Sudan: The search for compromise

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 21 Jun 2023

As the Sudanese conflict enters its third month, Cairo is assessing its options vis-à-vis its strategically crucial neighbour.

Sudan:  The search for  compromise
Egypt has been carefully examining what it can do to help promote stability in Sudan


In a series of high-level meetings this week, senior Egyptian officials examined different scenarios for the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The meetings, says an informed source speaking on condition of anonymity, had one focus: to determine the most likely scenarios for the war, and to assess Egypt’s options.

According to the source, it is likely that the conflict will get worse despite the repeated, and fragile, ceasefires secured through joint Saudi-US mediation. On Tuesday morning, the SAF said the RSF had violated the most recent three-day ceasefire before it expired.

“For now, it does not seem either side has been weakened enough to succumb to the other. Nor do regional and international players have any answers to the future of Sudan when the battle does come to an end — especially if it ends in an SAF defeat,” said the source.

Two Cairo-based foreign diplomats told Al-Ahram Weeky that the chances of SAF leaders, including army chief Abdel-Fattah Al-Borhan, of undermining the RSF and forcing its leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo into exile or surrender, are vanishingly slim. The balance of power, they say, especially in Khartoum, does not favour an SAF victory anytime soon.

Acknowledging the challenging situation the SAF is facing, compounded by the intervention of regional players supporting the RSF, the Egyptian source said a visit to Cairo this week by a senior aide to Al-Borhan had discussed the situation on the ground and the advances that RSF has been making with external help.

On Sunday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi received Malik Agar, deputy chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council. Agar was appointed by Al-Borhan last month to the post that Dagalo had held before the conflict. Agar also met with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit.

According to the source, Agar “explained the situation on the ground, reviewed the state of political mediations and requested help.” He declined to specify the nature of assistance requested, saying only that Sudan requires all types of help.

In statements made ahead of his Egypt visit, Agar said Khartoum is all but destroyed and acknowledged that the RSF now controls large parts of the Sudanese capital.

This week, Sudanese Minister of Health Haitham Ibrahim said that around 3,000 people had been killed since the beginning of the conflict and 6,000 wounded, and warned that Sudan’s health system is on the brink of collapse. Earlier in the month, WHO said that two thirds of the Sudanese’s health had been compromised by the ongoing conflict.

UN agencies, including the WHO and FAO, have warned of the catastrophic situation in Sudan where 25 million people need immediate health and nutrition assistance.

In remarks this week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the “scale and speed of Sudan’s descent into death and destruction is unprecedented” and that “without strong international support, Sudan could quickly become a locus of lawlessness, radiating insecurity across the region.”

A Saudi-chaired donors conference met on Monday in Geneva to discuss aid for Sudan. International donors made pledges of close to $1.5 billion for Sudan and the surrounding region. According to UN estimates, half a million people have fled Sudan into neighbouring countries, and two million people have been forced from their homes.

Egypt has sent several consignments of aid to Sudan. In the early days of the conflict Egyptian authorities also allowed emergency entry to Sudanese in need of healthcare and issued entry-upon-request visas for those Sudanese who flocked to the Argeen border crossing. Two weeks ago, however, Egypt introduced a stricter visa regime for Sudanese coming from Egypt. A government official said that the decision was taken following abuse of the flexibility of the earlier, more liberal visa system.

The visa policy for Sudanese escaping the war is subject to continuous reassessment, added the official.

In addition to providing humanitarian aid and entry visas, Egypt has been carefully examining what it can do to help promote stability in Sudan. According to the government official, the view in Cairo is that stability can only prevail in Sudan if its armed forces remain united, stable and strong. But while it highly values the role of the army, Egypt does not want to be seen siding too closely to one side of the conflict.

To do so, says the official, would hamper any possible political or diplomatic intervention. So far, such intervention has been confined to two tracks: the Saudi-American one which has brokered a series of on-and-off ceasefires, and the track pursued by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is trying to get Al-Borhan and Dagalo to meet in an African capital, possibly Addis Ababa, the venue of the headquarters of the African Union, to agree on a power-sharing policy.

Since the beginning of the conflict, in agreement with international partners, Egypt has upscaled security on its western and southern borders to abort any possible trafficking of arms or militants from Libya into Sudan.

Egyptian sources this week reported that Cairo is examining the possibilities of playing a mediatory role and of working with regional and international players to help ensure that Sudan does not fragment along tribal lines. They added, however, that no decision has been taken on either front. One thing, though, is clear, insist the sources: Cairo has no plans for direct military intervention in Sudan. Yes, it has issues with the flow of assistance some Arab and African countries have extended to Dagalo, but it is not willing to become directly involved in the conflict.

What Egypt wants to do, according to the same sources, is to work with partners, in and out of the region, on a possible extended truce monitored by peacekeeping forces under the umbrella of the African Union.

A diplomatic source close to Agar’s talks in Cairo said senior Sudanese officials had told their interlocutors that Al-Borhan is open to compromise.

“Al-Borhan does not want to be too weakened prior to possible indirect negotiations. He wants to improve his position by having direct support from Egypt,” he said.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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