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Sudan's military rulers, their allies and prospects for the future

By Jehron Muhammad | Last updated: Jun 18, 2019 - 11:27:04 PM

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In this May 18, 2019 file photo, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of the military council that assumed power in Sudan after the over-throw of President Omar al-Bashir, speaks to journalists in Khartoum, Sudan. Amnesty International said June 11, that Sudanese paramilitary units, the Rapid Support Forces have continued to commit “war crimes and other serious human rights violations” in the Darfur region including the destruction of entire villages, as well as “unlawful killings and sexual violence.” The RSF grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias mobilized by al-Bashir during the Darfur conflict in the early 2000s. Mr. Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, is an RSF commander. Photo: AP/Wide World Photo

The fact that a violent crackdown, and subsequent massacre of peaceful protesters in Khartoum at the mass sit-in outside the military compound occurred after Transitional Military Council leaders Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan and head of the Rapid Support Force, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as “Hemedti,” had meetings with rulers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt is telling.

The Rapid Support Force brought their brutality in Darfur and Yemen to Khartoum.

According to the UK-based Guardian newspaper, on June 3 more than 120 people were killed when “paramilitaries attacked the protest camp.” The United Nations reported “19 children were among the dead.” Also, over 700 were reported to be injured during the attack, with many more not seeking medical assistance for fear of “reprisal.” In addition, the Central Committee of Doctors, a pro-reform group reported, from information gleaned from area hospitals, that 70 women had been raped. 

During an interview on France24, Dr. Willow Berridge, a 20th Century Islamic World historian with particular emphasis on Sudan, said protestors were appalled that “66 percent” of the $3 billion their visit to the Gulf states secured was being spent “on the military and security services, which was just feeding the nature of the Sudanese military, as a hyper militarized kleptocracy.”

The UK-based New Castle University professor and author, went on to say, “So when the protesters saw that the Saudis were going to provide all this money to the Transitional Military Council, obviously they weren’t happy about it. Because that meant more of the funding for more oppression, rather than what Sudan really needs, which is money to go into their health care system (and) the education system.”

During a Q&A, via email, the author of the 2015 book, “Civil Uprisings in Modern Sudan,” was asked about Saudi and UAE relationship with the Transitional Military Council responded, “Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo aka ‘Hemedti’ was a leader of the Janjaweed militias that were armed by the Sudanese government and committed mass atrocities in the Darfur region from 2002 onwards. The government initially recruited Janjaweed members from ethnic groups it identified as ‘Arab,’ including Hemedti’s own Abbala Rizayqat group. Later Hemedti incorporated elements of his own Janjaweed militia force into a more substantial private army, drawing funds from his own gold mine in Darfur. This private army was then semi-incorporated into the Sudanese military and security services as the Rapid Support Force, and went on to make a contribution to the Saudi-led coalition and its ruthless counter-insurgency against the Houthi forces in Yemen.”

Abd al-Fattah Burhan, the new president of the Transitional Military Council, oversaw Sudanese forces operating in Yemen, which would seem to explain why he and Hemedti are working together so closely on the Military Transitional Council. Since April 2019, both men have been traveling to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to secure funding and military support for the Transitional Military Council.

After a recent meeting in Jeddah with Saudi crown-prince Mohammed bin Salman, who gained  international notoriety after last year’s brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey, Hemedti said, “Sudan stands  with the kingdom against all threats and attacks from Iran and the Houthis.”

Dr. Berridge, who has lived in Sudan, says that since Burhan and Hemedti replaced Omar Al-Bashir, after seizing power in April, they’ve moved “decisively away from the Qatar-Iran-Turkey axis and towards the Saudi-UAE-Egypt axis.”

She also  believes, “Egypt  would seem to favor Burhan more (than Hemedti) as he represents the conventional (Sudanese) army.” 

The violence in Sudan brings back memories for Egypt’s president and former general, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. In 2013, the then army general led the assaults on pro-democracy demonstrators in Cairo’s public square “resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries,” reported the Guardian.  

Sisi’s intervention, which also included overthrowing a democratically elected government, was designed to crush Egypt’s Arab Spring. Nothing on the scale of what happened in Egypt has occurred in Sudan, but the Transitional Military Council’s Rapid Support Force, under the leadership of Hemedti, has taken Sisi’s playbook to Khartoum. This includes expelling major media outlets like Al-Jazeera, and Turkey’s TRT, disconnecting the internet and then brutally suppressing protests. 

Sisi has already given the Transitional Military Council significant help. He used his position as the rotating African Union chair to undermine the 15-day deadline for the military to hand over power when Bashir was overthrown. After he intervened, the deadline was extended to three months.

Note: The African Union’s Peace and Security Council, which Sisi doesn’t oversee, on June 6 suspended Sudan from all AU activity until a civilian government is formed. 

Asked about what role the U.S. is playing in Sudan, Dr. Berridge response included much “anger among protestors in Sudan when the U.S. Charge D’Affaires Steven Koutsis was pictured meeting with Hemedti following the Transitional Military Council takeover, and subsequently pictured alongside Hemedti at another gathering. There is also much suspicion of the close relationship between U.S. officials and Sudan’s nominally deposed intelligence chief, Salah Gosh, who visited Washington in 2005 and has been instrumental in sharing intelligence on Islamist extremists.” 

According to the U.S. State Department, Donald Booth, a retired U.S. ambassador and former special envoy, “will lead U.S. efforts to support a political solution to the current crisis that reflects the will of the Sudanese people.” What that actually means with U.S. close ties to Saudi Arabia, is anyone’s guess.

During Dr. Berridge’s France24 interview, she noted that if the peaceful uprising is to be successful, some “core dynamics” need to change inside of Sudan.

She said, “First of all you need to have an international dynamic. You need a lot more real and substantial and effective pressure from the international community on Saudi Arabia and UAE.” This includes, she said, the global community speaking with one voice, calling the Gulf States out and pressuring them “to stop backing Hemedti and the Military council in general.”

Dr. Berridge also said the “moderates in the Military Council (need) to get rid of the people who were involved in last week’s (June) massacre.” She admits “that’s not going to be easy.” “But hopefully the campaign of civil disobedience, if it spreads throughout the capital, and persuades the whole country” and the Rapid Support Forces are held accountable, maybe there’s hope for Sudan, she said.

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