Monday’s military coup in Sudan crippled the nation’s leadership and could have sweeping regional implications, including inflaming already bitter disputes among Sudan’s neighbors, analysts say.
“I would say key in today’s considerations really are questions of the ongoing conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,” said Jonas Horner, a senior analyst and Sudan expert at the International Crisis Group. The longstanding dispute over Ethiopia’s hydroelectric dam stems from Ethiopia’s insistence on building and filling the dam to help alleviate poverty in the country, and Egypt and Sudan’s opposition to it, Horner said.
Egypt favors military rule in Sudan, while Ethiopia will likely back a civilian transition in hopes that the potential for improved relations will move the needle on the dam, Horner told VOA. “Egypt is very keen to see a military dispensation in Sudan because they believe that they will take care of their interests best when it comes to representing Egyptian concerns over the dam,” Horner said.
The coup in Sudan could also affect Ethiopia’s ongoing crisis in the Tigray region, which is spreading and has seen a recent escalation. The Ethiopian government may have cause to worry if the Sudan military remains in power, Horner said. “The concern is that the military, if it is indeed in the ascendancy and there is no mediation from civilians, that they will more robustly perhaps support the Tigrayans as they fight against the central government in Addis Ababa,” he said.
The United Nations and the African Union condemned the military takeover. The Norwegian Refugee Council issued a statement Monday appealing to Sudan’s rulers to protect civilians and keep commitments to allow humanitarian aid to reach millions of people affected by war.
Monday’s military takeover was triggered by a fear that the military was losing control over Sudan’s Sovereign Council as the deadline for transfer to civilian rule was approaching, analysts said.
Khartoum was in political and social chaos after Sudan’s military chief, Lieutenant General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, declared a state of emergency and dissolved the joint civilian-military council that has run the country for the past two years. Protesters took to the streets, derisively chanting Burhan’s name and singing Sudan’s national anthem.
Medical sources say dozens of people have been injured in the protests, and at least seven people died in clashes with security forces in Khartoum amid an internet and telecommunications shutdown. With Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other officials of the ruling Sovereign Council in detention, the future of the nation’s leadership is in turmoil.
“I think the thing that the military was most fearful of losing [was] control of the Sovereignty Council — the executive authority in the country,” said Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.
Internal pressure from hundreds of thousands of protesters who came out from different towns across Sudan in recent weeks demanding civilian rule made Sudan’s top military leader feel “under siege,” Hudson said. “This is a reaction internally to release the pressure that they were feeling,” Hudson told VOA.
The coup seems to have the backing of the Sudan Armed Forces and a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces under General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, some analysts said. But Hudson warned that the army might be divided on this. “What we don’t know and what we should be fearful of is there are divisions within the military, especially in the younger ranks, the lower ranks of the military,” he said. “We should not be surprised if we see a counter coup of some kind of younger military officers who push back against what happened.”
The military takeover looks hurried and poorly planned, according to Hudson, and may have dangerous consequences, including street violence, which escalated Monday. “It’s a very dangerous situation, because you have the military trying to assert its control, and now you have people taking to the streets in protest,” he said.
Sudan’s neighbors are watching closely, possibly fearing a spillover effect, Horner said. “There are plenty of autocratic governments that are in Sudan’s immediate neighborhood and then even across the Red Sea and elsewhere, too, who will concern themselves with what inspiring effect a successful civilian transition might have to their own populations,” he said.
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