Sudan’s desert nomads untouched by Bashir’s downfall

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El-Molih is well known among tourists visiting the northeast African country, with its daily camel market a hit among visitors. (AFP)
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El-Molih is a vast swathe of desert about 100 kilometres (63 miles) from the Sudanese capital. (AFP)
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Dozens of camel traders remain untouched by the country’s biggest political upheaval in decades. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2019

Sudan’s desert nomads untouched by Bashir’s downfall

  • Sudan has been rocked by a political crisis since Dec. 19, when protests erupted against the government of Bashir
  • Thousands of Sudanese nomads live in vast desert stretches of North Darfur, North Kordofan and along the border with Chad, Egypt and Libya

EL MOLIH: Not far from Sudan’s capital Khartoum, the epicenter of an uprising that toppled autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir, dozens of camel traders are oblivious to the country’s biggest political upheaval in decades.
“What protests? We have all that we need in the desert — water, food and livestock, we don’t have any demands,” said Ali Habiballah, 52, a camel trader in El Molih, a vast swathe of desert about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Khartoum.
Habiballah, with his deep, black eyes and leathery skin — the product of working under a scorching sun for years — buys and sells camels, just like his father and grandfather before him.
“I love the desert and drinking camel milk is enough to make me happy,” Habiballah told AFP during a tour of El Molih’s camel market.
“We don’t care about politics. I don’t even go to Khartoum,” he said as his young son, dressed in traditional attire and seated in a leather saddle, rode by on a camel.
Sudan has been rocked by a political crisis since December 19, when protests erupted against the tripling of bread prices by the then government of Bashir.
The demonstrations swiftly escalated into a nationwide anti-Bashir campaign that finally led the army to oust him in April, ending his ironfisted rule of three decades.
El Molih’s daily camel market is a hit among tourists visiting Sudan.
Some camels are sent to slaughter houses for meat, but superior breeds are exported to Gulf countries to take part in races.
When it comes to politics, many traders in El Molih simply laugh.
“With or without Bashir, this country is just the same for us,” said Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed, a camel seller, as he sat with other men in a mud house used for storing animal fodder.
“All we are interested in is whether the price of livestock goes up or down,” he said, sipping hot tea.
In the distance, a mobile crane loaded a camel onto a truck heading to the border and onwards for sale in Egypt, Israel or the Gulf.
The price of each camel depends on what purpose the animal is sold for.
A camel sold for meat exports fetches between 60,000 and 90,000 Sudanese pounds ($1,330 to $2,000) from slaughter houses.
And a camel destined for racing in Gulf countries can bring in as much as 1.5 million Sudanese pounds.
Thousands of Sudanese nomads live in vast desert stretches of North Darfur, North Kordofan and along the border with Chad, Egypt and Libya.
Many hail from the Arab tribes who supported Bashir’s brutal war against ethnic African rebels in Darfur that broke out in 2003.
While many traders profess to have no interest in politics, others have strong opinions.
“The Arabs would be happy if Bashir was still around,” said Ali Salim Hamid, 35, who owns around 200 camels.
“I want Bashir, our father, to be back,” added Hamid, who hails from North Kordofan, one of Bashir’s erstwhile support bases.
For him, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) “had nothing to do” with a raid on a protest camp in Khartoum on June 3 that killed scores of demonstrators.
Protesters and rights groups have accused the RSF, which has its origins in the feared Arab Janjaweed militias that were unleashed in Darfur, of carrying out that raid.
But its commander General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — widely known as Himeidti — has defended his men, insisting there was an attempt to distort the paramilitaries’ image.
“Previously, camel traders were targets of thieves in the desert but it was Himeidti who caught them and handed them to the authorities,” said Hamid.
“Thanks to him our business continues.”
Dagalo, who hails from Darfur, is the deputy chief of Sudan’s ruling military council, which seized power after Bashir’s downfall.
In an interview with AFP in 2016, Dagalo said that he used to sell camels and sheep in Sudan, Libya and Chad.
For people like Hamid it does not matter who forms the new administration in Sudan.
“Civilian or military government — it is of little importance to us as long as it does not interfere in our business,” he said.

