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The Crisis in Sudan Goes Beyond Power Struggles, Say Analysts

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Sudan, once the largest country in Africa and the Arabic-speaking world, finds itself at another crossroads as a brutal power struggle threatens peace and national and regional security alike.

Conflict broke out between the country’s army, led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and a powerful paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, on April 15, 2023.

Hundreds of people, including civilians, have been killed in the clashes that have led to an exodus of foreigners from the country.

The crisis, although viewed primarily as a power struggle, is multifaceted and further complicated by Sudan’s history of external influence and the growing interest in the region by regional and global powers.

The Sudanese political science professor in Turkey, Mayada Kamal El-Din, told the Daily Sabah newspaper that the recent conflict stemmed entirely from political differences that began in 2019 with the overthrow of leader Omar al-Bashir.

Bashir’s ouster was followed by a coup, orchestrated by the military and the RSF in 2021, that reversed the transition to civilian rule and installed Burhan as de facto leader.

behind the political dispute

But the situation was exacerbated by the lack of understanding between the military and civil apparatus of the state. Initially, a two-year transition period was announced, which was later extended for another two years. During that period, civilians and the military could not agree on major issues such as elections, parliament, the formation of a civilian government, and the appointment of a prime minister.

Another key component of the reform is the proposed merger of the Rapid Support Forces, led by Hamdan Dagalo, with the Sudanese National Army. The merger issue led to further controversies.

However, Turkish academic and analyst Serhat Orakci indicated that the crisis may be deeper than just a power struggle.

Economic motives undoubtedly lie in the background of this conflict. Orakji said the RSF has a history of seeking profit by providing mercenary soldiers to Libya and Yemen, controlling the smuggling of arms and cars, investing in real estate and, most importantly, controlling large gold mines.

“With a military strength of over 100,000, the RSF operates as an army within an army and a state within a state in Sudan. This huge entity, which was planned to merge into the Sudanese army, seeks to seize the country’s resources by seizing power on its own with no desire to giving up his gains so far.

Economic and geopolitical factors

Orakji stressed that Sudan’s natural resources and its strategic location in Africa make it geopolitically important, which attracts the interest of external actors.

Sudan enjoys strong ties with the Middle East due to its underground resources such as oil and gold and its strategic location in Africa. Its location on the Red Sea and its hosting of the Nile River increase its importance. It is difficult to say that what is happening in Sudan is independent of the economic, political and geopolitical interests of global and regional actors.

At the highest levels, the United States, Russia, and China are steering Sudan toward its own pivots, while cooperating with regional players such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, and Ethiopia. Orakji added that when Omar al-Bashir’s regime was overthrown in 2019, it was known that foreign actors provided financial aid to the Sovereignty Council, which is dominated by the military, and undermined civilian transitions.

Al-Din agreed, pointing to Sudan’s strategic importance in the region as well as its important natural resources.

Sudan was one of the largest countries in Africa and the Arab world until the secession of South Sudan. It remains the third largest country in Africa and has one of the longest coastlines on the Red Sea.

Sudan’s ports and military bases have caused competition between the United States and Russia. Turkish officials often refer to Sudan as our “gateway to Africa” ​​and stress the country’s importance. It is rich in arable land and plenty of fresh water resources. It is also the third largest producer of gold in Africa, and gold production accounted for up to 40% of the national budget in previous years.

“These factors have brought a lot of external attention and often interventions to Sudan,” Eldin added.

split risk

Sudan witnessed partition in 2011 when it lost some territory to South Sudan. According to Orakji, similar tendencies can be observed from time to time in the regions of South Kordofan and Darfur.

“Although the crisis in the country may not lead to a new division in the short term, it is likely to deepen Sudan’s regional problems in the medium and long term,” he said.

The Rapid Support Forces, which are currently in conflict with the Sudanese Armed Forces, are based on a state-supported paramilitary militia in Darfur. These militias, called the Janjaweed, were created to suppress separatist armed formations in Darfur and later transformed into border forces in 2013-2014 during the era of Omar al-Bashir. He added that if this structure, which also has family ties with Libya and Chad, is dissolved, other security problems may arise in Sudan and neighboring countries.

regional and global interests

The crisis in Sudan has received wide coverage in the global media, which is a clear indication of the potential repercussions it may have on the regional and global levels.

Political expert Elden, a lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science and International Relations at Tokat Gaziosman Pasha University, blamed regional and international actors, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia as well as regional powers such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

These countries have interfered or exerted pressure on Sudan and its policies. She said that the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, especially after the overthrow of al-Bashir in 2019, were major factors in the political situation in the country.

The “Quad” countries, which include the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, are dominant in Sudanese politics. Volker Berthes, the UN Special Envoy to Sudan, is also active in the country’s political process and negotiations. However, their activities are often seen as negative interventions that impede stability in Sudan.

In addition, Russia, through its powerful Wagner mercenary group, has carved out an area in Sudan. Wagner began its spread in Sudan during the rule of former President Al-Bashir, which continued after his fall, in partnership with a Russian mining company.

Orakji, a political analyst specializing in African affairs, also acknowledged the importance of Sudan, especially to neighboring Egypt.

There are deep historical, political, economic, military and security relations between Egypt and Sudan. The sharing of the Nile makes this relationship strategic. Egypt is known to support the Sudanese army and provide guidance in suppressing civilian groups that advocate civilian rule. It is also known that the UAE and Saudi Arabia exploited the mercenaries of the Rapid Support Forces to support the Libyan General Khalifa Haftar and to fight against the Houthis in Yemen.

He added, “In recent years, Israel has also been known for establishing relations and cooperation with conflicting parties in Sudan under the guise of normalization.”

“Looking at this picture, it is clear that the conflicting parties are in a relationship with the same regional powers and receive financial and weapon support.”

As a result, the most important effect of this conflict, which shows tendencies of lengthening and deepening, is to undermine the democratization of the Sudanese government and the building of governance based on the will of the people.

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