Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Sudanese Crisis: Yesterday’s Friends, Today’s Foes

The ongoing Sudanese crisis reflects the regional and international failure to prevent the conflict that has been looming for weeks over power between al-Burhan and Hemedti.

The Sudanese Crisis
Sudanese army soldiers, loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, sit atop a tank in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, on April 20, 2023. AFP

Khaled Mahmoud

Sudan‘s latest crisis compounds the already complex challenges facing its people, reflecting the regional and international failure to prevent conflict over power between al-Burhan and Hemedti that has been looming for weeks.

While the world watches, Sudan has quietly slipped into a new civil war revolving around the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). This tragic development further deepens the political and economic turmoil already plaguing Sudan.

The evacuation of foreign nationals from Sudan hints that another escalation of violence is imminent while the international community abandons the Sudanese people to face their plight alone.

Satellite images revealed the extent of damage caused by the ongoing fighting between rival factions vying for power.

A Sudanese journalist, who spoke anonymously, told Fanack, “The current situation is miserable and not easy at all. For ten days, we have been living without water or electricity. The sounds of artillery surround us, and the smell of blood clogs our noses. People are exhausted from what they are living through.”

The journalist, residing in the Khartoum Bahri area, warned that “the country’s current situation is fragile. It cannot withstand these turbulent conditions.”

The recent clashes between Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the Sudanese army’s commander and leader of the Transitional Military Council, and Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemedti), the vice president of the Sovereign Council, were not entirely unexpected. Preceding events had indicated the inevitability of a power struggle between the two.

Hemedti, appointed vice president of the Sovereign Council that ruled the country after the fall of Omar Al-Bashir’s regime, leads the RSF that operates parallel to but is not integrated into the regular army. Although the Sudanese army ousted the transitional government with the help of the RSF in October 2021, disagreements arose between the two leaders after Hemedti refused to place his forces under al-Burhan’s command.

Plans were in place to integrate Hemedti’s forces into the Sudanese army as part of security reforms coinciding with negotiations about the formation of a new transitional government in Sudan. However, fighting between the two sides proved to be inevitable after a weeks-long standoff.

Al-Sadiq Haftar’s Visit

The Sudanese Crisis
Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (Hemedti) in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on June 8, 2022. ASHRAF SHAZLY/ AFP

Days before the clashes erupted, Al-Sadiq Haftar, the eldest son of Khalifa Haftar, the Libyan national army commander, paid a surprise visit to Khartoum.

Al-Sadiq met with Hemedti, who had invited him in his capacity as the honorary president of the popular Sudanese football club al-Merrikh SC. In an interview with Fanack, Haftar’s son described the meeting, “I found a man who behaves as if he were a head of state. Everything about him suggests so.”

According to Al-Sadiq, Hemedti asked him if he knew Libya well while boasting that he himself had visited the country several times since the days of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Al-Sadiq Haftar, unsurprisingly, ended his visit and left Sudan before he could be taken hostage during the ensuing clashes.

He told Fanack, “I felt uneasy during the visit. My discomfort deepened when I was informed that Hemedti had assigned some of his guards to protect me during the rest of my stay in Sudan.”

He added, “I was surprised because there were the official guards provided by the Sudanese authorities and the security team that accompanied me during the visit, so there was no need for extra protection.”

Al-Sadiq had not realised that Hemedti’s actions were part of his ongoing efforts to establish himself as a second de facto ruler of Sudan alongside al-Burhan.

The visit was a scheme aimed at suggesting a relationship between Hemedti and Khalifa Haftar. It was also an attempt to pressure Al-Sadiq into donating to al-Merrikh SC, which had recently lost its Saudi sponsor.

According to information obtained by Fanack, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar made two unannounced phone calls to al-Burhan and Hemedti, urging them to end the conflict and solve the issue through negotiations. During these contacts, he also asserted that the Libyan National Army forces under his command are not involved in the military conflict in Sudan.

In a later statement made by his official spokesperson, Major General Ahmed al-Mismari, Haftar proposed the formation of a mediation committee by the Arab League and the African Union to push for dialogue between the conflicting parties and end the fighting in Sudan.

Like they ignored other regional and international demands, the proposal put forward by Haftar failed to garner a response from al-Burhan and Hemedti. They appear determined to continue their debilitating battle at the expense of Sudan’s security and stability.

Foreign envoys have engaged in lengthy discussions with the two generals in an attempt to broker a resolution. UN envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, attended a Ramadan iftar hosted by Deputy Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shams al-Deen al-Kabashi as part of these efforts.

