As economy crumbles, Sudan ditches Iran for Saudi patronage
By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - When Saudi Arabia executed a leading Shi'ite cleric and protesters responded by torching the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Sudan was one of only three countries to sever ties with Iran in solidarity with Riyadh.
The Jan. 4 move cemented a dramatic political shift: in the past two years, Sudan has turned its back on a quarter-century alliance with Iran in favour of the Saudis, who have proved more willing to provide the financial support it sorely needs.
Saudi Arabia has already invested more than any other country in Sudan -- about $11 billion, mostly in agriculture. In the past year, it has deposited $1 billion in Sudan's central bank, signed deals to finance the construction of power-generating dams on the Nile, and pledged even more investment in farming.
Such largesse explains why Sudan, struggling with a collapsing currency and soaring unemployment, has chosen to favour economic ties with Saudi Arabia over a relationship with Iran that was largely based on arms.
"The government decided to distance itself from the alliance with Iran after it evaluated the relationship and found it economically and politically damaging," said Al Tayeb Zeinalaidine, politics professor at Khartoum University.
"Iran didn't offer any economic aid to Sudan and this left the government thinking its relations... had become a burden".
The swing toward Riyadh marks a new tack for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has maintained power for over 25 years in a volatile neighbourhood by navigating shifting alliances. At different times he has drawn close to Osama bin Laden, the United States and Tehran.
Last year he joined a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen who are allied with Shi'ite Iran, showing Sunni Gulf Arab powers that he could be an asset in their fight to limit the influence of the Islamic Republic. Continued...