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Sudan Army versus the RSF: The Generals’ Power Struggle

Sudan’s military and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia are fighting for sole rule in Khartoum. Since the military coup in October 2021, which abruptly interrupted what was supposed to be an agreed transition process to a civilian government, rumblings between the armed ruling factions have been ongoing.

The alliance between the military under the leadership of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the so-called RSF, or Rapid Support Forces, has been uneasy. The RSF emerged from the notorious Arab Janjaweed mounted militias that roamed the villages of Sudan’s Darfur region from 2003 onwards, murdering, burning and raping, and fighting rebels there in the name of Omar al-Bashir‘s regime.

This RSF militia is led by Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, better known by his nom de guerrre Hemeti. The current bout of fighting was triggered by the question of whether and how the RSF troops should be integrated into the army and who should be in charge, Burhan or Hemeti.

Both parties discredited

What exactly is taking place in Khartoum and in other parts of the country where fighting is also taking place remains unclear. Some reports speak of the army slowly gaining the upper hand, mainly by using the air force to bomb RSF positions. This should all be taken with a pinch of salt.

Independent observers are rare, and both sides have been trumpeting success stories since the fighting began. Meanwhile, the civilian population is sitting in fear in their homes, waiting to see how this power struggle in the streets will play out.

No matter who emerges victorious from the fighting, any credibility both sides may have had among the civilian population has long since dissipated. Since the toppling of long-term dictator Omar El-Bashir in 2019, the civilian population has persistently demonstrated for the transfer of power to a civilian government.

For a brief moment, it even looked as if the men with the guns would actually be prepared to hand over power voluntarily. Indeed, they signed up to a transitional agreement in July 2019 stipulating the transfer of power to a civilian government after 39 months, prior to democratic elections.

But this process and the agreement of transition lapsed with the coup in October 2021. Since then, the military has repeatedly paid lip service to handing over power to a civilian government. Instead, the two military wings of the coup are now fighting over who will rule exclusively.

Preventing democracy in Sudan

In the meantime, this conflict has also attracted many foreign players, mostly from the remaining Arab autocracies. They have been interfering in Sudan since the fall of Bashir, with the aim of preventing a civilian – and ultimately democratically elected – government. A democratic model in Sudan must be sabotaged at all costs, for fear this model could be replicated in other Arab countries. In this, they are supporting different factions involved in the coup.

Egypt, with its former military chief and current autocrat Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, has thrown its weight behind Sudan’s regular army and General Burhan, seeking to exert influence over Sudan through him. In recent days, an Egyptian army unit was even arrested by the RSF militia at Merowe military airport, north of Khartoum. The unit allegedly provided training to the Sudanese military there.

The United Arab Emirates, on the other hand, backs the RSF militias and their leader Hemeti and is trying to use him to ensure there is no democratic process in Sudan. Hemeti has also repeatedly hired out his militias as mercenaries in the conflicts in Libya and Yemen, paid for by the UAE.

In addition, Russian Wagner mercenaries are guarding the gold mines controlled by the RSF militias. The gold is sold to Russia and the militias make a fortune from it.

Today’s conflict in Sudan clearly has many cooks, all of whom are now nervous that the situation could get completely out of hand – one of the reasons Egypt and the UAE are cooperating in an attempt to stop the fighting.

The ones bearing the brunt are the Sudanese people, who are desperate to be rid of all these military parasites. They, however, would be well advised to keep their heads down during these bloody days

Source: Karim El-Gawhary for Qantara

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