Next stop for the Arab Spring?
Surrounded by instability, the ruling regimes in both Sudan and Jordan face challenges to their holds on power.
Jordanian police during protests in Amman Photo: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
Sudan and Jordan are perfectly situated to be the next countries to go through
Arab uprisings. They are both bordered by countries going through upheaval and
instability and they are both used for transit by Islamist opposition forces
active in other countries.
Sudan, which neighbors Libya and Egypt, is
being used to smuggle weapons from Libya to the Sinai Peninsula and to the Gaza
Strip. It is also being used by Iran to transmit weapons to Hamas. Israel was
reported to have bombed an arms factory there in October.
borders on Syria, is being used as a base by the Syrian
Furthermore, the country has been affected by the uprising in
Egypt to its southwest, with one of the results being an end to the oil exports
from Sinai. The ongoing turmoil to its east in Iraq also serves as a source of
The latest major news from Sudan came out on Wednesday as
fresh fighting was reported between Sudan and South Sudan. Radio Dabanga reports
that Sudan is moving many forces to the border region. At the same time,
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir stated Wednesday that he was ready to meet
with the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir.
This follows the news from
last week when South Sudan’s military shot down a UN helicopter, believing that
it was supplying weapons to rebels. The attack killed four Russian soldiers. It
was not the first time that such an incident occurred. South Sudan claims that
Sudan is using the region to supply weapons for rebels in the South and is also
painting aircraft to appear as though they belong to the UN. Each side claims
that the other is supporting rebel militias in its respective country. Israel
has been reported to be aiding the new country of South Sudan, which has further
Despite international attempts at mediating the conflict,
the tensions between Sudan and South Sudan are still high. Earlier in December,
talks broke down as South Sudan’s Defense Minister John Kong Nyuon accused Sudan
of violating a deal reached in September covering oil and security.
agreed-upon deal was vitally important for both sides since the resumption of
oil production in South Sudan depends on its ability to export the oil through
Sudan’s pipelines. In January, the leaders of both countries are to meet again
for what seem to be endless negotiations.
Tensions have increased since
South Sudan won its independence in July 2011, as fighting over Abyei, a
contentious oil-rich border region, has continued unabated. Moreover, the
critical Greater Nile Oil Pipeline runs through the region and serves to move
the oil from South Sudan to the north for export through Port Sudan, which lies
on the Red Sea.
South Sudan is land-locked and thus has been dependent on
Sudan to the north for exporting its oil. For this reason, South Sudan recently
made a deal to build a $3 billion pipeline through Kenya.
consequences on Sudan for the loss of the south have been drastic. The loss in
oil revenues have led to rapidly increasing inflation and the drop in value of
the local Sudanese pound.
According to a report by the Reuters news
agency, the split has caused a loss of three-quarters of the country’s oil
output, which made up about 50 percent of Sudan’s budget and 80% of its foreign
currency earnings. The loss of revenue has led to an end to fuel subsidies and
the introduction of new taxes, hurting the already poor Sudanese.
Ronen, professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on
Sudan, says that “the situation in Sudan has many difficulties and the gaps seem
to be unbridgeable.
“Sudan is in the category of failed African states,”
she adds. “The situation is not good socially, economically or politically. The
situation became much worse after Sudan was divided into two states and the
creation of South Sudan. This is because Sudan had huge economic losses due to
the loss of oil profits. Daily hardships are present in every aspect of life,
and student protests have begun.”
Protests in Sudan have picked up steam
since the inception of the Arab uprisings. Sudan is a member of the Arab League
and is not insulated from what is happening in the Arab world. It has a
population that is around 70% Arab Muslim – most are Sunni. It historically has
had problems along ethnic fault lines, particularly in the south and in Darfur.
South Sudan is predominantly Christian and traditionalist while Darfur has
The fighting in Darfur continues sporadically, as Ronen notes; “Darfur looks
relatively quiet now, but under the surface there is lots of volcanic
The Sudanese government has been dealing with growing
opposition protests and instability. While events have not risen to the levels
of that of the Arab uprisings, there continue to be suspicions that it remains a
possibility. The latest evidence comes from the government’s accusations against
the opposition Umma party for having knowledge of an alleged attempted coup in
November. The Sudan Tribune notes that the plot led to the arrest of a dozen
people, including former intelligence chief and ex-presidential adviser Salah
Gosh as well as Brig.-Gen. Muhammad Ibrahim Abdel-Galil.
the ill health of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir were thought to be the
impetus behind the coup, as Bashir has undergone two surgeries on his throat
(due to a tumor) since August, in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. After the disclosure
of his ailment, the regime has worked to play down its severity.
