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Who are the major foreign actors involved in Sudan fighting?

Who are the major international actors involved in Sudan's violence?
6 min read
18 April, 2023
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Russia, and the US have all cultivated ties to Sudan's warring generals Burhan and Hemedti in the lead-up to the current fighting.
Fighting between rival generals is ongoing in Sudan's capital Khartoum [Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images]

Fighting in Sudan between the country's army and the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has led to growing concern in the region with global powers calling for an immediate end to hostilities. 

The fighting has pitted Sudan’s two most powerful figures against each other - General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, who leads the army, and General Mohamed Hamdan 'Hemedti' Dagalo who heads the RSF, with at least 185 people killed and 1,800 injured in the fighting. 

Behind both figures are powerful international patrons.

UAE and Saudi Arabia

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have for the past several years sought to bolster their influence in the Red Sea region in Africa.

Initially supporting former President Omar al-Bashir - who ruled the country for 30 years before being toppled in 2019 - the UAE and Saudi Arabia threw their weight behind the Transitional Military Council which took over the country following a popular uprising against the longtime dictator.

The council was led by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader Hemedti who are currently fighting each other. Both generals rose to prominence during Bashir's rule, with Hemedti's RSF emerging out of the Janjaweed militias who are accused of war crimes in Darfur.

The two Gulf states pledged an aid package of $3 billion following the overthrow of Al-Bashir. The UAE and the Saudis saw the period of transition following Bashir’s long rule as an opportunity to roll back Islamist influence in Sudan and the wider region and cement their influence. 

The former dictator was allied with Islamist groups at various points of his rule and was often referred to as an Islamist.

Hemedti on Monday appeared to play to Gulf and international fears of an Islamist takeover in Sudan, accusing Burhan of being a "radical Islamist" in a tweet.

While it is likely true that there are members of Sudan’s armed forces that are linked to the Islamist movement from the Bashir era, that is not the reason for their disagreements, said Mat Nashed, a journalist and analyst on Sudan. 

"Hemedti didn't seem so bothered with that when he was also a patron himself of Bashir. He wasn't particularly interested when he joined with the military to organise a coup on 25 October 2021," he said.

"The reason that there's a feud between them is because these members of the military that were tied to Bashir’s party and are Bashir loyalists fear that a new civilian transition would hurt their economic and political powers."

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are thought to be particularly close to the RSF and Hemedti has sought to cultivate close ties with the two countries. For instance, he sent troops to fight against Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen to serve Saudi interests, and in Libya to serve those of the UAE. 

A recent investigation has revealed that one of the admins running Hemedti’s Facebook page is thought to be in the UAE


Egypt has long been concerned about political instability in its southern neighbour, and backs Sudan's military to maintain stability in Khartoum. 

"It's definitely very clear that Egypt - which has blamed the fighting in Sudan on the RSF in the Arab League - has long been a backer of the Sudanese armed forces. Members of the Sudanese military used to train in Egypt," said Mat Nashed.

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"Egypt has always been…quite pragmatic abroad. And what that means is that, you know, ideologically for them, they view security in the conventional sense, and they'll always back the institution of the military, or they always back military men that want to create a military institution."

General Burhan has close ties with Cairo, having trained with many Egyptian generals in military college. 

During the recent fighting, Egyptian soldiers were captured by RSF forces in Sudan on Saturday. The Egyptian army responded by saying its forces were in Sudan "to conduct training" with their Sudanese counterparts and was working to ensure their security. 

Cairo has also emerged as a possible mediator during the recent violence. Together with the UAE, the Egyptians are working on a ceasefire between the army and the RSF. 


Israel could emerge as an unlikely possible mediator between the warring parties in Sudan’s violence.

Israeli diplomats were communicating with both Burhan and Hemedti, according to an Israeli official, with the aim of de-escalating the situation to progress towards the establishment of a civilian government. 

Sudan and Israel normalised ties in October 2020 following extensive pressure on the Sudanese generals from the administration of former US President Donald Trump.


Russia also maintains a significant interest in the developments in Sudan. It has sought to construct a naval base on the Red Sea, where several UAE companies are keen to invest. 

There are also question marks over the role of the Wagner Group - a Russian mercenary company that is headed by a close confidant of Vladimir Putin. Wagner forces have been involved in several conflicts in Africa, including in Libya and Mali, and have been accused of committing war crimes. 

It is unknown if they are currently fighting in Sudan, but the notorious group is "very likely engaged in the current fight to keep its presence in the country and protect its huge business interests", Ashok Swain, head of the Peace and Conflict Research Department at Uppsala University in Sweden, was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying. 

RSF chief Hemedti has close ties to Russia, flying to Moscow in early 2022, a day after the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

United States

Western states - led by the US - expressed support for the transition to a democratic government following Al-Bashir's overthrow, which was sidelined by the October 2021 coup led by Burhan and Hemedti.

They have since suspended financial support and backed plans for a new transition towards a civilian government. 

A US diplomatic convoy reportedly came under fire from fighters linked to the RSF on Tuesday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that all employees were safe, but termed the attack "reckless" and "irresponsible". Blinken directly warned Hemedti in a subsequent phone call that any danger posed to US diplomats was unacceptable.