Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Sudanese Crisis’ Impact on Neighbouring Countries

The Sudanese crisis has created a regional domino effect, with neighbouring countries apprehensive about the severe consequences.

The Sudanese Crisis’ Impact
Workers register refugees who crossed from Sudan to Ethiopia at the International organization for Migration office in Metema, on May 4, 2023. Amanuel Sileshi / AFP

Khaled Mahmoud

The ongoing Sudanese crisis is becoming a potential regional time bomb that could explode at any time. The seven neighbouring countries of Sudan are bracing themselves for the military, security, and economic implications that may arise from the conflict.

The potential consequences of this crisis include the escalating fears of refugees, illegal smuggling, and the proliferation of criminal or extremist armed factions.

As the crisis enters its second month without any signs of cessation, the future of the Sudanese state remains highly uncertain. Despite the devastating economic and human toll the conflict may take, the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) appear determined to continue their battle until the end.

A Multitude of Concerns

Arab and Egyptian officials have expressed to Fanack concern regarding the ramifications of the Sudanese conflict for the region. Under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Djibouti, South Sudan and Kenya are actively involved in mediation efforts to resolve the dire situation in Sudan.

Djibouti Foreign Minister, Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, told Fanack: “There is a chance for the mediation to bear fruit” if a ceasefire agreement is reached between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces.

The disparate positions of Arab countries on the Sudan issue have hindered the formation of a cohesive Arab position regarding the accountability of those responsible for the outbreak of the conflict.

An Arab League official, who spoke to Fanack anonymously, explained: “The untold element in the crisis is identifying who should be held accountable and determining whether the Sudanese army is confronting an insurgency within its ranks or not.”

He added: “The prevailing narrative on the conflict, both regionally and internationally, is that it is a power struggle between the two generals, al-Burhan and Hemedti. Egypt is the only country to correctly define the crisis, albeit not explicitly.”

The official also asserted that the Arab League had not encountered a comparable predicament in Yemen or Libya. According to him, Arab countries are hesitant to take a decisive stance on the crisis and consider it a power struggle rather than an insurgency.

Based on the hesitant Arab positioning towards the conflict, Arab circles reasonably look to the African Union to take a leading role. The African Union enjoys stronger ties to Sudan and has extensive experience in resolving similar conflicts.

Nevertheless, the African Union has also been facing constraints in intervening, given that each party is convinced of its ability to achieve a swift military solution.

The prolonged conflict may eventually force al-Burhan and Hemedti to acknowledge their inability to reach a resolution, which may ultimately result in a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Egyptian researcher Amr Abdel-Aty has described the Sudanese conflict as a “war against reason.” According to him, the conflict occurs in a region that has recently witnessed numerous reconciliations and settlements to end internal and regional conflicts.

Contagion of War

Sudan is situated in a highly intricate region. The crisis has created a regional domino effect, with neighbouring countries apprehensive about the severe consequences they may face if the conflict is not promptly and effectively resolved.

According to Egyptian diplomat and Senator Amr Helmy, the repercussions of the Sudanese conflict are unlikely to remain confined within Sudan. Helmy noted that the consequences of the conflict are likely to impact most countries that share borders with Sudan.

These consequences may include an influx of refugees, an increase in terrorism, fundamentalism, extremism, in addition to a rise in ethnic and racial conflicts.

The Egyptian diplomat believes that countries grappling with internal instability will suffer more from the conflict’s repercussions. Examples of these countries are Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic, and Libya.

According to the Sudanese National Boundary Commission, Sudan shares 47 border crossings with neighbouring countries, spanning a border of more than eight thousand kilometres.

Tunç Demirtaş, assistant professor of international relations at Mersin University, believes the Sudanese crisis will likely trigger waves of refugees towards Egypt.

According to Demirtaş, the Egyptian economy is likely to suffer from an influx of Sudanese refugees. He also believes Libya will likely receive a share of any potential refugee waves from Sudan and warns that the refugee situation may also threaten Chad’s stability.

Despite the claim made by the spokesman for the Egyptian presidency that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has a strong influence in resolving international conflicts, the war in Sudan has continued without any signs of stopping. This raises doubts about Egypt’s ability to intervene, similar to its efforts to contain the volatile situation in the Gaza Strip.

During a meeting with a delegation from the US House of Representatives, al-Sisi affirmed Egypt’s commitment to exerting utmost efforts to promote peaceful political dialogue in Sudan. The Egyptian president also indicated that Cairo works on achieving a ceasefire, and protecting civilians from the humanitarian consequences of the conflict.

