Increased conflict in Sudan threatens countries in the Middle East

Sudan’s military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, holding power since the ousting of President al-Bashir in 2019, is fighting against Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of a Sudanese paramilitary group, in a struggle to determine who will hold centralized power in Sudan in the coming years.

Dagalo was initially appointed by Bashir, to lead the Rapid Support Forces, only to turn on him in the coup. Al-Burhan was the military inspector general, and used his power to take command in the vacuum that followed Bashir’s removal from power. The two men were initially good allies, having come to power in similar ways during Sudan’s violent past, but the decision on who will subordinate to who in the new government has turned the alliance violent. First, both Burhan and Dagalo seemed to support a democracy, but within two years, they overthrew the government they themselves had formed by removing Bashir from power. This new government was populated by Burhan’s allies from Bashir’s regime, a move which put Dagalo on edge, and started fragmenting the relationship that has led to the situation as it stands today.

Recently, Dagalo’s RSF started an offensive in Sudan against Burhan’s government, a move that he has characterized as a "coup."

The move has resulted in hundreds of deaths as the fighting continued. While there had been some hope of a truce on Eid, which the RSF and the government initially supported, neither side has ceased shelling, and civilians remain in the crossfire. An estimated 200,000 Sudanese civilians have fled the country, fleeing to nearby Chad to get away from the fighting. Hospitals and other necessities have been caught up in the front lines, as the RSF and the military chip away at each other.

In terms of strength, the RSF is considerably smaller than the military, having only about 70,000 regulars to the military’s 200,000, but reports say that Dagalo has better trained, supplied and utilized his men, making them a severe threat to Burhan’s government.

With the suddenness of this conflict, major airports and transport hubs in Sudan have been shut down, and those that have not face the costs of being caught in an active war zone. Gunshots can be heard at the country’s major airports, as governments across the world try to find ways to evacuate their embassy staff. This came to a head on April 23, as the United States evacuated its entire embassy staff from Sudan despite fears that this would not be possible due to the crisis unfolding in the country.

Meanwhile, supplies continue to dwindle, as the country faces a long, drawn out war. Even with international arbiters attempting to negotiate a long term solution, the ceasefires that were negotiated so far have all collapsed due to breakouts of violence.

Unfortunately, regional powers have a significant stake in the conflict. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are both allied with the RSF, as Dagalo helped the Saudi-backed conflict in Yemen during his earlier years. On the opposite side, Egypt, another major player in the middle east, has backed al-Burhan as the legitimate ruler of Sudan. With funding for both sides of this conflict coming in from ostensibly wealthy OPEC countries, this conflict faces the grim reality of taking a long time to come to a conclusion.

The nature of this conflict has also brought in other countries. Russia, through private military company Wagner and their sanctioned fighting group Haftar, seems to be funding the RFS in the conflict. Wagner supply vehicles seem to have been traveling between two key Libyan bases currently controlled by Haftar, and it appears that Russia is meddling in the region again. Russia and Sudan have a close relationship, as both Dagalo and al-Burhan were receiving aid from Moscow in order to continue their rule. With the two now at odds, Russia may be picking a side — or may find it more in their interests to choose both. When initially accused of working with the Russians, Dagalo accused al-Burhan of doing the same, while Wagner denied everything.

As the conflict ramps up, the humanitarian crisis in Sudan will only continue to worsen. The UN has asked for peace, it now remains to be seen if either party is willing to uphold a ceasefire for long enough that peace can be negotiated.