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

Updated 10 December 2019

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

  • Former US vice president sounds warning during panel discussion on ‘The global order 2030’
  • Remarks seen as indirect criticism of President Trump’s pledge to pull forces out of Syria

DUBAI: Dick Cheney, one of the most influential vice presidents in US history, has warned that “American disengagement” from the Middle East would only benefit Iran and Russia.

The 78-year-old politician’s warning came during a speech at the Arab Strategy Forum (ASF) in Dubai, an annual event in which the world’s leading decision-makers address global challenges and opportunities in “a precise, balanced and politically scientific manner.”

Cheney’s remarks could be seen as indirect criticism of US President Donald Trump’s pledges to pull forces out of northern Syria.

Addressing conference delegates, he cited the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the 2015 lifting of sanctions against Iran during Barack Obama’s presidency, as events that amplified instability in the region.

“Our allies were left abandoned, and no one wants to feel that way again,” said Cheney, who was chief executive of Halliburton between 1995 and 2000 and held high posts in several Republican administrations.

The former VP’s remarks came during the forum’s concluding session titled, “The global order 2030: The Unites States and China,” which was attended by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

Joined by Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese foreign minister, in a candid panel discussion, Cheney offered his views on the world order in the next decade within the context of Iran’s regional ascendancy, China’s rise and Russian ambitions in the Middle East.

“I am not here to speak on behalf of the US government, or to speak to it,” Cheney said, adding that his talking points reflected concerns he suspected everyone shared.

“For decades, there’s been a consensus of America’s influence in the world and how to use it,” he said, citing instances where US disengagement had caused the political situation in the Middle East to implode.

“Humanity has benefited from America’s protectionism of the world and its relationship with its allies in the region.”

According to him, the upcoming decade would be bleak should the US adopt a disengagement policy, with the pressures most felt by supporters and partners in the Middle East.

Turning to the role that the US and China would play in the global status quo by 2030, Cheney said there were still concerns over China’s reputation.

“We had hoped that there would be a political evolution in China, but that hasn’t happened yet,” he added.

Li said: “China will never learn from a world superpower and will never try to be hegemonic,” citing as examples China’s strong relations with the UAE and the wider Arab world, and the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative (a global development strategy) on Chinese foreign policy.

“History is the best teacher, but the US has forgotten its own history. You don’t keep your promises,” added Li, directing his statement at Cheney.

Cheney said that since the end of the Cold War, the US had expected that its policy toward China would have had a beneficial effect on its behavior and helped to deepen bilateral relations.

“It was disappointing to see that these expectations were not borne out – China has only grown richer, the regime has become more oppressive, and instead of evolving, it became more assertive,” he said.

In a separate ASF meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Center, Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, discussed Iran’s policies in a session titled, “The race for relevance and influence in the region: GCC, Iran, Turkey and Russia.”

Sadjadpour said he expected in the next 10 years to see the arrival of “an Iranian Putin” with a military background as the country’s next leader.

“After 40 years of a clerical regime and a military autocracy, there is now a rise of Persian nationalism. This is a shift from the sheer revolution ideology,” he said.

Sadjadpour said there had been an evolution of “Shiite Arab” identity during the past two decades, with the focus more on religion than nationality.

Under the circumstances, he noted that Sunni Arab powers had an important role to play in welcoming Shiite Arabs into their fold “and luring them away from Iran.”

The analyst added that the future of the Arab world could not be explored and forecast without considering a growing mental health crisis. “Today, hundreds of millions of people in the region suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of this will be with us for decades to come, resulting in issues like radicalism.”

He said there was a need for training thousands of counselors in the field of mental health in order to reach out to those whose lives had been robbed by extreme violence and conflicts.