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Sudan at stake: Will Egypt manage to bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table?

If Cairo’s efforts do not change the situation, there might be other mediators

Next month, Egypt will host a conference for Sudanese civil political forces in order to help the neighboring country overcome the protracted military and political crisis. The relevant announcement was published by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 28.

“Egypt will host a conference … to bring together all Sudanese civil political forces, with the participation of relevant regional and international partners. The aim of the conference is to reach a consensus among the various Sudanese civil political forces on ways to build comprehensive and lasting peace in Sudan through a Sudanese-Sudanese national dialogue based on a purely Sudanese vision,” the Egyptian Foreign Ministry stated.

From the statement, it is clear that all Sudanese “civil political forces” are invited to the conference – however, military departments and structures are not mentioned. Apparently, neither side of the armed conflict in Sudan – the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – has been formally invited. However, the army may be represented by the Transitional Sovereignty Council, headed by Commander-in-Chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and officials from various ministries, while the RSF will mainly be represented by the oppositional political parties that support it.

FILE PHOTO. War-torn Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan visits casualties receiving treatment at a hospital in the southeastern Gedaref state, on the first day of Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan on April 10, 2024.


©  AFP

Neighboring countries and organizations that acted as mediators at the Jeddah talks – i.e. Saudi Arabia, the US, the UN, the African Union, the League of Arab States, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – have been named the conference’s regional and international partners.

Civil war broke out in Sudan on April 15, 2023 and has been going on for over a year. Cairo’s initiative to resolve the armed conflict is not the first such attempt. After unsuccessful talks in Jeddah, which only led to a short-term truce that ensured the evacuation of civilians from the combat zone and allowed for the delivery of humanitarian aid, no one managed to convince the SAF, led by Colonel General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the rebel RSF, led by Colonel General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo ‘Hemedti’, to return to the negotiating table.

FILE PHOTO. Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces commander, General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (Hemedti), now de facto deputy military leader, attends a meeting of representatives of the tripartite mechanism in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on June 8, 2022.


©  ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP

The military situation

Hostilities are currently centered in Khartoum – the capital of Sudan, and the problematic Darfur region. SAF and RSF continue to fight for control over the strategic districts of the three cities that are part of the Khartoum metropolitan area.

In the southern regions, the main battles are fought for Al-Fashir – the capital of North Darfur State. Meanwhile, the RSF have seized control of the other regional capital cities: Nyala (South Darfur), Zalingei (Central Darfur), Ed Daein (East Darfur), and El Geneina (West Darfur).

So far, the war has claimed the lives of about 17,000 people and caused economic damage estimated in the billions of dollars. The country is experiencing its biggest humanitarian crisis in modern times, which has largely gone unnoticed because of the recent events in the Middle East. According to the UN, about 25 million people, including over 14 million children, are facing hunger and need aid. Additionally, over 8.6 million people – or about 16% of the country’s total population – have left their homes since the start of the conflict.

Reaction to Egypt’s invitation

Just hours after Egypt announced its intention to host the conference, the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded with a statement outlining the terms of its participation. In particular, it wanted to clarify which “international partners” had been invited and to “define their role” in the process.

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Firstly, Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly opposed the presence of “external sponsors of the RSF” at the conference. In particular, “neighboring countries that the Security Council experts’ report referred to as being partners in passing and crossing of weapons flights from the UAE to Chad through Umm Djeres Airport, which was prepared for the entry of these supplies and from there to Darfur.”

Secondly, the Foreign Ministry said that it opposed the participation of the African Union and IGAD due to the fact that Sudan had been expelled from the AU. “Sudan specifically adheres to the non-participation of the African Union and IGAD unless this is preceded by the start of actual steps to lift the suspension on Sudan’s activity in the continental organization,” the statement said.

The African Union suspended Sudan’s AU membership in June 2019 in light of the April 11 military coup during which President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown,  and the subsequent mass protests against the junta, which were suppressed by the then-acting Transitional Military Council.

As for IGAD, Sudan announced its temporary withdrawal from the bloc at the beginning of this year. This happened after a disagreement concerning the IGAD peace initiative: on January 18, 2023, the bloc organized a summit in Uganda on the situation in Sudan, to which it invited the RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

On June 6, while on a visit to the headquarters of the Army’s 18th Infantry Division in the city of Kosti, the Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces and Chairman of the Transitional Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said that he would not conduct any negotiations with parties that supported the RSF, and which are either part of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) or the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum). Al-Burhan accused the latter of conspiring with the RSF.

