Sudan crisis: Could a US-Saudi initiative end the fighting?

6 min read
03 May, 2023

A US-Saudi initiative is at the forefront of efforts seeking to end the war between the Sudanese army, led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), that erupted on 15 April.

The conflict so far has led to the deaths of over 500 civilians and wounded thousands, displacing hundreds of thousands to other countries.

US-Saudi initiative engaging both sides

An informed political source who spoke to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition) on condition of anonymity, said the initiative by Washington and Riyadh had found a response from both warring parties, who have agreed for the third time to renew a three-day truce proposed by the US and Saudi Arabia, a positive indicator despite the patchy commitment to it by both parties.

Various regional and international actors have rushed to offer mediation efforts to end the clashes. These include Egypt, the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the tripartite mechanism (TPM) which involves the UN, the AU and IGAD.

IGAD has also formed a high-level delegation including the Presidents of South Sudan, Kenya, and Djibouti to go to Khartoum to mediate an end to the crisis.

"A US-Saudi initiative is at the forefront of efforts seeking to end the war between the Sudanese army, led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces, led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo"

However, the US-Saudi initiative appears the strongest so far, with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan having established direct communication with both Burhan and Hemedti.

According to the source, the US-Saudi initiative advises three stages for dealing with the current crisis. Firstly, both parties will be pressured to extend the truce so humanitarian corridors can be opened and citizens can reach safe areas.

Secondly, a long-term ceasefire agreement should be developed, and thirdly, direct negotiations should be convened.

The source said Jeddah in Saudi Arabia had been suggested as the location for negotiations but there was a possibility IGAD's initiative could be involved, and if so Juba, the capital of South Sudan was a possible location.

Protesters gathered in London calling for an end to the war in Sudan [Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty]


RSF stance

Ahmad Abdin, the RSF's media advisor, said US-Saudi efforts had led to a third renewal of the three-day truce, and they were trying to push this in the direction of a permanent ceasefire.

Abdin claimed the lack of a unified leadership making decisions in the army, which meant the army hadn't taken consistent positions, even on a commitment to the truce, could hinder efforts to come to an agreement. "Another party (not the RSF) started this war, and wants to stop it on its own terms," he added.

The RSF had no issue with starting negotiations, he continued, but there was a need to establish good faith via a ceasefire being agreed upon and adhered to. The leader of the army was being pressured by many different sides, which had contributed to the outbreak of fighting, added Abdin, without revealing what these pressures were or who was behind them.

If there were negotiations, Abdin said the RSF would be committed to taking "steps towards a political settlement leading to a civilian government to lead in the transitional period up until elections. They'd also discuss a unified, national, professional army, and an investigation into how the present clashes had broken out; who was behind them; the integrity of all sides' commitment to preventing the former regime from returning, and how to protect the overall political process".

Abdin alluded to the "insistence [on some sides] on monopolising and hijacking the political scene" being to blame for obstructing the political process since the fall of the former regime.

"The success of the US-Saudi initiative hinges on whether it can convince the RSF rebels to desist from their insurrection, withdraw, and hand in their weapons to the army"

Official Sudanese government stance

Abdulrahman Khalil, the official spokesman for the Sudanese foreign ministry, denied the lack of a unified leadership in the army and government, and said, "Everyone is working in coordination and is taking unified stances and decisions, supported by the Sudanese people, who are fully behind the armed forces".

He believes the success of the US-Saudi initiative hinges on whether it can convince "the RSF rebels to desist from their insurrection; withdraw […] and hand in their weapons to the army". He deemed it unlikely that political discussions would be held with "the rebels" at the current time.

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The role of civilian groups

Former Minister of Trade and Industry, Madani Abbas Madani, said the US-Saudi initiative had come at a crucial time but emphasised the importance that the internal vision of civil and democratic forces regarding a solution be central, as the outbreak of violence was the outward expression of a political conflict even if "taking a military guise".

He said timing was decisive in ending conflicts, as "solutions which were feasible today might not be tomorrow, and the continuation of the conflict in Sudan would see the multiplying of sides involved, both locally and regionally".

He said the US-Saudi initiative was "acceptable" and wouldn’t be rejected apart from by those who might be benefitting from the conflict, but its success would depend on the extent it dealt with the roots of the crisis.

"Solutions which were feasible today might not be tomorrow, and the continuation of the conflict in Sudan would see the multiplying of sides involved, both locally and regionally"

This would involve a political aspect "connected to the need to get onto a political trajectory which would lead to a genuine civilian and democratic transition, and a military aspect which would lead to a professional, unified army separated from politics and the economy, which answers to a civilian leadership, with Islamic elements removed from the military and security institutions," he explained.

Madani warned that if the initiative resorted to partial solutions, it might not end the conflict at all, or, if it did, it wouldn't guarantee peace in the long term.

"What is important is the presence and input from the democratic civilian forces throughout the process to reach a solution which will be in line with the aspirations of the Sudanese people".

Ceasefire monitoring mechanism

Adel Khalafullah, a spokesman of the Arab Socialist Baath Party, said that any initiative, including the US-Saudi one, which wasn't accompanied by the civilian political movement which opposed the war and called for peace and the democratic transition would fail.

He pointed out that the initiative's acceptance had various motives, "like the weakness of both sides after three weeks of fighting," adding that what was happening "is what the civil forces expected".

Khalafallah suggested a mechanism be formed to monitor the cease-fire, including legal experts, doctors and journalists, whose task would be to monitor violations of the armistice and inflammatory rhetoric that could lead to escalation, in order to ensure the success of any initiative.

Muhammad Abu Zaid Korom, who leads the Just Peace Platform, said the initiative could make a breakthrough, but wouldn't rebuild what the war had destroyed over the past weeks, or solve the issues with the army, political forces, and RSF.

"Saudi Arabia and America are among the causes of the crisis due to their membership in the Quartet Committee, which clung to a defective and exclusionary political settlement that didn't propose realistic solutions, and led to the country's instability and devastation," he stated.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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