historical, religious and legal reality in Al-Aqsa by force will never succeed.” The statement continued, “Police plans in support of extremists and transgressions that want to undermine the Waqf and its employees will be destroyed by the steadfastness of the people of the city and the Mourabitoun (self-appointed guardians of Al-Aqsa),” appealing to Jordanian King Abdullah II personally to intervene quickly to “curb the occupation policies and eliminate its measures that it is trying to impose by force.”
Jordanian Minister of Awqaf Mohammed Ahmed Al-Khalayleh issued a press statement the same day warning against “the repeated attacks by the occupation authorities against the employees of the Islamic Waqf, who are constantly summoned for investigation and then arrested or dismissed from their worksites in the mosque,” stressing that the Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem is the only body with exclusive authority to manage mosque affairs.
Israeli authorities have escalated their measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque, and such practices are expected to further increase in the coming weeks and months in an attempt to achieve several goals: imposing its sovereignty and administration over the mosque in line with the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, marginalizing the power and decision of the Islamic Waqf, and undermining and weakening the Jordanian guardianship because of Jordan's position rejecting the US Mideast peace plan and the annexation plan, specifically the annexation of the Jordan Valley.
A senior official in the Islamic Waqf in charge of Al-Aqsa Mosque affairs told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Israel forcibly installing loudspeakers on Al-Aqsa’s wall after the Islamic Waqf refused the request to do so is part of its campaign to impose sovereignty and administration over Al-Aqsa.
He said Israel is seeking to change three aspects of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The first is to change the historical reality so that it can overstep the powers of the Jordanian guardianship and infringe upon it by violating the powers of the Islamic Waqf, which is a representative of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He noted that it is doing so through raids, police measures, preventing projects in the mosque, and setting up sensors and surveillance cameras without the Waqf’s consent.
The second aspect is the human conflict at Al-Aqsa Mosque, as Israel is working to change and dry up the Arab and Islamic human presence in the mosque, expel the Palestinian Jerusalemite presence, and attract settlers and a military presence inside the mosque through dozens of dismissal notices and incessant raids, be it against mosque guards or Mourabitoun.
The third aspect, he added, is Israel’s endgame, which is to turn Al-Aqsa Mosque into a place similar to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. The official explained, “When Israel installs loudspeakers around the mosque and imposes its security control over it, the Palestinian presence in the Old City [of Jerusalem] dries up, as it controls all aspects of the mosque and prepares to implement temporal and spatial division of the mosque and control it completely.”
Israel continues to bring about changes to Al-Aqsa, and it does not seem to be facing any pressure to stop. It is armed with the US decision recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and more recently the two normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, all of which encourage it to proceed with implementing its plan for the temporal and spatial division of the mosque.
Trump Administration Leveraged Terror Designation To Push Sudan To Recognize Israel
By Jared Szuba
Sep 21, 2020
Late last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarked on a last-minute trip to Sudan amid a wider tour of the Middle East aimed at convincing Arab leaders to establish formal ties with Israel.
The night prior to Pompeo’s arrival in Khartoum, the State Department rushed documents over to the White House that, if signed by the president, would formally remove Sudan from the US’ state sponsors of terrorism list, Al-Monitor has learned.
US and Sudanese officials had long been in talks about removing Khartoum from the terror blacklist, and Sudan’s interim government had already largely met the main requirement laid out by the Trump administration.
But Pompeo raised a new proposal during his visit to Khartoum: That Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and immediately establish formal ties with Israel, according to two sources briefed on the meeting.
Hamdok demurred, reportedly saying Sudan’s transitional government did not have the authority to do that. Back at the White House, the rescission was called off, according to two US sources familiar with the matter.
Word of the attempt has raised concern among some in Congress that the White House’s Middle East advisers may have tried to circumvent the complex policy process for delisting Sudan in hope of scoring a political win for Trump ahead of the 2020 presidential election, and with little apparent regard for Sudan’s delicate internal politics.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the diplomatic discussions in Khartoum, but told Al-Monitor that removing Sudan from the terror list remains a top priority. “Rescission is a multi-step process that depends on Sudan meeting the relevant statutory and policy criteria. Congress also plays a role in this process,” the State Department spokesperson told Al-Monitor via email. “We remain active in discussions with Sudan regarding the policy and statutory requirements for consideration of potential rescission of Sudan’s SST designation,” the spokesperson wrote. SST stands for state sponsors of terrorism.
A spokesperson for the National Security Council referred Al-Monitor back to the State Department.
Sudan has been on the terror sponsors' blacklist since 1993, where it sits alongside North Korea, Syria and Iran. Despite having harboured Osama bin Laden, Abu Nidal and other international terrorists, former dictator Omar al-Bashir’s government began cooperating with the United States on counterterrorism in 2001.
Last year, Bashir was overthrown in a coup following mass protests.
