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Sudan: Background of the War and Its International Dimensions

Omeyma Sheikh-Eldin

8 мая 2023 г.

Fighting have continued in Khartoum for three weeks, after the failure of the recent truce between the two parties. The sounds of violent clashes are still reverberating in central Khartoum, where the Sudanese army is trying to remove the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) from the areas surrounding the presidential palace and the army headquarters which makes difficult to achieve the implementation of a continuous truce.

The two sides seek to control areas in the capital before any possible negotiations, and they have no desire or motives to sit at any negotiating table. This conflict was expected, as the alliance between them was temporary, in addition to the fact that they do not care about the aspirations of civilians for democracy and what is in the interest of the Sudanese people.

The former U.S. envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, said: “Unfortunately, their partnership was predicated on undermining, delaying, and obstructing Sudan’s transition to democratic civilian rule.

The two sought to evade accountability for crimes dating back to the genocide in Darfur, and the recent massacre that caused the death of more than 120 unarmed protesters in June 2019. Above all, their attitude and ideas were based on the shared understanding that the Sudanese army will never be held accountable to civilians.”

This period also witnessed a lack of firmness from the international community and its indifference in dealing with the political situations, resulting in a military-civilian alliance, following the outbreak of a peaceful, noble, and exemplary revolution.

Feltman highlighted, “We avoided the severe consequences of the repeated acts of impunity that could have led to a change of strategy. Instead, we thoughtlessly appeased and accommodated warlords. We thought we were being pragmatic. But late hindsight might more accurately describe this as wishful thinking.”

One of the most important developments at the international arena is the executive order issued by the White House on Thursday, May 4, regarding the imposition of sanctions on people who destabilize Sudan.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the battles that have been going on for weeks in Sudan “must end,” threatening new sanctions on those responsible for the bloodshed.

"The ongoing violence in Sudan is a tragedy, and a betrayal of the clear demands of the Sudanese people for a civilian government and a transition to democracy," he said in a statement, adding, "It must end."

However, the United States does not expect the fighting in Sudan to stop between the army and the RSF, because neither of them has the motive to seek peace, according to what was announced by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines.

In this report, shadows will be cast on the background of the conflict, its international depth and dimensions.

It became clear to everyone that this conflict arose at the behest of the regime elements of the former dictator, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and his supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that was founded in Egypt and exported to Sudan since the forties.

However, its real influence appeared with Hassan al-Turabi, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Khartoum, who had just returned from studying in Paris. His star shone during the October 1964 revolution that overthrew the regime of Lieutenant General Ibrahim Abboud.

After that, he established the “Islamic Charter Front” that included the Muslim Brotherhood and Ansar al-Sunnah (Salafist group) claiming an Islamic constitution.

Al-Turabi's influence continued through the military rule of Jaafar al-Nimeiri (1969-1986), the short period of rule of Sadiq al-Mahdi in 1986, and during the rule of Omar al-Bashir since his military coup in June 1989.

Al-Turabi was known as a cunning politician with certain pragmatism. He was the one who urged the application of Islamic Sharia laws in Sudan, and entered into a fierce conflict with the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (the majority of its population is non-Muslim), led by the late leader, Dr. John Garang.

The conflict was on the framework of a racist ideology that excludes the African race and seeks the dominance of Arab culture in Sudan. During his rule, along with Omar al-Bashir, Osama Bin laden was invited to live in Sudan. This period witnessed the dominance of extremist Islamic thought in this African country.

Al-Turabi's thought has left its traces to these days, which we can say is one of the most important causes of the current conflict, through which Al-Bashir's supporters reject democratic civil rule, and living in a multi-ethnic Sudanese society and identities.

The best example of this is what happened in the Darfur region, which is inhabited by a majority of African descent, who suffered from the worst types of racism and marginalization by groups that claim their "Arab origins and identity", at the expense of their African history and culture.

It should be noted that the issue of racism and identity war in Sudan is one of the most thorny and cruel chapters in the history of Sudan, and it is the main motive for the secession of the south and the horror of the conflict in the west of the country represented in the regions of Darfur and Kordofan.

As we mentioned, the initial spark for the war was ignited by Al-Bashir's supporters, who fear the arrival of a democratic civilian government in the country, after 30 years with an iron fist on power in Sudan.

