Ever since the upsurge of popular unrest – the so-called “Arab Spring” – erupted in the Middle East just over eight years ago, the region has undergone profound change.
In many cases authoritarian rule was never seriously challenged. In other places it was restored quickly, as in the case of Egypt, or more slowly and only partially, as in the case of Syria.
But the chaos and bloodshed in Syria was to a large extent influenced by the actions of external actors.
And there is now a danger that the second wave of popular protest in the region – notably in Sudan – may also be heavily influenced by external players.
This is not to say that Sudan risks going the way of the factionalism and bitter communal struggles that have plagued Syria.
But many of the same factors that are shaping the contemporary Middle East are at play in Sudan too, notably the growing role of the Saudis who, along with their Gulf allies, are waging a multi-front battle for influence against Qatar and especially Turkey.
This regional rivalry is to a large extent both facilitated and explained by the notable absence of the US as a serious diplomatic actor. It has also been partially eclipsed by Russia, which has used its engagement in Syria as a means of re-asserting its place at the Middle East’s diplomatic table.
‘Little interest in protest voices’
The Saudis have to a considerable extent seized and held the diplomatic initiative.
They and the UAE have pitched in with financial aid for Sudan, including an immediate injection of cash and transfers of cheap fuel, food and medicines.
Abu Dhabi has hosted talks among various armed groups about future political arrangements.
And Riyadh’s ally, Egypt, has played a role in deploying its diplomatic muscle at the African Union.