Taqaddum

The Taqaddum coalition was founded at the time of a special conference in Addis Ababa in October 2023. Taqaddum means ‘progress’ in Arabic. The coalition is headed by the former prime minister of the Sudanese Transitional Government, Abdullah Hamdok, an experienced economist who used to work in the UN and is quite popular among the Sudanese people. Both Hamdok and other members of Taqaddum mostly represent opposition parties and live abroad.

FILE PHOTO. Abdullah Hamdok, then Prime Minister of the Republic of Sudan, speaks at a press conference with then Chancellor Merkel before talks at the Federal Chancellery.


©  Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance via Getty Images

Hamdok became prime minister of Sudan in August 2019, after a coup and the formation of a joint military-civilian transitional government according to an agreement which was then concluded between the army and the revolutionary Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC). In October 2021, Hamdok was unexpectedly removed from his post and temporarily detained by the military as a result of “extraordinary decisions” taken by the head of the Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Taqaddum’s vision of resolving the Sudanese conflict consists of several main points: a truce period that would include establishing a ceasefire, forming a civilian government, ensuring the sovereignty of the country’s entire territory, and forming a unified army which would stay out of politics.

In early January 2024, Hamdok met in Addis Ababa with the RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who had just completed his African tour which included Uganda, Djibouti, Kenya, South Africa, and Ethiopia. According to a statement by Taqaddum, the politicians discussed the humanitarian crisis in Sudan and ways to protect civilians and deliver humanitarian aid. Hamdok also unveiled his organization’s roadmap for resolving the Sudanese crisis.

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A few months later, in April 2024, the Sudanese authorities issued arrest warrants for Hamdok and 15 members of Taqaddum. Among other things, they were charged with provoking war against the state, undermining the constitutional order, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

The people who were wanted by the authorities included former activists of the revolutionary movement that had fought against former president Omar al-Bashir and the officials of the civilian wing of the Sudanese Government during the transitional period – i.e., before the dissolution of the Hamdok cabinet in 2021. Most of them were members of the FFC and Taqaddum and held important posts in the Hamdok cabinet.

Sudanese civil forces ready to participate

The Sudanese civil forces were quite optimistic about Egypt’s proposal to hold the conference. In addition to Taqaddum, several parties – including the most influential opposition parties in Sudan – agreed to attend.

For example, the deputy head of the Democratic Unionist Party, Jafar al-Mirghani, confirmed that his organization had responded to the Egyptian invitation and would participate in the conference “with great enthusiasm.” A similar statement was made by the leader of the National Umma Party, Orwa al-Sadiq. He said that his party “accepts the invitation in good faith and with an open heart, without objections or preconditions.”

FILE PHOTO. Refugees from Sudan


©  Eva-Maria Krafczyk/picture alliance via Getty Images

Egypt’s long mediation

Throughout the duration of the war, Sudan’s closest neighbors – Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Egypt – have acted as mediators in the attempts to settle the conflict. Egypt is interested in stabilizing the situation at its southern borders, since this would ensure its own security and control migration flows from the south.

After Chad, Egypt has the largest number of Sudanese refugees. According to an April report by the UN Refugee Agency, the number of Sudanese refugees in Egypt has increased fivefold since April 2023 and reached 300,000, which is more than 52% of the total number of registered refugees in the country.

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Egypt officially positions itself as a neutral state and maintains contacts with representatives of various Sudanese political forces. For example, on March 8, Hamdok visited Cairo and held talks with local officials. Somewhat earlier, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the commander-in-chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in Cairo.

On March 6, the AU held a meeting of the Mechanism for the Resolution of the Sudan Crisis in Cairo. It was attended by representatives of the National Congress Party, which was in power during the presidency of Omar al-Bashir (1993-2019).

Egypt’s strategy of resolving the Sudanese crisis is based on a number of points outlined in the Sudan’s Neighboring Countries initiative, which was presented at the Cairo summit on July 13, 2023. The text encouraged the sides to end the war with full respect for the sovereignty and unity of Sudan, and prevent the interference of external parties. A Sudan Humanitarian Crisis Conference was also held in Cairo in November 2023.