Sudan’s interim government agreed with US officials that it would come up with $335 million to settle a court ruling to compensate the families of victims of the 1998 Tanzania and Kenya embassy bombings — Washington's last significant condition for rescinding Khartoum’s terror-sponsor designation.
The long-awaited delisting is expected to ease the impoverished country’s access to foreign financial assistance and development, but the process has been drawn out.
Saudi Arabian officials previously backed away from a White House request to help Sudan meet the requirement, according to sources closely familiar with the process. The Saudi government is currently fighting a lawsuit seeking to make Riyadh pay billions in compensation to businesses, insurers, and families of the victims of the September 11 attacks.
Sudan’s interim government now says it is able to come up with the money, in part via a loan from an Africa-based development bank, US and Sudanese sources say.
But the funds had not yet been put into escrow at the time of Pompeo’s visit, and can only be distributed after Congress passes legislation that would enshrine the settlement agreement.
Despite a bipartisan push to advance such a measure by the end of September, lawmakers remain at an impasse amid opposition from Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
Congressional sources who spoke with Al-Monitor said that if the White House prematurely delisted Sudan, it could have set the stage for an override of this decision on Capitol Hill, throwing a major wrench into the legislative process designed to ensure that victims’ families receive compensation.
According to one US source briefed on the Khartoum meeting, Pompeo told the Sudanese leader that recognizing Israel would ease the legislation’s passing through Congress. Foreign Policy first reported details of Pompeo’s request.
“It may have seemed from the Sudanese perspective a bit disingenuous for Pompeo to say they can fast-track the delisting, when he might not have been able to do so,” according to Hilary Mossberg, policy director for The Sentry, a group of researchers who track illicit money flows in Africa.
Sources on the Hill told Al-Monitor that since Pompeo’s trip, the administration has signaled that it intends to cooperate with the legislative process. Pompeo sent letters to Senators Chris Coons and Mitch McConnell urging lawmakers to advance the de-listing process by the end of the month, citing a "narrow window" posed by the upcoming continuing resolution legislation, Foreign Policy revealed on Friday.
But one congressional aide said on the condition of anonymity that the administration has ignored multiple requests for lawmakers to be briefed on the Khartoum meeting and on the White House’s intentions moving forward.
Pompeo has spoken to Sudan's prime minister at least twice since their meeting last month, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Only one of those calls has been announced by the State Department.
News of the attempt has raised further questions about the administration’s methods to convince Middle Eastern leaders to recognize Israel ahead of Trump’s reelection bid.
Last month, senior White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is directing the initiative, said the administration was not pressuring Gulf states to recognize Israel because “a relationship that is built on pressure is not one that is going to last.”
“Countries will do things that are in their interests to do,” Kushner said.
Reports that the Trump administration secretly offered the United Arab Emirates the chance to buy advanced F-35 fighter jets with the Israeli prime minister’s knowledge reportedly led to bafflement in Congress and sharp criticism by Israeli officials.
The UAE and Bahrain signed their agreement to normalize relations with Israel at the White House on Tuesday, with Sudan’s charge d’affaires, Amira Agarib, reportedly in attendance.
On September 17, a senior State Department official dangled the possibility of upgrading Qatar to the status of US non-NATO ally after Doha’s deputy foreign minister said her government does not intend to recognize Israel without a two-state solution for the Palestinians.
Sources familiar with Pompeo’s meeting in Khartoum also expressed concern that Sudan’s unelected transitional government may face political opposition if its leaders unilaterally agree to recognize Israel.
Sudan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Haidar Badawi al-Sadiq was abruptly fired last month after publicly saying the government was “looking forward to a peace agreement with Israel based on Khartoum's interests without sacrificing the values.”
Nonetheless, there are signs Sudanese leaders are open to future ties with the Jewish state.
In February, one of the transitional government’s top leaders, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, met with Netanyahu in Uganda, leading to an agreement to open Sudanese airspace to Israeli commercial flights. That meeting was set up in part by the US State Department, according to Al-Monitor’s sources.
Pompeo also met with Burhan in the Sudanese capital after sitting down with Hamdok last month.
According to two sources briefed on the conversation, Burhan did not outright reject Pompeo’s suggestion that Sudan recognize Israel, but mentioned that his government needed several billion dollars to help offset the country’s staggering debt.
On Sunday, Axios reported that Prime Minister Hamdok's chief of staff would meet with the UAE's national security council advisor Tahnoun bin Zayed and the head of Gulf affairs at the US National Security Council, Brig. Gen. Miguel Correa, in Abu Dhabi this week to discuss the prospect of Sudan recognizing Israel in exchange for humanitarian and economic aid, as well as the de-listing of from the terror sponsors' list.
Sudan’s ambassador to the United States, Noureddin Satti, alluded to Pompeo's request in an interview with Newsweek earlier this month. “Sudan’s position on this issue has been clearly pronounced by the transitional government,” Satti said.
“To my mind, removal of the SST and other positive actions that follow should be an incentive rather than a conditionality.”