In his article for the Fair Observer, Mathew Hedges, a former detainee in the UAE, said that the UAE have both intervened due to a developing confrontation among Sudanese generals. Both want to hold significant authority in Sudan, have access to the Red Sea, and pursue long-term economic and security objectives at the expense of the Sudanese democracy and US interests.
Although it may be argued that the UAE’s worsening relationship with the US is improving, the nation is now deftly balancing the West and the East. Abu Dhabi views itself as a significant international force. Mohammed bin Zayed, the president of the United Arab Emirates and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, is leading the charge (UAE).
The UAE has a long-standing alliance with the US but has been growing closer to Russia. Due to shared interests, the UAE-Russia alliances have been witnessed across Africa, from Sudan to Senegal. Both states want covert collaborative participation in peripheral nations.
A struggle for power in Sudan
Since the retirement of Sudan’s civilian prime minister Abdalla Hamdok in January, the UAE has considerably strengthened its participation and influence over internal matters in Sudan. A general-led coup had already overthrown him in October of last year, and Washington’s pressure from abroad was the only reason he made a brief comeback.
The Transitional Sovereignty Council’s head, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and his deputy, General Mohamed agalo, or “Hemeti,” have been engaged in a power struggle since Hamdok’s departure. Sudanese actors are courting the UAE as competition between Burhan and Hemeti discreetly grows. Tahnoon bin Zayed, Mohammed bin Zayed’s brother and the UAE’s national security advisor, has chosen to support Hemeti because Abu Dhabi is amenable to such overtures.
Burhan has made an effort to solidify his position by consolidating authority inside organisations like the ministry of defence and by upholding official ties with regional allies. As a result, the ministry has increased its ownership position in Port Sudan and other eastern area industrial projects. Burhan wants to lessen the likelihood that Hemeti and his main supporter, the UAE, would get access to the region for themselves and Russia.
Moscow has long sought to establish naval access to Port Sudan, but negotiations are being postponed as Khartoum seeks more financial and political backing. It is significant to highlight that Burhan is motivated primarily by the need to maintain his hold on Sudan rather than being outwardly hostile to the UAE or Russia. Burhan has attempted to manage the tarnished legacy of previous president Omar al-Bashir with the whims and demands of the world stage while balancing internal power dynamics.
Recently, Burhan travelled to Egypt, Libya, and Chad in an effort to emphasise his importance to the future of Sudan. High level relationships with regional actors have been used for this. Gibril Ibrahim, the head of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), was also sent by Burhan to Saudi Arabia in order to get short-term financing for Sudan.
Hemeti is retaliating Burhan’s actions as they are being made. The president of Chad’s chief of staff is related to him initially and is a well-known Darfur area negotiator. There are even rumours that Minni Minawi, the governor of Darfur, is getting ready to defect from Burhan’s alliance and support Hemeti. The fact that Hemeti was the head of the Janjaweed, who committed widespread brutality in the Darfur region, makes this relationship particularly problematic. These power battles have highly dangerous repercussions for Sudan’s domestic situation. Another civil war is definitely a possibility after many coups.
Russia and the UAE team together for a shared cause
Sanctions led by the US against Sudan that were put in place following the coup that toppled Hamdok are still in effect. The UAE has stepped in as a mediator and a source of much-needed money in such a circumstance. By doing this, the UAE supports the military-led government in Sudan, expands its network there, and prevents any possible transfer of power to the civilian government.
Abu Dhabi has made an effort to forge relationships with significant civilian players while still supporting the military’s function inside Sudan’s democratic system. Osama Daoud, a wealthy businessman with strong links to the military, is being fostered by the UAE. The DAL Group, which has a location in the UAE, is led by him. According to reports, Daoud and Tahnoon bin Zayed have a tight friendship, and a $6 billion investment project was successful because of this relationship.
The UAE has been signing agreements with critical military figures and individuals that are backed by the military that will only increase their influence in Sudan, while the West has been seeking to push the military to give control. Just north of Port Sudan, the Abu Dhabi Ports Group will build a brand-new port and free zone. Additionally, $300 million will be put into the Sudanese Central Bank, which should lessen the nation’s criticism for its slow journey toward a civilian administration. Additionally, the UAE has committed to establishing a sizable agricultural project in Eastern Sudan, the output of which will be exported via the new port.
Timing and the choice to provide Sudan with more money must be carefully considered. Now it is obvious that the UAE supports Hemeti. Hemeti had already shown his allegiance to Abu Dhabi by sending a sizable detachment of soldiers to South Yemen, where they assisted in defending crucial regions from Houthi forces. Now, Russia could work with the UAE to support Hemeti. If civil war breaks out in Sudan, the secretive Russian mercenaries known as the Wagner Group may intervene. Hemeti has made multiple trips to Moscow and obtained intelligence and military support from the Russian Internet Research Agency.
Burhan has attempted to gain the UAE’s backing in order to oppose Hemeti. Burhan visited the UAE in March 2022, but Abu Dhabi did not support him. As a result, he recently issued an order to free several Islamist detainees, which infuriated the UAE and caused it to draw closer to Hemeti.
The US is concerned about the UAE’s role in Sudan, especially given that Moscow and Abu Dhabi are supporting the same candidate. In effect, Abu Dhabi is undermining Washington’s long-term plan to establish a civilian administration in Sudan and bring about peace. In addition to wiping down the remaining traces of Sudanese democracy, the UAE is allowing Moscow to expand its influence far beyond the Eurasian region. If Moscow were to get access to the Sudanese coast, Washington would not be happy. However, it is powerless as Moscow and Abu Dhabi work together to accomplish a single objective. Sudan’s dynamics make the UAE’s pivotal role in the Middle East’s evolving power dynamics—both in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea—clearly visible.
The international community has paid little attention to Sudan. The international world gave the new democratic administration scant attention. As a result, the nation became open to outside influences. The transition to civilian administration failed when the UAE and Russia supported military elites to further their strategic objectives. Russia is expected to offer security help to Hemeti should Sudan fall victim to civil conflict again, while the UAE would likely provide financial support. Through this procedure, Abu Dhabi will obtain financial assets whose worth would have decreased due to war. Russia and the UAE will be able to safeguard their long-term interests in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere through any domestic crisis and civil war.