Nevertheless, the Sudanese Armed Forces remain Egypt’s main partner. In March 2021, Sudan and Egypt signed a military agreement in Khartoum in the presence of the army commanders of both countries. The sides decided to expand cooperation in the military and security spheres, especially in joint training, experience sharing, and border security. Since 2019, Egypt and Sudan have conducted a number of joint military exercises, and their cooperation has become stronger amid growing tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over the commissioning of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which Ethiopia built on the Blue Nile River.

Other external parties

The armed conflict in Sudan is complicated by the intervention of several external players. Although none of these countries have officially admitted their role in the internal Sudanese war, the opponents regularly accuse each other of receiving external support.

For example, the RSF claims that Al-Burhan receives weapons from Iran. In March 2024, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo’s advisor, Al-Basha Tareg, told Al Arabiya channel that the RSF had reliable information that Iranian ships arrive in Port Sudan to deliver weapons and military equipment, including Mohajer-6 UAV.

FILE PHOTO. Refugees from Sudan


©  Eva-Maria Krafczyk/picture alliance via Getty Images

For their part, the SAF regularly accuse the RSF of receiving military assistance from the UAE. This is allegedly done via the Am-Djarass Airport which is located in eastern Chad near the border with Sudan.

Moreover, in April 2024, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry accused the British government of financing the RSF together with the UAE. The reason for this was a sudden change in the agenda of the UN Security Council meeting on Sudan on April 29, 2024. Although the meeting was originally convened to condemn the actions of the UAE, several hours before it was supposed to start, the UK submitted a request to change the format of the meeting to closed consultations in order to discuss the situation in Sudan.

“Britain’s protection of the war’s biggest financier in Sudan, coupled with revealed secret meetings between British officials and the Rapid Support Militia, makes them a partner in the atrocities committed by this terrorist militia and its sponsor,” Sudan’s Foreign Ministry stated.

Russia’s growing role

The official visit of the Russian delegation to Port Sudan on April 28-29, 2024, headed by Mikhail Bogdanov, a special representative of the Russian president for the Middle East and Africa, brought some hope of resolving the conflict. Bogdanov met with Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and other Sudanese officials and discussed ways of strengthening the political, economic, military, and cultural cooperation between Russia and Sudan.

A member of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council and SAF deputy commander-in-chief, Yasser al-Atta, later stated in an interview with Al Hadath that Russia had asked Sudan to establish a logistics point in the Red Sea in exchange for the supply of weapons and ammunition. He added that the commander of the Sudanese army, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, “will sign the (relevant) agreements with Russia in the near future.”

Moscow and Khartoum had signed an agreement on the establishment of a logistics point on the Red Sea coast under former President Omar al-Bashir, but after the 2019 coup, army leaders said that this project is under consideration and needs to be ratified by the still non-existent parliament.

FILE PHOTO. Port Sudan is a city on the Red Sea in eastern Sudan.


©  Gallo Images/Orbital Horizon/Copernicus Sentinel Data 2023

Moreover, during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF-2024), which the Sudanese delegation attended, it became known that Russia offered to be a mediator between Sudan, Chad, and the UAE in order to end the war in Sudan. Deputy Chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, Malik Agar, announced this in an interview with the media.

Somewhat later, the African Initiative published an article by the Russian Ambassador to Sudan, Andrei Chernovol, titled ‘On Confronting Western Neo-Colonialism’. Chernovol wrote that the country’s pro-Western political forces keep fueling the conflict and are responsible for the current situation in Sudan.

“Sudan has become the next target of the collective West. All the plans are already set: despite the failure of the “framework agreement” and the current conflict fueled by its Western ideologues, paid activists from the fugitive foreign opposition Taqaddum must be brought to power in the country at any cost. Their force cover and political partner in the Addis Ababa agreement is the RSF […], 80% staffed by foreign mercenaries. At the same time, the increasing crimes of the militants, regularly and pathetically condemned by the Anglo-Saxons, are only to the advantage of the puppeteers, because it will give them an opportunity to easily get rid of them in the future. Blaming specific commanders and their allies, making them pariahs and taking everything away is a centuries-old tradition of the colonizers,” the ambassador noted.

In this situation, Russia can act as a mediator in the Sudanese crisis alongside other external parties that make efforts to end the war. This gives hope for change, particularly since the conference in Cairo that is scheduled for the beginning of July is likely to suffer the fate of previous peace initiatives.

June 26, 2024 at 06:45PM
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