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UAE backs winners and losers in Sudan

April 27, 2023 at 7:14 pm

A view of an empty street as the Sudanese Army agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire with paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum, Sudan on April 24, 2023 [Mustafa Mohammed – Anadolu Agency]

The outbreak of civil war in Sudan is a sad story of two out-of-control Generals at odds with each other, both trying to convince us all this is merely a continuation of the people’s revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Omar Al-Bashir in 2019. It is, of course, a huge lie and there are plenty circumnavigating the world today.

Sadly, if not predictably, ordinary Sudanese were never allowed to carve out a political landscape that could introduce a functioning democracy into one of Africa’s largest countries.

I have spent many happy times in Sudan, over the years, with a group of peace activists who were developing a grass-roots-upwards-solution to Khartoum’s problems in Darfur.

Western sceptics dismissed our work, as we focussed on trying to bring peace to Darfur under the leadership of Lord Nazir Ahmed who, despite his recent fall from grace, should be acknowledged for the sterling work he did as he brought warring factions, tribal elders and leaders together to try and broker peace.

Little did we know, at the time, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as “Hemedti”, was leading the so-called Janjaweed militia fighting rebels in Darfur. Later, he became head of a paramilitary militia established by Bashir, who sought to fragment military power in order to control it.

The President would have succeeded in his military mind games as well, if Dagalo had proved to be the loyal soldier Bashir thought he was. However, in what proved to be a serious miscalculation, Dagalo turned on the President and overthrew him in 2019.

Sudan in Crisis: MEMO in conversation with Ola Ibrahim

By this time, ordinary Sudanese had taken to the streets in their tens of thousands to reclaim their country. The military was persuaded to go back to the barracks and stay there – and it did work, but only for a while.

Patience, not being a military characteristic, soon dwindled and the soldiers mounted a second coup in 2021, which snuffed out the fledgling democracy of the people. As the dust settled, that left Dagalo’s paramilitary militia and power being challenged by the State army, led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan. We are told Al-Burhan’s attempt to overpower his rival by absorbing his fighters into the regular forces initiated today’s violence.

Now we see pitched battles between warring military factions across Khartoum, as well as in the vast desert region of Darfur which has divided families, causing a war between the Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, which will eventually pitch them against each other.

Of course, another uncomfortable truth is the West has been hovering over Sudan for decades. As one observer wryly said: “Sudan has been up for grabs for years.”

Death toll rises as clashes continue in Sudan – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Many political meddlers from the West looked on in horror as the Sudanese people took to the streets to get rid of the three-decade dictatorship of President Al-Bashir. Outbreaks of democracy in Africa do not sit well with Washington, London, Paris or Berlin, especially when the country is strategically wedged on the Nile and the Red Sea, with vast mineral wealth and agricultural potential. Having only recently emerged from decades of sanctions and isolation, Sudan was attracting all the major powers from east to west.

Russia has ambitions for naval access to its warships in Sudan’s Red Sea ports while mercenary group, Wagner, offered tanks and other armoured vehicles plus training in return for lucrative gold mining concessions. The United Arab Emirates, which breaks out in panic at the mention of democracy, paid Lt. Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo to help it fight in Yemen, according to some officials. Egypt backed the other General, (Burhan) sending soldiers and warplanes in a highly contested show of support.

Never one to miss an opportunity caused by another’s misery, even the lone shark of Israel has been circling, in the hope of seizing formal recognition in a country that would be uncomfortably close to Tel Aviv as an enemy.

“Everyone wanted a chunk of Sudan, and it couldn’t take all the meddling,” said Magdi El-Gizouli, a Sudanese analyst at the Rift Valley Institute, a research group. “Too many competing interests and too many claims,” he told the Japan Times, “then the fragile balance imploded, as you can see now.”

Of course, now all foreigners in Sudan are fleeing as best they can. Another mission not accomplished by the international community which will, no doubt, sit back and watch more violence unfolding.

READ: ‘I am Sudan’ motto and the elusive transition to democracy

I fear Sudan will become another site for a proxy war in the same way as Ukraine has become a battlefield between Russia and the West. The leader of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in February, gave the red carpet treatment to Dagalo, whose closest Arab pal is UAE Vice President, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, owner of the Manchester City soccer club, who has long-standing contacts with armed groups in Darfur, Dagalo’s backyard.

It seems no one meddles quite like the Emiratis. Hedging his bets is Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, now the deputy ruler of Abu Dhabi who, in 2020, invested $225 million with Osama Daoud, a Sudanese tycoon close to the military, in an agricultural project stretching across 100,000 acres of the country’s best farmland.

UAE diplomats are said to be in panic mode, trying to halt the violence but the weapons continue to flow. According to the US, Dagalo is getting arms from Khalifa Haftar, the Libyan warlord who has also been armed and financially backed by the UAE.

Pretending to favour both sides as a sure-fire way of ending up standing with the victors is a risky strategy but, while the UAE appears to be unarmed in a battle of wits, it has enough money to continue the madness.

In the meantime, is anyone giving a thought to the hundreds who have perished, and thousands more who have been left injured?

Once again, the world has no one leader capable of calling time on the insanity of the war in Sudan.

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