ISPI MED This Week

MED This Week | Sudan’s Power Struggle Matters Well Beyond Its Borders


The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed comments on the MENA region’s most significant issues and trends. Today we focus on Sudan, where the violent clashes between two rival factions has thrown the country into one of the worst crises in its recent history, with several implications for the region

Violence in Sudan continues to rage and likely won’t abate. Since April 13, the country has been turning into a battleground for rival armed factions. The Sudanese Army on one side – led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan – and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on the other – the powerful paramilitary group headed by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (“Hemedti”) – are locked in an open conflict throughout the country. Internally, the crisis could jeopardize the transition from military rule to a civilian-led democracy. However, it also has the potential to further undermine regional stability and compromise the interests of neighbouring countries. Given their substantial economic support to the Burhan-Hemedti interim regime, Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are now pressuring both sides to adopt a diplomatic solution that could protect their long-term strategic interests in the African country. For Egypt and Türkiye, a full-fledged civil war in Sudan would represent a significant threat to their presence in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa – especially for the Cairo-led front against Ethiopia’s Great Renaissance Dam. Lastly, Russia, which has links with both factions, is becoming an increasingly influential player in Sudan, as shown by Moscow’s attempts (usually spearheaded by the Wagner paramilitary group) to access Sudan’s Red Sea ports and mineral resources.

Experts of the ISPI MED network react to the domestic and regional implications of the ongoing clash between Sudan’s top military leaders.



The clashes reinforce the militarisation of Sudan’s politics: large-scale instability is behind the corner

“The ongoing crisis is the latest challenge faced by Sudan in the complex transition that started with the ousting of Omar al-Bashir in 2019. This transition was already hampered by the dominance of military actors interested in preserving the status quo (army and RSF) against civilian actors pushing for structural change (Sudan’s strong nonviolent protest movement). These recent clashes risk further marginalising the civilian actors, reinforcing the militarisation of Sudanese politics, and heightening the risk of conflict and instability. Moreover, while the conflict has so far for the most part played out between the army and the RSF, there is a risk that it may spread to other groups, potentially resulting in the mobilisation of certain segments of the population based on their ethnicity. This could drastically escalate the conflict and should be avoided at all costs.”

Guido Lanfranchi, Junior Research Fellow, Conflict Research Unit (CRU), Clingendael

Despite international appeals for a resolution, the situation on the ground offers no room for mediation

“The recent flare-up of violence represents a dramatic chapter for a country that, four years after the fall of al-Bashir’s 30 year-long regime, is still striving for its democratic transition. After five days, and despite multiple ceasefire attempts, the conflict between al-Burhan’s and Hemedti’s forces does not seem to be abating. While external partners and international institutions call for a resolution of the crisis, the spiral of violence is worsening by the day, conjuring up the ghosts of a civil war. External mediation, such as those proposed by regional leaders, could help stop the violence and give the population a lull, but it is hampered by violence on the ground, which seems to be affecting even humanitarian organisations. Every effort is needed to prevent the country from slipping into a chronic conflict and to patch up a political process that is now more dramatic and difficult than ever.”

Lucia Ragazzi, Research Fellow, Africa Programme, ISPI

A weak and unstable Sudan opposes Cairo’s regional interests

“The ongoing clashes in Sudan do not serve Egypt’s interests because they foment instability on its southern border. They weaken Sudan’s security institutions and the ability for the Sudanese state to control its borders and regions. The clashes also limit Egypt’s ability to count on Sudan’s support and assistance in dealing with the serious issue of Ethiopia’s Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which negatively affects water supplies that they both rely on. With Sudan in chaos, the two cannot form a unified front against Ethiopia. Regionally, the clashes put Egypt in a bind. On the one hand, it supports Sovereign Council leader Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan; on the other, Rapid Support Forces commander Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo gets his support mainly from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, two states that Egypt relies on for financial aid during these very difficult economic times.”

Imad K. Harb, Director of Research and Analysis, Arab Center Washington DC

Sudan’s Gulf patrons should exert their influence to bring both sides to the negotiation table

“While the UAE and Saudi Arabia have become the most important external patrons in Sudan since the coup in 2019, the UAE has recently become a far more influential player in Sudan. Through its network-centric statecraft, Abu Dhabi has successfully created strong interdependencies across Sudan’s socio-political and economic spectrum. While the current clashes undermine the Emirati and Saudi narrative of ‘authoritarian stability’ delivered by strongmen in uniform, the UAE have a variety of nodes and layers in their engagement with Sudan that are sustainable regardless of the political instability. Abu Dhabi should use these networks, especially around Hemedti, to pressure the warlord to return to the negotiation table and ensure these clashes do not lead to a civil war. The more Hemedti feels empowered, the less controllable he will become, and the more the UAE will risk losing its influence.”

Andreas Krieg, Senior Lecturer, School of Security Studies, King’s College London; and Fellow, Institute of Middle Eastern Studies

Ankara’s “wait-and-see approach” to Sudanese politics

“Following the backlashes of al-Bashir’s overthrow, with whom Türkiye had strengthened relations, Ankara adopted a wait-and-see approach to Sudanese politics. Due to the recent détente with UAE, Egypt, and KSA, Türkiye has gradually improved its relations with Khartoum, utilising its traditional foreign policy tools such as public diplomacy (schools, language courses, TV series) and business (agriculture, construction). Turkey has kept an equidistant posture between al-Burhan and Hemeti to preserve its interests. At the same time, it has maintained open channels with the civil society. Therefore, Türkiye does not have much to lose in the ongoing conflict. Instead, Ankara could capitalize on its low-profile policy and neutral stance when the situation should normalize.”

Federico Donelli, Assistant Professor of International Relations, Department of Political and Social Sciences, University of Trieste

Russia’s shadow looms over the crisis in Sudan

“The ongoing crisis in Sudan has significant regional and international implications. The escalating violence, driven by long-developing dynamics and a power struggle between rival armed factions such as Hemedti’s opposition to the military-civilian power transition and the Sudanese Army led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, could be seen as a direct power struggle within the country. However, it also places Sudan at the centre of divisive global geopolitical disputes. Russia plays a prominent role in Sudan today. The presence of the Wagner Group, a Russian private military organisation, in Sudanese gold mines and the recent confirmation of a Russian naval base in the Port of Sudan, highlights Moscow’s growing influence. Meanwhile, Sudan balances the West and Russia’s interests to maintain internal political stability.”

Gustavo de Carvalho, Senior Researcher, African Governance and Diplomacy Programme, SAIIA


This week’s MED This Week has been edited by Francesco Schiavi 


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