Rich though they are, Qataris do not like losing money. Investing in Sudan is no different: it requires a return. On April 2, Qatar’s emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani spent a few hours in Khartoum; at the end of the visit Sudan’s minister of finance announced $1 billion would be deposited by Qatar in the Central Bank of Sudan, to shore up foreign exchange reserves.
To explain the emir’s visit and the money as primarily a Qatari effort to find a friend amidst regional isolation, and/or as support to an ideologically akin state is unsatisfactory. Paramount are simpler Qatari interests: economic diversification, food security, maintaining an independent foreign policy and making money.
Every serious protest in Sudan is put to the same test of classification. Is it is akin to the revolutions of 1964 and 1985? Or, is it Sudan’s version of the Arab Spring? Those supportive of the protests usually assert it is one or both of these things; those supportive of the status quo deny or downplay either parallel, and analysts and observers tend to favour one or more of the four possible positions (akin to 64 or 85, or not; a formative Arab Spring, or not). I would argue that return to these precedents as the models for comparison both limits our understanding of current events, and obscures a dispassionate assessment of how change is likely to occur.
The hope of protesters in Khartoum, Omdurman, Wad Medani, Port Sudan and every other town where people have taken to the streets is that this time will be different. Despite the daunting odds and the unsuccessful record of protests in recent years, they believe the regime can, and will, fall. That popular action in the cities of the riverine centre will succeed where traditional opposition parties have failed. That where wars on the margins of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile remain mostly distant, classic economic strife will alienate those who have kept the regime in power or assented to its position. That shutting down the internet and shooting unarmed civilians on the street are signs of desperation. Fervent though those hopes are, there’s no guarantee that this time will be different. Only hope. Continue reading