But the largely successful Egyptian role in Gaza now faces many difficulties in Sudan. Perhaps the most prominent of these difficulties is Hemedti’s attempt to portray Cairo as an ally of al-Burhan.

Hemedti echoed his previous claims that the RSF were attacked by foreign fighter jets, but this time, he accused the Egyptian air force.

Egypt has definitely the necessary elements to mediate the ongoing crisis in Sudan. However, some obstacles may hinder its efforts. The most prominent of these obstacles is Egypt’s foreign policy that avoids involvement in conflicts.

The historical dispute over the Halayeb and Shalateen triangle casts a shadow over the Egyptian position on the conflict in Sudan. As is well known, al-Burhan’s position on this issue was hesitant. While he asserted that Halayeb was Sudanese, he stressed the need for this issue not to be a thorn in bilateral relations with Egypt.

What matters for Cairo now is to cope with the crisis of the refugees fleeing the Sudanese war. According to local observers who spoke to Fanack, Cairo considers the triangle’s issue a “political luxury at present.”

Egyptian complaints

The Sudanese Crisis’ Impact
A combination of file pictures shows Sudan’s Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (L) and Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces commander, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (Hemedti). ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP

In a phone call with Deng Dau Deng, the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Sudan, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry voiced his concerns about the conflict. Shoukry stated that Egypt and South Sudan are the most affected countries by the ongoing conflict in Sudan.

Imad al-Din Hussein, the editor-in-chief of al-Shorouk newspaper, wrote that the Sudanese conflict would benefit Ethiopia. According to him, the conflict limits Sudan’s demands for a legal and binding agreement on the Renaissance Dam’s operation and management.

Amani al-Taweel, an Egyptian researcher, sees the instability in Sudan as a significant threat to Egypt’s power, particularly with the increased risks to water, security, and the economy.

Ethiopian journalist Ibrahim Anwar believes that the ongoing conflict in Sudan may harm the region, and no one is immune from its impact. Anwar expressed concerns that the situation may worsen and lead to displacement to neighbouring countries.

He noted: “African movements have been weak so far, and the West has only been interested in evacuating its citizens, without paying much attention to the suffering of the Sudanese people.”

Anwar expected that Ethiopia would play a leading role in hosting dialogue sessions as it did in the past. He explained: “Being closely associated with Sudan on multiple issues makes Ethiopia one of the countries directly affected by the ongoing conflict. Any movement and development in Sudan may also harm Ethiopia.”

It is worth noting that Addis Ababa hosted the dialogue between the Military Council and the Forces of Freedom and Change in 2020, which produced positive results at the time.

Deteriorated Regional Context

Given the deteriorating regional security situation, including the events in Sudan, Richard Norland, the US special envoy to Libya, emphasised the importance of forming a unified army with civilian leadership in Libya. According to him, forming this army is vital to protect the country’s sovereignty and stability.

Following warnings by the Libyan House of Representatives of significant impacts, the mass displacement of Sudanese civilians led to the closure of land borders between Libya and Sudan.

Meanwhile, the Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, views the situation through the lens of the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to maintain its presence in the Arab world.

A high-ranking military official in Haftar’s forces informed Fanack that the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts, with external backing, to regain its footing in Tunisia and Sudan will persist. According to the official, Hemedti was among the possible options being considered for recruitment.

The military official said: “Sudan strongly supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya and Egypt until they came to power. Any success for them in returning to any country will be seen as a setback for moderate Islam and the Obama project, which could not continue after gaining empowerment and control through what is known as the Arab Spring revolutions.”

Some have accused the National Oil Corporation (NOC) of supporting one of the parties in the Sudanese conflict through the Sarir oil refinery. However, NOC denied these allegations and clarified that the refinery has limited capacity.

Due to the military stalemate between the conflicting parties, it is probable that the war will continue. As a result, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, confirmed that some Arab countries are at risk due to the situation in Sudan. He also highlighted the extreme poverty in West Africa’s Sahel region, which has become a breeding ground for terrorist groups, mercenaries, and illegal immigrants.

Chadian President Mahamat Idriss Déby is primarily concerned about the potential humanitarian consequences for millions of displaced individuals if the conflict persists. Along with other regional heads of state, Déby carefully considers the potential humanitarian consequences of the conflict in Sudan.

Despite Chad’s and Libya’s closure of borders with Sudan, Folahanmi Aina, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, argues that events in Sudan might have stirred the “greater region’s hornet nest”. Therefore, he anticipates that the conflict will have a domino effect across the already troubled Chad basin and the Sahel.

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