Sporadic protests held against deal; Israeli flag burned

Key Sudanese parties blast normalization deal with Israel, vow to oppose it

Head of country’s largest party warns agreement will jeopardize the authority of Sudan’s fragile transitional government

Composite: Former Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, leader of the Umma political party, speaks during a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 (AP Photo/Marwan Ali); Protesters burn an Israeli flag in Khartoum to protest the new normalization agreement (video screenshot)
Composite: Former Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, leader of the Umma political party, speaks during a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 (AP Photo/Marwan Ali); Protesters burn an Israeli flag in Khartoum to protest the new normalization agreement (video screenshot)

Several key Sudanese political parties announced their opposition to the country’s decision to normalize relations with Israel.

Saturday also saw sporadic demonstrations against the deal in Khartoum. At one such protest, an Israeli flag was burned. According to the Guardian, at the events some chanted “go to hell” and “no to normalization with Israel.”

Opponents of the agreement, announced Friday in a joint statement from the US, Israel and Sudan released by the White House, said they would form a unified front against normalization.

The parties form essential parts of the civilian coalition that overthrew longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir last year. They accused the transitional government of violating its authorities as previously agreed upon.

The government is led by a civilian, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and a military general, Chairman of the Sovereignty Council Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, at a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan, August 21, 2019. (AP Photo, File)

Parties opposing normalization included the country’s largest party, National Umma Party; the Sudanese Baath Party; and the Popular Congress Party.

The head of the National Umma Party, former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, on Saturday slammed the announcement on normalizing ties with Israel.

Al-Mahdi, who is the country’s last democratically-elected premier, said he withdrew from a government-organized religious conference on Saturday in the capital, Khartoum, in protest against Friday’s announcement.

“This statement contradicts the Sudanese national law… and contributes to the elimination of the peace project in the Middle East and to preparing for the ignition of a new war,” al-Mahdi said in a letter to the conference.

Left: Sudanese Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, left, head of the military council, speaks during a military-backed rally, in Omdurman district, west of Khartoum, Sudan on June 29, 2019 (AP/Hussein Malla). Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at his office in Jerusalem on September 13 2020. (Alex Kolomiensky/Yedioth Ahronoth via AP, Pool)

He said the agreement with Israel would jeopardize the authority of Sudan’s transitional government, a fragile coalition of civilian and military leaders.

Sudan is on a thorny path to democracy after a popular uprising last year led the military to overthrow the longtime autocrat, Omar al-Bashir. The transitional government has promised elections as soon as 2022.

Al-Mahdi was overthrown in a 1989 Islamist-backed coup that brought al-Bashir to power. His party is allied with the pro-democracy movement that led the protests against al-Bashir.

Al-Mahdi accused US President Donald Trump of being racist against Muslims and Black people, and described Israel as an “apartheid state.”

Sudan has been the third Arab state to move toward normalizing its relations with Israel among a series of Washington-brokered deals in the run-up to the US presidential elections. The Trump administration engineered diplomatic pacts between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in August — the first since Jordan recognized Israel in the 1990s and Egypt in the 1970s.

President Donald Trump speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau on the phone about a Sudan-Israel peace agreement, in the Oval Office on October 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump announced that Sudan and Israel are making peace. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Sudan hosted a landmark Arab League conference after the 1967 Mideast war where eight Arab countries approved the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel.

Sudan’s recognition of Israel comes after the North African nation agreed to put $335 million in an escrow account to be used to compensate American victims of terror attacks. Sudanese Prime Minister Hamdok thanked Trump for signing the executive order to remove Sudan from the terrorism list and said in a statement that he hoped to complete the deal in a “timely manner.”

The removal of the terror designation opens the door for Sudan’s transitional government to get international loans and aid needed to revive its battered economy and rescue the country’s transition to democracy.

The government has been struggling to revive Sudan’s economy amid a huge budget deficit and widespread shortages of essential goods, including fuel, bread and medicine.

Sudan’s acting Foreign Minister Omar Qamar al-Din said the ratification of the normalization deal was up to a legislative body, which has yet to be formed.

“This is an agreement to normalize. It is not yet normalization. We must wait for Sudan’s democratic institutions to be functional, including the legislative council, so we can complete the ratification of this step so it can become, in reality, normalization,” Qamar al-Din added, CNN reported.

Security forces prevent demonstrators from reaching the Sudanese army headquarters, in Khartoum, Sudan, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. Protesters have taken to the streets in the capital and across the country over dire living conditions and a deadly crackdown on demonstrators in the east earlier this month. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

He said on Friday the deal ends the state of hostility with Israel, and it will lead to diplomatic, political, economic and investment connections if approved, according to the state-run SUNA news agency.

“If ratified, the benefits for Sudan will be enormous,” he was quoted as saying by SUNA.

Earlier this month, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the Sudanese sovereign council, told a local television station that Sudan would benefit from the normalization.

“We need Israel… Israel is a developed country and the whole world is working with it,” he said.

Whether or not to normalize ties with Israel has been a matter of vehement debate within Sudan’s transitional government, with its military wing, headed by al-Burhan, said to be in favor, but Hamdok long opposed to it — saying the government lacked authority.

Trump announced the Israel-Sudan deal on Friday at the White House in a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sudan’s leaders.

A joint statement from the US, Israel and Sudan released by the White House said Netanyahu, al-Burhan and Hamdok “agreed to the normalization of relations between Sudan and Israel and to end the state of belligerence between their nations.”

In what appeared to be the first public contact between the two countries after the joint phone call, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, spoke to his Sudanese counterpart, Omer Mohamed Ahmed Siddig.

Erdan and Siddig agreed to meet in the coming days to discuss cooperating at the UN in the fields of technology, agriculture, trade and tourism, Erdan’s office said in a statement.

The UAE applauded Sudan’s move to normalize relations with Israel early Saturday morning. The UAE foreign ministry said the deal was “an important step to boost security and prosperity in the region,” according to the Emirati state news agency WAM.

Egypt, the first country to sign a peace deal with Israel in 1979, was one of the few other Arab countries to publicly applaud the Israel-Sudan deal.

“I welcome the joint efforts of the United States, Sudan and Israel to normalize relations between Sudan and Israel and I value all efforts aimed at establishing regional peace and stability,” Egyptian leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi tweeted.

Regional giant Saudi Arabia was notably silent.

Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan in his New York office, on October 13, 2020. (Israeli Mission to the UN)

While officially stating that it will not normalize ties until Israel signs an internationally recognized peace accord with the Palestinians, Riyadh has given tacit approval to the UAE and Bahrain deals and allowed Israeli civilian aircraft to use its airspace.

The Palestinian leadership blasted the deal, as it did with the normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain.

The deal with Sudan will include aid and investment from Israel, particularly in technology and agriculture, along with further debt relief. It comes as Sudan and its transitional government teeter on the edge. Thousands have protested in the country’s capital Khartoum and other regions in recent days over dire economic conditions.

Before the deal was announced, Trump earlier on Friday signed a waiver to remove Khartoum from the State Department’s blacklist of state terror sponsors. Congress now has 45 days to approve the measure.

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