‘It’s Basically Over’: The Sudanese Dictatorship’s Dwindling Options
Even after it signed a crucial oil treaty with its southern neighbor, the government in Khartoum has plenty to worry about.
On September 27, one of the most repressive governments on earth was thrown a lifeline. After an eight-month standoff that ravaged the two countries’ economies and brought them to the brink of war, North and South Sudan resolved a long-simmering dispute over how to divide their oil revenue, the primary source of tension after the South became independent in July 2011. The relationship between the two countries is still one of suspicion, proxy warfare, and seemingly-insoluble border disputes that provide a plausible casus belli if either needs an excuse to ratchet up pressure. Even so, the deal allows for the possibility that within the next six months, oil will again start flowing for the first time since February 2012, restoring a revenue source that each government desperately needs.
The oil deal is added evidence of the Khartoum government’s astounding ability to weather whatever challenges a polyglot and deeply unstable region throws its way. Since taking power in a 1989 coup, Sudan’s National Congress Party, led by the International Criminal Court-indicted Omar al Bashir, has proven itself to be one of the more adaptable cadres of autocrats the modern Middle East and Africa has ever known. In the 23 years since they came to power, they have morphed from revolutionary Islamists into pan-ideological opportunists — all while effectively defanging or co-opting the country’s other political parties, which are some of the oldest and most respected in the Arab world. At various times, the NCP has gotten Iran, the Gulf States, and the Arab League to arm it, fund it, or provide it with crucial political cover. It has used sprawling patronage networks, which extend from local militias all the way to the upper ranks of the military, to turn the country’s numerous armed conflicts in its favor. And it has waged scorched-earth campaigns against insurgencies in Darfur and Southern Kordofan - while deploying less-violent and more tactical methods against peaceful anti-regime activists in places closer to the centers of power.