One of the most important religious leaders of Bashir, Abdul Hai Yusuf, issued a “fatwa” (which is a religious ruling binding on Muslims) to kill civil party leaders and symbols of the revolution.

He called them puppet parties, which some jurists and activists demanded to file a lawsuit against him before the International Court of Justice, as it is considered hate speech and a clear call for terrorism, murder and violence.

Earlier, one of the leaders during the Bashir era, Hajj Adam Youssef, described the civil rule as a failure and called for its overthrow "more than a hundred times." He said we have two options, elections, or war.

And all of Al-Bashir’s followers unanimously agreed to betray all those who call for stopping the war, putting the Sudanese people before two options, either standing with them under the pretext of standing with the “national army” or considering them traitors, supporters of the Rapid Support Militia (Janjaweed), which they themselves established during the era of Al-Bashir, to protect it and implement the genocide that the Darfur region was subjected to.

People in Darfur went through all kind of horrors: villages been burned, use of mass rapes on a regular basis as a weapon against women.

It was also obvious that several international communities fear the arrival of democratic rule in Sudan. They are the countries that have a great interest in prolonging the war in the country, for the sake of their interests and ambitions in its wealth, its economic importance, and its strategic and political location in East and North Africa.

This is added to the endeavor of these countries to break it, fragment and turn it into a weak state, as happened in Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq. They are indifferent to the humanitarian repercussions of the war, such as displacement, starvation, killing and intimidation of citizens and children, rape of women, bombing of hospitals and vital centers in the capital, looting and theft, in addition to, criminal practices and chaos such as banks and vital facilities burning, cutting off electricity and drinking water, stealing citizens' cars, a long series of atrocities.

Given that the capital, Khartoum, and Sudan in general, was one of the safest countries in the world.

Internationalization of the Sudanese conflict

What is happening in Sudan is a clear example of the conflict of interests of the superpowers and some regional actors, who are subject to the orders of these major countries, to control a country that occupies an area of ​​high importance on the African continent.

And as politician Muhammad Naji al-Assam, the official spokesman for the Professionals Association (PA), warned, the long war scenarios in Sudan will have serious consequences if foreign intervention takes place and turns into a proxy conflict between regional and international powers.

According to his description "In recent years, proxy wars in the region have become more popular at the expense of huge numbers of civilian casualties."

It is no secret that the most important supporter of Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is Egypt, which shares a border with Sudan. According to the Sudanese newspaper Al-Rakuba, the military in both countries played a dominant role in the decades following independence, interfering in the aftermath of popular uprisings.

The BBC reported, "The existence of a weak regime in Khartoum or the emergence of an alternative political regime hostile to Cairo may have serious repercussions for the northern neighbor." Sudanese politicians deal with neighboring Egypt with caution, as the latter has played a major role throughout history in determining and influencing its policy.

Analysts also made comparisons between the two countries, and thus the possibility of repeating Egypt's experience in Sudan. The two countries witnessed a popular revolution, in a way that bears many similarities, as the Egyptian revolution toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, while the Sudanese revolution brought down Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

In both cases the army had a decisive role in bringing down the two leaders. In the case of Egypt, former army chief and current president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, overthrew the democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, a decade ago.

In Sudan, Al-Burhan led a military coup in 2021, meaning that the Sisi regime’s stand in the way of democracy (assuming Morsi’s Islamic rule was democratic). This fact raised justified fears among the political elite in Khartoum about the Egyptian army encouraging its Sudanese counterpart to follow the same approach.

Recently Egypt had great interests in dealing with Sudan as its ally, based on its dispute with Ethiopia over the Renaissance Dam, which is considered a project that may harm and threaten its interests, because its completion entails the possibilities of controlling the flow of Nile waters to Egypt, which is the most important factor for Egyptian life” According to BBC newspaper.

On the other hand, social media in Sudan, after the outbreak of the revolution, was buzzing, calling its government for monitoring, and controlling, after the Egyptian authorities “looted the country’s resources with the complicity of the Sudanese government.”

