It may seem like our region is under an eternal spell or evil magic trick. But in truth, there is no spell or magic at play here: there’s simply mismanagement.
In the last few weeks, the Houthis and pro-legitimacy forces came together in Yemen in hope of putting an end to eight years of war. As Saudi ambassadors and their Iranian “brothers” exchanged Ramadan invitations and the Arab League started discussing the end of the Syrian crisis, the situation in Sudan exploded.
The fighting continues for the fourth consecutive day between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group.
Should finding a solution to the conflict or the army’s resolution of the battle prove impossible, another summer of clashes on yet another bleeding Arab front seems to await.
Sudan has already gone through its fair share of conflicts since the early eighties. After the wars in the south, Kordofan, and Darfur as well the social crises and destruction brought on by the Omar al-Bashir regime coup, Sudan can hardly stand another war on its ground.
The present infighting has been a battle in the making since the ouster of al-Bashir– a delayed effect of sorts. It’s what happens when the center of power collapses, leaving a vacuum that’s hard to fill – as seen in Iraq following Saddam’s ouster and in post-Gaddafi Libya.
Signs of disagreement between military leaders have been clear from the start. Two rival “chiefs” emerged as alternatives to al-Bashir, and the divide further weakened crisis management capacities in both the military and the streets. So how did the situation in Sudan unravel? And what are the prospects for the country?
Statements issued by the RSF suggest that the latter, led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, ignited the first flame. They targeted the headquarters of the Armed Forces Command and the house of its chief, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who said the attack by Hemedti’s forces on his home on Saturday morning took him by surprise.
They could not kill Burhan, but they did silence its mouthpiece, the state TV, which they bombed during a live news bulletin. The puzzling two-day absence of Burhan and his leaders served Hemedti’s narrative about his forces murdering Burhan.
The RSF then raided the strongholds of military leaders and the Khartoum airport and set fire to several buildings and airplanes, including Saudi ones.
After their quick loss of the airport, the RSF overtook the airport in Merowe, which is located in the north of the country, near Egypt, and known for its pharaonic pyramids and Chinese-built dam. The RSF also captured members of the Egyptian military who had been participating in joint maneuvers.
Sudan is a vast and diverse country, and most information cannot be verified given the lack of independent journalists on the ground. A few mainstream media outlets are documenting and reviewing statements and videos and dispatching teams to cover the developments on the ground, but the events seem to be too rapid and enormous to be covered wholly.
Hemedti’s offensive to seize power was far from surprising. The explosion of his feud with the army was likely, given the mutual disagreements and public threats that preceded his attack’s zero hour.
Hemedti’s forces had stepped up their mobilization efforts in the capital and other cities days before the attack. The army warned the RSF to return to their positions on the border, but Hemedti’s troops refused to yield under the pretext that they were carrying out their duties to “combat human smuggling and organized crime.”
It is now clear they were instead preparing for attacking Burhan whose forces were not ready for the battle despite the dispute with Hemedti.
Why does zero hour work? Was this really a coup? Judging by the course of events across the country, it is clear this is not just a show of force and compromise.
Is it an attempt at change? Did the rebels expect defections within the army, or perhaps popular support? It is not clear yet, but understanding their intentions is vital to understand the ensuing eventualities.
Reconciliation is possible if this is merely a misunderstanding that spiraled out of control. But if the attack was intentionally meant as a coup and rebellion, then this is most likely the start of a long battle.
Does the attack have any internal or external extensions? Will local forces unite in neutrality, or will they take sides?
Sudan stands today at a dangerous fork in the road: either reconciliation between the two warring sides, or a mushrooming crisis that will eat up whatever remains of the country, thus increasing the suffering of the Sudanese people and raising tensions in a region that attracts tensions like a magnet.