Portuguese / Spanish / English

Sudan's Al-Burhan is a pawn in the hands of his sponsors in Egypt, Israel and Russia

General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Sudan Sovereignty Council and Commander of the Army in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 09, 2022. [Royal Court of Saudi Arabia - Anadolu Agency]
General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Sudan Sovereignty Council and Commander of the Army in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 09, 2022. [Royal Court of Saudi Arabia - Anadolu Agency]

Ever since he turned from a nobody into somebody in April 2019, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's Sovereignty Council and commander of the army, has continued to go with the flow and not commit to one position or principle; he is Mr Flexible. The former faithful follower of President Omar Al-Bashir, who was overthrown by a popular movement, used Machiavellian opportunism to take Al-Bashir's chair and even live where Al-Bashir used to live. Al-Burhan doesn't care about governance other than how much wealth it brings him, and despite its long history of military governments and coups, Sudan has never known a ruler so prone to violence as him.

Throughout the four years in which Al-Burhan and an obedient group of likeminded army officers have occupied the Republican Palace, not a single march in support of him has been seen, a stark contrast to the weekly protest marches demanding not only his departure from the palace, but also his imprisonment (and worse). Recently, there has been international pressure on him to withdraw from politics, so he signed a framework agreement stipulating that full authority be transferred to the civilian forces that have popular support, as they led the movement against the Al-Bashir regime.

However, anyone monitoring the situation in Sudan knows that Al-Burhan cannot be trusted. He kept praising the "December revolutionaries", referring to the December 2018 popular movement against Al-Bashir's rule. Then he ordered his soldiers to kill them. He also promised many times to be vigilant and prevent any military coup that would hinder the formation of a civilian government, but then turned against the quasi-civilian government, and made himself the absolute military ruler in October 2021.

READ: Sudan surprises Israel by rushing to normalise relations

Since Al-Burhan is prone to lying, deceit and breaking promises, he began to evade the framework agreement by claiming that he needed more parties in order for it to remain in effect. He then ordered one of his military lackeys, General Shams Al-Din Kabbashi — whose nickname became Kadbashi, from the Sudanese slang word "kadb", meaning lie — to justify the tactical withdrawal from the agreement. Kabbashi went to his clan in southern Kordofan, and said, "The army will not guard a constitution written by ten people." However, neither he nor Al-Burhan would explain why they signed the premature agreement and the constitution.

Al-Burhan's disgrace is so serious that he remained silent in the face of Egypt's blatant interference in an internal matter with the aim of violating the framework agreement. Over the past week, the Egyptian intelligence agency has embraced what it called the Sudanese-Sudanese dialogue, as it set its agenda and determined those who have the right to speak, and prevented the Sudanese media from covering the process. The final statement matched 99 per cent of the framework agreement. The Egyptian government's goal is to involve its agents in Sudan and the forces that supported the recent Al-Burhan coup in any arrangements to form what looks to outsiders like a civilian transitional government, while the military remains able to control it through its "civilian supporters".

The disregard of the Egyptian intelligence agency, which wrote the script for this play and directed it, meant that the participants in the so-called dialogue included 15 people from one quasi-military faction, all of whom are related to each other. The personal guards of the warlords sat at the dialogue tables. The scandal was that the final document was issued bearing the signature of the leader of the Rashaida Free Lions organisation in eastern Sudan, Dr Mabrouk Mubarak Salim, even though neither he nor anyone representing him set foot in Egypt.

READ: Russia Lavrov visits Sudan on diplomatic push in Africa's Sahel

During the past week, Khartoum received delegates from the UK, Norway, the US, Germany, the European Union, the African Union and France. Their goal was to pressure Al-Burhan to implement the framework agreement to achieve its goal of signing a final agreement providing for the formation of a civilian government, but the "container keeper" had another trick up his sleeve. Al-Burhan earned this nickname because whenever a protest march rejecting his military government was announced, he used huge cranes to block the bridges that connect the three parts of the capital with cargo containers so that the convoys of cars and people couldn't join each other. His trick this time was to discourage the foreign delegates by receiving Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Lavrov arrived in Khartoum last Wednesday, coming from a country wallowing in the quagmire of a fierce war that was a serious miscalculation. He is looking for allies other than Belarus, China, Iran and North Korea. Al-Burhan has proven that he is a pawn who is easy to move with promises of support. He went too far in his subservience to Israel and recently hosted Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, and promised that he would sign a full normalisation deal between Sudan and the apartheid state at a ceremony in Washington. He doesn't care that, in doing so, he is provoking the Sudanese people and that he has no legal or constitutional right to sign international agreements.

Of course, Lavrov will reassure Al-Burhan that Russia supports him. The real purpose of that support is that Al-Burhan and the military junta holding power in Khartoum are willing to allow Russia to build a military-naval base in Sudan with direct access to the Red Sea. Al-Burhan will also bless the presence of Russian Wagner mercenaries in Sudan, who are engaged in smuggling gold openly. Washington, meanwhile, is intensifying its pressure on Al-Burhan to expel the Wagner group from the country.

READ: Egypt sends message to Sudan to strengthen bilateral ties

Everything in Sudan is in a state of virtual collapse: its government is unable to provide salaries to its employees or to support health and education services; and tribal militias are multiplying and threatening to explode in areas that have remained safe for centuries. And yet Al-Burhan's pliant media opted to report the huge achievement of him mediating between an unknown actor named Ahmed Al-Jiger and his producer Jalal Hamed, and reconciling them. The proverb that those with nothing to do will act as a judge is extremely appropriate, because he is leaving the important work to his sponsors in Egypt, Israel and Russia.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 11 February 2023

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

AfricaArticleEgyptEurope & RussiaIsraelMiddle EastOpinionRussiaSudan
Show Comments
Order your copy of our latest book - Engaging the World: The Making of Hamas's Foreign Policy - Palestine
Show Comments