They said that “Egyptian trucks carry Sudanese livestock and crops such as sesame and cotton,” in addition to smuggling several products such as "vegetable charcoal after changing the country of origin (Sudan) and selling it under the title “made in Egypt”, amid the Sudanese government's silence, which some consider to be a sign of satisfaction."

On the other hand, many political sources confirmed that Al-Burhan's current opponent, Mohamed Daglo (Hemedti), the leader of the RSF, receives support from the United Arab Emirates, primarily for economic reasons, and for political reasons as well.

The British newspaper "The Telegraph" indicated that the Emirati weapons found in the possession of the Rapid Support Forces indicate Abu Dhabi's involvement in the Sudanese conflict.

It stressed that this information "caused potential embarrassment for the UAE, at a time when it is seeking to mediate alongside Egypt for a cease-fire between the rival Sudanese forces."

The newspaper also quoted Cameron Hudson, a former CIA officer and expert on Sudan, as saying, "Washington's assertion that the UAE is a partner in seeking peace in Sudan as part of the Quartet should be viewed increasingly with skepticism.

For his part, the Emirates Center for Studies and Media “Emasc” highlighted that it is known to everyone the special relationship that unites Hamidati with the UAE, and the support he receives from it”, explaining that “the password in that relationship is gold, as a report published by Global Witness – a human rights organization working in the field of Anti-Corruption - 2019 that the RSF, which is controlled by Hemedti, controls the Jebel Amer mine, in addition to three other mines in separate parts of the country," noting that gold represents a large part of Sudan's exports.

According to many political analysts, the UAE's relationship with RSF support, is linked to the relationship between the latter and Russia, as its leader, Hamidti, visited Russia on the eve of the war in Ukraine, where he stayed for 8 days, which is the longest visit by a Sudanese president to Russia.

Russia's interests in Sudan and its support for the RSF are due to the search for gold, in addition to its endeavor to consolidate its relationship with Sudan, which is its main entrance to African countries, considering a raging struggle between it and France over the continent.

In this regard, Hamidti hinted, after his return from Moscow to the possibility of establishing a Russian military base on the Red Sea, a plan initiated by the Russians since the era of the defunct Al-Bashir regime, in order to host Russian ships, including ships that run on nuclear fuel.

With regard to Hemedti's relationship with Russia, many political and media sources spoke of the "Wagner" group's support for the Rapid Support Forces.

As the American "CNN" network quoted Sudanese and regional diplomatic sources as saying that it is providing it with missiles to help in its fight against the Sudanese army, through the Russian base in the city of Latakia on the Syrian coast.

CNN has quoted Sudanese and regional diplomatic sources as saying that the Russian mercenary group Wagner has been supplying the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RSF) with missiles from their bases in eastern Libya, where rogue general Khalifa Haftar holds sway.

The sources indicated that "Haftar supported the Rapid Support Forces, although he denies siding with any party, in addition to the allegations of Sudanese and regional diplomatic sources, that both Russia and the Libyan general may have been preparing to support the RSF even before the outbreak of the war."

This was not the first time that this information was reported, as Sudanese opposition sources mentioned several times that Wagner was involved in confronting the demonstrators during the peaceful protests that erupted in the country, during the four years after the overthrow of the Al-Bashir regime, in condemnation of the policy of military rule, led by Al-Burhan And his deputy, Hamidti, allies of yesterday and enemies of today.

Regarding President Biden's decisions to impose sanctions on both sides of the conflict, it is clear that this will not have a significant impact on ending the conflict, at least in the short term, or ending the suffering of the Sudanese people who have been greatly affected by it. In fact Sudan has been subject to economic sanctions by the United States, since 1997.

These announced sanctions will also be exploited by the army and the RSF to sit for negotiations, which the civil side rejects, as it considers as granting legitimacy to them.

It is worth noting that the sanctions imposed by the "superpower" have lost their effectiveness, of course depending on the country subject to it. As President Obama said regarding the sanctions imposed on Cuba, they "serve the national interest of the United States of America".

With Washington increasingly relying on sanctions, a number of countries violating its policies have begun to fortify their economies against these measures, and therefore the decision may lead to Hamidti resorting to seeking help from Russia and Wagner's forces.

Or it could lead to those who survive, as mentioned by political analyst Uzaz al-Shami, by forming small militias to launch small wars that may last for longer and become cross-border.

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