Even though UN officials stated there was no immediate indication of an impending war, armed forces on both sides were preparing to engage in conflict at the break of dawn.

The UN’s efforts to mediate in the Sudanese crisis have not been successful thus far. Journalist Talal Al-Haj reported that Perthes’ ambitions have dwindled, as he now seeks only a few hours of a daily ceasefire to deliver humanitarian aid to millions of Sudanese. Some observers were surprised by Perthes’ statement, given UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ calls for an immediate ceasefire.

Egypt’s Loss

Egypt appears to have incurred the biggest loss amid the rapid developments in Sudan. Recent events have revealed an Egyptian military presence in Sudan, supposedly for “joint military exercises.”

However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not contact Egyptian officials to ease the Sudanese tensions. Rather, he consulted with his Saudi and Emirati counterparts, Faisal bin Farhan and Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, respectively.

Blinken’s apparent disregard for Egypt’s role in Sudan has prompted Al Qahera News Channel to question why the US is cooperating with the UAE and Saudi Arabia specifically to resolve the Sudanese crisis.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has advocated non-interference in Sudanese affairs while prioritising the return of Egyptian soldiers from Sudan. In contrast, the Al Qahera Channel has adopted positions supportive of al-Burhan in confronting Hemedti.

Amr Moussa, the former Egyptian foreign minister, expects Cairo to adopt a dynamic policy and actively undertake diplomatic endeavours to secure a key position for Egypt in the ongoing conflict in Sudan. According to Moussa, who also served as the secretary general of the Arab League, the Egyptian diplomatic efforts in Arab and African lobbies should be conducted in public as well as secretly to avoid exclusion from the current communications.

He warned that some Arab interests may conflict with Egypt’s deeper interests in Sudan and Africa. In this regard, he said, “Egypt is expected to take a frank and bold stance, as our critical interests in the region have come to be at stake. Ethiopia’s potential exploitation of the situation exacerbates the problem of the Renaissance Dam for us.”

Sawiris Joins the Fray

Meanwhile, Naguib Sawiris, a prominent Egyptian businessman and billionaire, criticised the former regime’s attempts to maintain dictatorial rule by involving the armed forces in a fruitless civil war.

Sawiris, who said, “Victory is for the freedom forces,” without specifying which forces he means, appears to align himself with Hemedti’s view. Notably, Hemedti’s Twitter account follows only one account, namely Sawiris’. In response to questions from his followers about their relationship, Sawiris sarcastically commented, “We are relatives.”

Sawiris siding with Hemedti has surprised Egyptian media, as it contradicts Egypt’s official and popular position that supports Sudan’s unity and rejects civil war.

Sawiris has refused Fanack’s request for comments, leaving questions about the nature of his investments in Sudan and his relationship with Hemedti unanswered.

The Emirati Role

Hemedti’s forces have gained control of Jebel Amer, one of Sudan’s largest gold mines. Hemedti’s wealth has been amassed through profitable gold mining concessions, as well as his services in Yemen, where the UAE paid him generously for providing thousands of soldiers to fight. It is worth noting that some of Hemedti’s social media accounts are managed from within the UAE.

According to informed Sudanese sources who spoke to Fanack on condition of anonymity, the UAE plays a substantial role in the ongoing conflict in Sudan.

Yesterday’s friends, al-Burhan and Hemedti, engage in a catastrophic conflict, as the West has failed to facilitate a permanent transition to democracy in Sudan.

Hemedti portrays himself as a hero of the marginalised and a potential future leader, climbing up from a humble background as a camel trader to become a notorious and ruthless militia leader. He was appointed the head of the RSF by Omar al-Bashir, the former Sudanese president, who referred to him as “my protector.”

The situation in Sudan puts the country at risk of becoming a failed state and opens the door to further transcontinental interventions under the pretext of containing the conflict before it escalates.

A source at the Sudanese Ministry of Information told Fanack, “The public opinion is against the RSF.” The source further stated that the military institution, which adheres to strict British military traditions, is better trained and qualified than Hemedti’s forces.

The source expressed confidence that the Sudanese army, which enjoys significant popular support, would ultimately emerge victorious. However, they also warned of the involvement of regional parties with differing interests in the conflict against the Sudanese army.

In light of the current circumstances, the country is not in a position to consider future political projects, including the American initiative to broker a peace agreement with Israel.

As the clashing parties race against time in an effort to triumph, the entire political process in Sudan has ground to a halt amidst economic and social crises, with the country’s fate hanging in the balance.

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