Bashir’s overthrow in Sudan a strategic blow for Turkey’s Erdoğan - VOA

The overthrow of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir last month jeopardises President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's plan to expand Turkey’s influence and challenge Saudi Arabia in the region, U.S. news outlet Voice of America reported on Tuesday.

Last Friday, about two weeks after Bashir was ousted, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry denied reports that its agreement to rebuild an Ottoman-era port and construct a naval dock on Sudan’s Suakin Island had been cancelled.

In 2017, the two countries signed 12 cooperation agreements in security and tourism, including the deal for Suakin Island, which is located in the Red Sea, across from Saudi Arabia.  

Last week, Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's ruling military council, confirmed Sudanese control of Suakin, describing it as an inseparable part of Sudan.

"Its value cannot be measured with a material price. Its history cannot be sold," he said. "We will not accept the presence of a foreign military existence in Sudan."

Turkey has never formally announced plans to build a naval base, but pro-government media frequently report Suakin is a key part of Ankara's policy of expanding military influence across the region, after opening bases in Qatar and Somalia, said VOA.

Hüseyin Bağcı, international relations professor at Ankara's Middle East Technical University, said Suakin was about Turkey’s broader strategic interests and taking a stronger position in Africa.   

"They just want a military base there, and Sudan was providing that opportunity. But now, the cards are mixed up, and it will be difficult," he said. "There is a big disappointment on the Turkish side, and the president's statements prove that."

Erdoğan has criticised the overthrow of Bashir and said his removal was aimed at Turkey.

VOA said tensions between Ankara and Riyadh are on the rise, exacerbated by a rivalry between Erdoğan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as last year's murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was said to be close to Erdoğan.

Emre Caliskan of Oxford University's international relations department said that whether Turkey builds the base or not, just the threat of it on the Red Sea could unnerve Riyadh.

"Turkey sees the growing influence of Saudi Arabia or groups supported by the Saudis in Turkey's backyard,” he said. “So, Turkey is giving a reaction in the Red Sea area — 'I am going to be an influence in your backyard, as long as you are going to be an influence in my backyard.'"

As tensions rise in the region, Erdoğan's loss of his close ally, Bashir, is a major blow.

"We have now Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries, Israel and Egypt as a bloc against Turkey," Bağcı said. "Only Qatar is on Turkey's side and is not enough to play a much bigger role in the Middle East. Turkey loses, at the moment, influence in political, economic and security terms.”