Here is a look at the power struggle and violence that are taking place in the country.
Fighting has erupted in Khartoum and other cities in Sudan as powerful rival military factions battle for control, increasing the risk of a nationwide civil war.
Here’s a simple guide to the conflict:
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Power struggle at the heart of the violence
- Fighting broke out on Saturday after weeks of tension between the army and the powerful paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
- Both groups were allies. Together, they seized power in a 2021 coup.
- But tensions increased over the proposed integration of the RSF into the military.
- The key question is who is in control and who would be the military’s commander-in-chief during an integration period.
- According to analysts, this is a power struggle for the control of the country.
- Most of the fighting is occurring in the capital, Khartoum, but clashes are reported across the country. At least 185 people have been killed and thousands injured in the first three days.
Friends who became rivals?
- The protagonists in the outbreak of violence are army General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy and the RSF leader, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti.
- In October 2021, al-Burhan and Dagalo orchestrated a coup, upending a fragile transition to civilian rule that had been started after the 2019 removal of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir.
- Al-Burhan, a career soldier from northern Sudan who rose through the ranks under the nearly 30-year rule of al-Bashir, took the top job as the de facto ruler of Sudan after the coup.
- Dagalo, from Darfur’s camel-herding Arab Rizeigat people, assumed responsibility as his number two.
- As the army and civilian leaders came together to try to hammer out a deal to end the political crisis the coup brought on, integrating the RSF into the regular army became a key sticking point.
- According to analyst Kholood Khair, a December framework agreement for the deal “ratcheted up tensions between al-Burhan and Hemedti” when it “elevated Hemedti’s position into Burhan’s equal, rather than his deputy”.
- Khair, the founder of the Khartoum-based Confluence Advisory think tank, said: “That shift in power is why conversations about security sector reform and integration of the RSF have ended up in armed conflict rather than heated debate around the table.”
What is the RSF?
- The RSF was created in 2013 and evolved from the so-called Janjaweed militias, which are accused of war crimes in the Darfur region.
- During the Darfur conflict in the 2000s, the government used the group to help the army put down a rebellion.
- In 2017, a law legitimising the RSF as an independent security force was passed.
- “As he rose to prominence, [Dagalo’s] business interests grew with help from al-Bashir, and his family expanded holdings in gold mining, livestock and infrastructure,” Adel Abdel Ghafar, director of the Foreign Policy and Security Program at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, told Al Jazeera.
- Despite being a longtime al-Bashir ally, Dagalo took part in overthrowing the president when the 2019 uprising broke out.
A complicated regional picture
- Sudan borders the Red Sea, the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa. Its strategic location and agricultural wealth have attracted regional power plays, complicating the chances of a successful transition.
- Several of Sudan’s neighbours, including Ethiopia, Chad and South Sudan, have been affected by political upheavals and conflict.
- Sudan’s relationship with Ethiopia has been strained over disputed farmland along their border; the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, which drove tens of thousands of refugees into Sudan; and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
- Regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which forged close ties to the RSF when it sent thousands of fighters to support the war in Yemen, have called for both sides to stand down.
- They, the United States and the United Kingdom form the “Quad”, which has sponsored mediation in Sudan along with the United Nations and African Union.
- Western powers fear Russia could establish a military base on the Red Sea, which Sudanese leaders have expressed openness to since the al-Bashir era.
- Egypt, which backs Sudan’s military, has pursued an alternative track with groups that supported the 2021 coup.
What comes next? ‘A very zero-sum game’
- “This is an existential power struggle on both sides,” according to Alan Boswell, Horn of Africa director at the International Crisis Group, who added that both sides see the conflict as a “very zero-sum” game.
- With both generals out for blood, Khair finds it “unlikely they’ll come to the negotiating table without one or both of them suffering heavy losses”.
- Both continue to make “bellicose” statements against each other, she said, telling the Agence France-Presse news agency, “Neither of them will come out of this unscathed.”
- The longer they battle it out in city streets, she said, the higher the civilian toll will climb and the harder it will be for either general to rule over the wreckage.