(This paper was produced in partnership with Asbab)
- The hostilities between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been ongoing for about three weeks, during which there have been 7 fragile truces without a military settlement. Despite failing to take control of the country, the RSF is still controlling vital locations in the capital, such as the Khartoum International Airport, the national radio and television, and the Sudanese cabinet building. External parties are pressuring both sides to hold negotiations for a cease-fire. Brigadier General Nabil Abdullah, the spokesman for the SAF, said that American and Saudi mediators proposed to hold the discussions, which they qualified as ‘non-political’, in the city of Jeddah.
- At the request of Egypt and in coordination with Saudi Arabia, the Arab League held an extraordinary session for Arab foreign ministers on Sunday, May 7, to discuss the crisis in Sudan. Meanwhile, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are negotiating with Western parties a settlement to exclude the Military Commander, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the leader of the RSF, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hamedti), and replace them with other figures from both parties.
Limits of the hegemony of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt in the current fighting
- Arab regional parties – such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt – are playing an active role, to different degrees, in the current conflict in Sudan. Since President Omar Bashir was ousted, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have made promises to support Sudan economically. Moreover, the UAE provided political support for the agenda of the political elite from the Forces for Freedom and Change. It also established security and economic relations with Hamedti and provided him with significant military supplies in the past period to support his troops. There are also indications that the UAE supported Hamedti’s activities against the SAF from the beginning of the conflict. Even though Saudi Arabia tries to appear neutral, it is playing a major political role through its economic influence, which became evident in the signing of the Sudan Framework Agreement.
- Sudan occupies a vital position in the regional calculations of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Last December, an Emirati company signed a $6 billion deal to develop a port and economic zone on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. This step is part of the UAE’s broader vision to create a strategic, economic and/or military presence in the Arabian Gulf, passing through the strategic islands of Yemen and the Horn of Africa and including Sudanese and Egyptian ports on the Red Sea. Because of Sudan’s location on the Red Sea, it is in the geopolitical interest of Saudi Arabia to avoid the country falling under the control of hostile authorities. Therefore, Saudi Arabia was one of the major supporters of Sudan’s economy since the 1970s.
- Whether intentionally or unintentionally, since the fall of the al-Bashir regime, the Saudi and Emirati role has marginalized the Egyptian role in Sudan and made it ineffective. Accordingly, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are currently imposing their hegemony in Sudan at the expense of historical Egyptian influence. The Egyptian approach was based on investing in the army as a traditional and central institution. On the contrary, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have tried to weaken the political role of the army to undermine Islamists.
- This was manifested in the Sudan Framework Agreement, which was not welcomed by the Egyptians, and became more evident when the pro-Emirati political forces allied with Hamedti, under the claim of confronting Islamists within the Sudanese army. When the fighting began, the U.S. Secretary of State contacted the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to discuss the crisis. There were also attempts to hold the negotiations in Jeddah. All the mentioned are indicators of the limited role played by Egypt. Even though Cairo reinforced its alliance with Al-Burhan, it has limited capacity to provide support that would strengthen his position, given the limited economic resources of Egypt and its diminished political influence in the region.
- Reports revealed that Egypt provided military assistance to the Sudanese army at the onset of the current battle. In this context, Cairo could provide more assistance to prevent the defeat and collapse of the central authority in Sudan, which would threaten Egypt’s interests. If the fighting continues, this will further weaken Cairo’s position on the Al-Nahda Dam issue. If the situation in Sudan deteriorates and the central government – whose decisions are controlled by army commanders – is replaced by warring factions, Egypt will be unable to achieve a consensus with Sudan against Ethiopia.
- The influx of refugees across the Sudanese-Egyptian border will have economic repercussions on Cairo, which is already facing an economic crisis. Cross-border smuggling activities are expected to grow if the situation deteriorates and the crisis in Sudan prolongs. This will have negative security consequences for Egypt.
- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are eager to resolve their regional differences to preserve their strategic relations. Nonetheless, their relations have become more complex than ever because of their disagreements. Even though regional and international parties acknowledge the significance of Sudan to Egypt, Saudi and Emirati influence has become a reality that cannot be overlooked.
- Cairo could interfere in the conflict through tilting the balance in favor of the Sudanese army. However, the Saudi and Emirati role is necessary for reaching an agreement. All indicators suggest that the three parties are willing to contain the conflict and stop the fighting, even though they have divergent views on the preferred political solution.