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Sudan’s Power Struggle Rages On, Threatening Regional Stability

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Via Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo/Twitter)

The conflict in Sudan, which erupted on April 15th, has claimed hundreds of lives, displaced hundreds of thousands within the country, and driven over 100,000 to flee across borders. The violence is centered on the capital city of Khartoum, where the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are clashing. Tensions had been building for months between the two sides, which had previously toppled a civilian government in October 2021.

The RSF, led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, had aligned himself with civilian parties from the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) to transform himself into a statesman and cement his position at the center of power. The FFC and Hemedti shared the need to sideline Islamist-leaning Bashir loyalists and veterans who had regained a foothold following the coup and have deep roots in the army. However, some pro-army rebel factions that benefited from a 2020 peace deal and the Bashir loyalists opposed the deal for a new transition.

The current fighting threatens to destroy the hopes of Sudan and its population of 46 million to emerge from decades of autocracy, internal conflict, and economic isolation under Bashir. The conflict has also the potential to destabilize the region, bordering the Sahel, the Red Sea, and the Horn of Africa. It could also play into the competition for influence between Russia and the United States, as well as regional powers who have courted different actors in Sudan.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Via Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo/Twitter)

Western powers, including the United States, had swung behind a transition towards democratic elections following Bashir’s overthrow, but suspended financial support following the coup. They have since backed the plan for the new transition and a civilian government. Energy-rich powers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also sought to shape events in Sudan, seeing the transition away from Bashir’s rule as a way to roll back Islamist influence and bolster stability in the region.

Russia has been seeking to build a naval base on the Red Sea, while several UAE companies have been signing up to invest in sectors including agriculture, where Sudan holds vast potential, and ports on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the army and leader of Sudan’s ruling council since 2019, and his deputy Hemedti, both developed close ties to Saudi Arabia after sending troops to participate in the Saudi-led operation in Yemen.

Despite the lull in fighting allowing foreign nations to extract diplomats and citizens, there have been few signs of compromise from the warring factions. The army has branded the RSF a rebel force and demanded its dissolution, while Hemedti has called Burhan a criminal and blamed him for visiting destruction on the country. The growing humanitarian crisis has hit a country that was already stuck in a long economic crisis and in which about one-third of the population needed aid before the fighting began.

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