Egypt and the Sudan Crisis

Regional responses to the Khartoum conflict

As Sudan once again finds itself in the midst of a domestic military crisis, neighboring Egypt is trying to defuse the situation.

Picture credit: Shutterstock / TG23

The military conflict between the Sudanese armed forces and a paramilitary group which began on April 15, 2023 in Khartoum is about to drag the entire nation into civil war, though regional powers are doing what they can to avert that scenario.

A breakaway paramilitary force, known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), sparked the hostilities by attacking several high-profile government facilities in the capital, a number of army bases, and Khartoum International Airport.

The RSF was formerly close to the central government, and played a role in the War in Darfur circa 2013, and the group was frequently accused of war crimes at the time. The paramilitary group has grown in size since, to the point of rivaling the national army in terms of military power.

Essentially, the former proxies of the Sudanese government in Darfur have turned against their former handlers—a pattern which is not unheard of in Africa.

The RSF’s leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and the chief commander of the Sudanese national army, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan are the de facto leaders of the two fighting sides.

Both sides claim control over critical locations in Khartoum and the rest of the country. The two sides are relatively comparable in strength, each having roughly 120,000 fighters under their command. This has made the situation more complicated and prone to prolongation.

Over the last ten days, the government has claimed several times that the RSF’s rebellion has fallen apart, but observations by international journalists still present in Sudan indicate otherwise: the hostilities have escalated over the last few days, and attempts at restoring peace have been thus far unsuccessful.

Even a ceasefire agreed for Eid Al-Fitr on April 21—a major Muslim holiday—did not hold in reality.

While light artillery and anti-aircraft guns were used from the outset, since April 19 heavy weapons have been seen firing near to the presidential palace, among other critical locations.

Khartoum airport is in ruins, according to Al Jazeera, though the army has said that it has successfully repelled several offensives by the RSF to capture the airport.

Egypt was one of the first regional powers to attempt to put an end to the hostilities in neighboring Sudan.

Cairo, as the largest regional power in North Africa, sides with the Sudanese government, though its diplomats are in talks with both sides to mediate the draft of an accord to halt the military conflict.

Egyptian special forces have been helping the Sudanese army with intelligence, though Cairo has not acknowledged any direct military involvement so far.

Some 177 Egyptian military personnel who were detained by the RSF were finally freed by the rebel forces on April 19, which indicates that Cairo has been somewhat successful in exercising its regional influence.

The humanitarian situation is also grim. Corridors of safe passage have not been formed so far to spare civilians. The internet, meanwhile, has been down since April 23 according to the internet watchdog, NetBlocks, which makes it more difficult to gather reliable news from inside the war-stricken country.

Rapid evacuation of foreign nationals has been in progress. During several special operations by Egypt, the US, and the UK up to 10,000 foreigners including diplomats have been evacuated via Port Sudan and undisclosed military airports, among other routes.

However, there are still many foreign nationals trapped inside the country. With the country’s main airport in ruins, flights out of Khartoum are not practical at this stage.

In the coming days, the region is likely to see an influx of refugees if no peace agreement is achieved soon. Egypt, which is already hosting 4 million Sudanese residents, will likely be one of the destinations chosen by those fleeing the war