In April, a delegation from Turkey’s Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) attended the fourth national conference of Sudan’s National Congress Party(NCP). It was only the fourth national congress of the NCP since its founding and the meeting was meant to codify NCP policy before elections in 2020. At the conference, AKP delegates pledged to continue strengthening bilateral ties between Sudan and Turkey.
Yasin Aktay, the AKP Deputy Chairman in charge of Human Rights (as well as member of parliament from the province of Siirt) led the delegation and addressed the conference, which was attended by thousands of NCP leaders.
“We have been following developments in Sudan from Turkey. We have even also followed the conspiracies and all plots against Sudan and those who want to hinder Sudan who wants to hinder all of our nations, same who want to hinder Turkey,” Aktay said in fluent Arabic. Aktay left unstated what foreign powers he thought were interfering with Sudanese and Turkish affairs.
Continuing with the theme of political conspiracies, Aktay noted that “we have survived several conspiracies against us and coup d’états attempts against us [in Turkey]… We survived not only a military coup d’état [this past summer] but, also judicial coup d’état attempt, a street coup d’état attempt and also an economic coup d’état attempt. Most recently we have faced an international coup d’état attempt. However, all these coups have failed against Turkey.”
Aktay concluded his remarks by praising Sudan and confirming the health of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Seated close to Aktay was Sudanese President, Omar Al-Baashir, who has ruled the country since 1989, but has promised not to seek re-election in 2020. Al-Baashir is currently pursuing a peace process between the central government and rebel groups in the country’s South and in Darfur.
Delegations from political parties across Africa attended the conference, held at a hall along the edge of the Nile in downtown Khartoum. In addition to the AKP, other non-African parties attended the conference, including delegations from Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Chinese Communist Party.
The AKP was, however, clearly the guest of honor.
“When we began reforming our political system in 2014 as part of our peace process we looked for new models for NCP,” Ibrahim Mahmoud, the vice-president of the NCP, told Muftah. “One of the parties we looked at was AKP because this is party with both an Islamic and a democratic frame of reference.”
The “Turkish Model” of government – the idea that a conservative party rooted in Islamism could govern democratically and even liberally- was widely touted in the wake of the Arab Spring, as a possible route for other regional countries. But, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has consolidated power, Turkey is no longer considered a democracy, let alone an aspirational model, by Western analysts.
The AKP’s reputation in the West seems to matter little to the NCP, whose high regard for the AKP was evident in the prominent speaking slot Chairman Aktay was given at the conference. He was the second international speaker at the congress and was preceded only by Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Tunisia’s Ennahada Party.
“Since Erdogan came to power Turkey actually began to re-develop its ties to Africa, ties that had existed for centuries in Ottoman times but had since been forgotten. Under Erdogan, relations between Turkey and Sudan have improved quickly, ” said Mohammed Rashid, a head of external relations with the ruling National Congress Party in an interview with the author.
“Our relations with Sudan are improving all the time,” Aktay told Muftah.
During his final month in office, President Obama eased sanctions on Sudan, opening new opportunities for Turkish businesses in Sudan. The permanent removal of U.S. sanctions, scheduled for later this summer, would open new opportunities for Turkish investors and banking interests.
As well as business interests, Turkey is expanding its military operations in the region, and currently has a base in Djibouti, Ethiopia. Port Sudan offers a tempting location for expanding Turkey’s military and commercial presence along a vital international maritime trade route.
Whether or not al-Baashir is president, relations between Turkey and Sudan will likely continue to strengthen. As Mahmoud told those gathered at the conference dinner, “Turkey is a model and good example for a lot of us [in Africa]. Turkey has proven its strength.”