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 370 (photo credit: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)
Jordanian police 370
(photo credit: 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.
Jordan, which borders on Syria, is being used as a base by the Syrian opposition.
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 instability.
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 angered Sudan.
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.
The 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.
The 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.
Yehudit 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 African Muslims.
The fighting in Darfur continues sporadically, as Ronen notes; “Darfur looks relatively quiet now, but under the surface there is lots of volcanic activity.”
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.
Rumors regarding 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.
The 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 problems.
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.
Jordan, 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.
Jordan has 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 Jordan.
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.