Global affairs experts discuss the political stakes in Sudan
May 11, 2023
The worsening power struggle in Sudan has led to fighting in the streets of the capital city of Khartoum and the evacuation of the United States Embassy. With the humanitarian crisis growing, an executive order signed by President Biden authorized potential sanctions to head off what could be a prolonged civil war.
Virginia Tech global affairs experts discussed the history behind the Sudan crisis and what the stakes are for other nations.
“The immediate cause of the crisis is a conflict between two generals,” said Virginia Tech international affairs expert Ariel Ahram. “Gen. Abdelfattah al-Burhan, head of the army, and Gen. Mohamed ‘Hemedti’ Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) made an alliance to seize power together and block a democratic civilian government from forming. Now Hemedti is challenging Burhan’s authority.”
“The crux of this crisis has been the integration of the RSF into the Sudanese Armed Forces,” said Virginia Tech international security expert Yannis Stivachtis. “The RSF has insisted on a ten-year timetable for integration into the regular army, while the army wanted it done within two years. Other contested issues include the potential status of the RSF and who should command them. The two sides have also clashed over authority over sectors of Sudan's economy.”
“The United States favored the popular protests and tried to encourage a democratic transition in Sudan after long-standing president Omar el-Bashir's downfall,” said Ahram. “Many regional countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, thought a democratic process would create instability. They supported the military coup that brought Burhan and Hemedti to power. Now that there is fighting among the security forces, instability is again a concern.”
“The potential spillover of conflict in Sudan is very grave,” Ahram added. “Several of Sudan’s neighbors, including Libya, Chad, South Sudan, and Ethiopia, are already dealing with internal instability. More conflict in Sudan would create more opportunities for cross-border alliances and meddling.”
“The United States has lost ground and influence in eastern Africa as China and Russia have slowly penetrated that region,” Stivachtis said. “The current crisis could turn Sudan into a Russian ally. It is claimed that the RSF developed a working relationship with the Wagner Group, a Russian private military group. Russia has expressed interest in establishing a military base in Sudan to control the shipping route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.”
About Ariel Ahram
Ariel Ahram is professor and chair of the government and international affairs program at the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs located in the Washington, D.C., metro area. He is the author of War and Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa (Polity, 2020) which explores the causes and consequences of wars and conflicts in this troubled region, including in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Israel/Palestine, and Lebanon. More on his background here.
About Yannis Stivachtis
Stivachtis is professor of political science and Jean Monnet Chair at Virginia Tech. He currently serves as director of the Center for European Union, Transatlantic and Trans-European Space Studies. His research is related to security/strategic studies with particular emphasis on European security and transatlantic relations, U.S. national security strategy, European global strategy, and the EU’s foreign, security, and defense policy. More on his background here.
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