The Republic of Sudan, the northeast African country with a population of 45 million, is strategically located south of Egypt and bordering Chad, Ethiopia and Libya. Until a few weeks ago, American diplomats believed Sudan was on the verge of a breakthrough agreement to transition from a military dictatorship to a full-fledged democracy.
Some viewed developments in Sudan as a test of President Joe Biden’s foreign policy goal of supporting fledgling democracies worldwide as a means of countering the autocratic influence of China, Russia and others.
And then everything fell apart. In late April, U.S. diplomats shut the American embassy in Sudan’s capital city of Khartoum and fled in a nighttime evacuation. Sudan spiraled into a potential civil war in a bloody confrontation between two rival generals — Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s army, and Lt. Gen Mohamed Hamdan, a paramilitary chief. The two had worked together in 2021 to carry out a military coup that toppled the country’s longtime dictator, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, but fell into conflict as post-coup responsibilities were being sorted out.
The violence in Sudan is creating all sorts of problems. The human toll has been significant — with estimates of some 600 people killed and more than 330,000 displaced. And on a practical level, the power vacuum created by the warring factions has created an attractive target for outside military and political intervention.
There is also fear that the violence could spread to neighboring countries. Most of Sudan’s neighbors are either indifferent or hostile to the quest for democracy. As a result, it isn’t at all clear where neighbor interests would be best served ― other than each country’s consideration of what might be gained from support for one or the other of the competing generals.
And there is concern that the country’s political disarray could impact Sudan’s 2020 normalization agreement with Israel. It is because of that concern and other regional issues that Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, has been involved in international efforts to bring about a lasting ceasefire, including what Cohen reports as “an offer to host a negotiation summit in Israel with the aim of reaching agreements that will allow an end to the violence and war in the country.”
Although Israel is probably the closest thing to a neutral party in the region and wants to establish and maintain lasting diplomatic relations with whatever government emerges in Sudan, Israel’s offer to mediate the dispute is almost certainly a non-starter.
There are a host of powerful, experienced and credible mediators with interests in the region who know Sudan well and are positioned to help work toward resolution. And given Sudan’s strategic location and wealth of natural resources, interested parties have an added incentive to help resolve the dispute.
No one seems to think that there is a quick fix to the conflict in Sudan. Nonetheless, given the stakes, there are meaningful reasons for those interested in the region to do everything possible to help achieve a peaceful resolution. We hope it comes soon. ■