Egyptian paper al-Ahram Weekly reported in December that student protests have
been gathering momentum but are being brutally put down by the Sudanese regime.
Security authorities have also fired live ammunition at student demonstrations,
causing massacres. Ronen notes that religious and tribal schisms are also at
play in the protests.
The Sudan Tribune reported earlier in December that
the coalition of opposition parties, the National Consensus Forces, has stated
that its goal is to topple the regime using “all legitimate means, urging
citizens across the country to prepare for the ‘decisive battle.’” The head of
the opposition forces was briefly detained last week for criticizing and calling
for an investigation of the killing of students.
This provides the proper
context to the latest military moves by Sudan against South Sudan, as any
conflict would also serve to distract attention away from domestic
Jordan is the other Arab country that is most likely to undergo
a revolution. Opposition protests driven by the Muslim Brotherhood and other
Islamists have picked up over the past year. A mix of religious, ideological,
tribal and economic difficulties are fueling the protests. The Jordanian
monarchy is seen by many Arabs to be traitorous because of its cooperation and
good relations with the US and Israel. And Palestinians make up well over half
of the country’s population. Though, perhaps the key factor is the success of
the Arab uprisings elsewhere and the instability present not only within the
country but also to its north in Syria and its east in Iraq.
until recently, has tried not to overtly support the Syrian rebels, resisting
Saudi pressure because of fears of Syrian retaliation. Things have changed over
the past month, as The Wall Street Journal reported in November that Jordan had
stepped up its support for the Syrian military opposition.
covertly participated in aiding the rebels, with much of the funds coming from
Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In December, NPR reported that the US and Britain had
joined Jordan in training the Syrian rebels.
The worry is that weapons
given to the Syrian rebels, many of whom are affiliated with the Muslim
Brotherhood or jihadist groups, could later turn their fire at
These worries were demonstrated in October by the arrest of 11
suspects in a foiled bomb attack in the capital, Amman. Reuters reported that
the suspects were using weapons smuggled from Syria.
Protests in Jordan
have been ongoing, with much of them blamed on poverty, corruption,
unemployment, inflation and the lack of reforms. Even the usually loyal Beduin
tribes have taken part. And the overflow of refugees from Syria is also seen to
be contributing to the volatility.
Protesters have called for the
abdication of King Abdullah while the regime has been hampered to respond
because of large budget deficits. According to Al Jazeera, the deficit this year
is going to be a record $2b.
Moreover, when the government moves to fix
the problem and make budget cuts, it usually is aimed at subsidies for staple
goods and, as a result, the protests are rekindled and the government is forced
to back down.
In order to prop up the regime, the US and Saudi Arabia
have been increasing aid to the country.
The Jordan Times reports that
the Saudis injected extra aid in December to help Jordan deal with the Syrian
refugees. Other aid was announced in November, when Saudi Arabia agreed to give
$487 million. There have even been moves to incorporate Jordan into the Gulf
Cooperation Council, which has set up a $5b. fund according to a story in
November in Jordanian newspaper Al-Bawaba.
The paper also stated that the
Saudi Development Fund would separately deposit $250m. at the Central Bank of
Jordan for use in 2013.
The question is whether all of this aid will be
enough to prevent an uprising in Jordan.
Joseph Braude, an expert on the
Middle East, thinks so. In an article published in Tablet Magazine this month,
he argues that the “kingdom paid close attention to the revolutions of the Arab
Spring and formed a clear strategy to quell the demonstrators using a softer
approach.” Jordan decided to let protests occur and tried to use minimal
violence against them.
The news that broke on Wednesday by Al-Quds
Al-Arabi regarding Netanyahu’s secret visit to Amman, proposing a plan to take
out Syria’s chemical weapons, could add fuel to the fire.
How long Sudan
and Jordan can hang on is not known, but the situation is ripe for the picking.