The Sudanese military’s crackdown on a pro-democracy protest camp in Khartoum is a major blow to efforts to create a democracy following the overthrow of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on April 11.
The head of Sudan’s ruling military council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, offered to resume talks on the transfer of power to civilians as the number of people killed since security forces stormed the sit-in climbed to 60.
Here are some leading players and regional powers trying to shore up positions in Sudan, trying to rebuild after rebellions and economic crises and policies making it a pariah state under Bashir.
GENERAL MOHAMED HAMDAN DAGALO
The deputy head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) is arguably the most powerful man in Sudan. Dagalo, known as Hemedti, commands the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a feared paramilitary group said to number tens of thousands that stands accused of genocide in the Darfur war. Bashir’s government denied the allegations.
Witnesses said the RSF, which controls Khartoum, led the crackdown on the protest camp. Their deployment suggests Hemedti, a former Darfur fighter is calling the shots, at least when it comes to security.
He also derives power from ties to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. His RSF forces helped the oil-rich Gulf Arab countries in Yemen’s civil war. Hemedti is a high-profile figure, delivering public speeches and meeting Western diplomats.
ABDEL FATTAH AL-BURHAN
Burhan, who heads the Transitional Military Council (TMC), was Inspector General of the Sudanese armed forces and its third most senior general. Unlike Hemedti, he is little known in public life. He was head of Sudan’s ground forces, a role in which he oversaw Sudanese troops who fought in the Saudi-led Yemen war.
He has close ties to senior Gulf military officials and was responsible for co-ordinating Sudan’s military involvement in the war.
SUDANESE PROFESSIONALS ASSOCIATION
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded the rallies that helped topple Bashir, now leads a broad coalition of opposition groups seeking a transfer of power to civilians. It is made up of unionists and activists and includes lawyers, engineers and doctors.
The protesters, which sometime swell to hundreds of thousands at the sit-in, come from all walks: accountants, tea sellers, lawyers, students, artists and designers. Women are a driving force behind protests outside the defence ministry.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
The UAE is increasingly powerful in the Middle East, with policies driven mostly by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. He praised Sudan for helping in the Yemen war but his interests in the African country go beyond Yemen’s battlefields.
Prince Mohammed, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has spearheaded efforts to combat political Islam, which they see as an existential threat to their countries and the region. All three countries support Sudan’s new rulers and hope to consolidate influence in the country.
Their main priority is to stamp out influence of the Islamists, who dominated the country since Bashir seized power in 1989.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion in financial and material support to Sudan in late April, just after the coup. Burhan visited the UAE in late May after a trip to Egypt and a visit by Hemedti to Saudi Arabia.
For Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the protests in Sudan may be too close for comfort. They are a reminder of the Arab Spring uprisings which toppled President Hosni Mubarak, but ultimately delivered little freedom.
The Egyptian military effectively ousted Mubarak after it was clear protests were spiralling out of control. In 2013, then army chief Sisi toppled Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, after mass protests.
Sisi was later elected president. He outlawed the Brotherhood and cracked down on dissent. Like his Gulf allies, Sisi would like to see the Islamists entrenched in Sudan’s army, intelligence and other key positions replaced with moderates.
The Gulf oil power, along with Egypt and the UAE, is engaged in a struggle for influence against Qatar and Turkey, which they accuse of trying to spread radical Islam in the Middle East. The Gulf States and Cairo want to make certain their regional rivals cannot capitalise on Sudan’s uncertainty and see the TMC as the safest bet, at least for now. Like Egypt, the Gulf powers fear any repeat of the 2011 uprisings could threaten their hold on power.