Middle East round-up: Civilians flee Sudan
Here’s a round-up of Al Jazeera’s Middle East and North Africa coverage this week.
Civilians fleeing the fighting in Sudan, China’s growing footprint in the Middle East, and looking ahead to the Turkish elections. Here’s your round up of our coverage, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.
Over the last week in conflict-hit Sudan, a pattern has repeated itself: A ceasefire is announced, only to be broken as soon as it’s supposed to start. Both warring sides – the military and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces – blame each other. And as it dawns on people that the fighting might turn into a full-blown civil war, an increasing number of civilians are trying to find a way out from hotspots like the capital Khartoum, and if they’re lucky, to someplace safe abroad.
The latest ceasefire has been marginally more successful than previous ones. While the fighting has continued, it’s been noticeably less intense. Foreign embassies, taking advantage of the relative lull, have begun to evacuate staff. Some countries have also been working to get their citizens out of Sudan (although thousands of dual citizens remain stuck, frustrated with their governments).
But the ceasefire, such as it is, doesn’t necessarily mean that a deal to end the conflict is around the corner. If anything, it could mean the exact opposite. Once staff at the foreign missions have managed to escape, the thinking goes, the conflict will in fact only worsen. The UN’s envoy to Sudan has already warned that the warring generals are in no mood to negotiate. Aid organisations are saying the humanitarian situation is quickly deteriorating, and they’re struggling to help. Doctors and nurses are trapped in hospitals, afraid of the fighting outside. And the anarchy on the streets only worsened when roughly 25,000 inmates reportedly escaped during prison breaks – among them former government officials put there after a popular uprising in 2019. There’s even fear of a medical catastrophe, raised when fighters occupied Sudan’s central public health laboratory, which houses samples of diseases such as polio and cholera.
There are various scenarios for what comes next. Mediators from the UN, the African Union and several Arab countries are reportedly trying to bring the sides together, but have so far failed. Should that situation persist, the fighting can be expected to spread, and possibly cross borders into neighbouring countries. Some of those countries have already been dragged into the refugee crisis that is developing, with places such as Chad and Egypt already having to cope with thousands of arrivals, at times leading to chaotic scenes.
And in between the generals and the politicians lie the Sudanese people, many of whom have been so hopeful for the future over the past few years. For Noon Abdel Bassit and her family, a missile hitting their house jarred them into realising that they couldn’t stay. Now in Egypt, Noon had to leave her brothers behind at the border while they waited for visas. She has a simple, unambiguous message: “We need help”.
Is China replacing the US in the Middle East?
Many people in US politics have a fear (perhaps overblown) that China will soon replace it as the world’s leading power. That perception has hardened for some after China played a central role as the broker of a rapprochement between once-bitter rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Middle East is a part of the world that the US has been intimately involved in for decades, and which it considers incredibly important to its interests. And yet here’s Washington’s chief rival for international primacy, Beijing, doing deals the US could never dream of – while in the process easing the isolation of one of the US’ main enemies, Iran.
So, is this a sign of things to come? Or is the US footprint in the Middle East just too large for China to eclipse (for now)? Erin Hale has the answer in this week’s The Big Question.
Start Here for your Primer on Turkey’s elections
There are less than three weeks left until Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections. On May 14, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will face what many observers say is his biggest challenge yet, as opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu tries to take advantage of the long-time president’s waning popularity. Al Jazeera will have plenty of coverage on this in the next few weeks, but for now I recommend the latest Start Here episode, which breaks down why Turkey could be on the brink of a huge change.
And now for something different
My debatably interesting dinner-party fact (depending on who you ask) is that there are more Lebanese people living outside of Lebanon than inside the country. And they’re often incredibly successful, with leaders in the economies and politics of regions as disparate as South America and West Africa. Al Jazeera World’s documentary, Arabs Abroad: The Money Men, looks at the tale of one of them, Fred George, a Lebanese gold mining magnate in Canada who made his fortune after fleeing Lebanon’s civil war.
No Eid for Syria’s disappeared
It really feels like the world has forgotten about Syria, so it’s worth a reminder. Take, for example, the thousands who have gone missing there since the start of the war in 2011, the majority of them supporters of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. As al-Assad is increasingly welcomed by the Arab governments that once shunned him, Fatima Sleiman tells the story of her son, Samer Reda Abdelfattah, who was detained in 2014. She hasn’t heard from him since. As she celebrated another Eid without him this week, Sleiman says in this opinion piece that she is determined to see him again one day, and “will not stop fighting until he and all detainees in Syria are free”.
Court in Iran orders US, Obama, to pay $313 million for ISIL car bomb attacks | Dozens of bodies washed ashore after boats sink off Libya coast | Iran charges two actresses for not wearing hijab | Turkey arrests 110 for suspected PKK links | EU imposes sanctions on relatives of Syria’s al-Assad over drugs | Man shot dead in Jerusalem after car-ramming attack | Jordan says MP held by Israel over alleged arms smuggling | Lebanon’s political impasse holds despite Iran-Saudi Arabia deal | Fears in Tunisia that Ghannouchi arrest will lead to more crackdowns | Israel makes ‘the desert bloom’ comment denounced by Palestinians |
Quote of the week
“I cannot describe my happiness. I can see the sky and breathe fresh air again. Today, I ask myself, is this a dream or a reality? This is a rebirth.” | Majed Albazili, who was released during last week’s prisoner swap in Yemen. Albazili had spent eight years in a Houthi rebel prison, where he says he was tortured and never saw sunlight.