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The tragedy of Sudan

The tragedy of Sudan

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Fox News settled the Dominion defamation lawsuit for $787 million (more below).
  • Tony Danker, former head of the UK’s CBI, said he’d been made the fall guy for a wider sexual misconduct scandal.
  • UK inflation at 10.1 per cent was higher than expected for the second month in a row.

The tragedy of Sudan

Two generals are fighting over the future of Sudan with attack helicopters, fighter planes and artillery barrages. One is a Darfuri warlord indicted for war crimes at the Hague, the other a 63 year-old strongman backed by Egypt.

So what? Outsiders may be tempted now to write off Sudan as doomed to cycles of failure and irrelevant in terms of global geopolitics. They could not be more wrong. It’s a frontline state in a fight between autocracy and liberal democracy that will define Africa and the Middle East as surely as the rest of the world. 

This vast and populous nation (45 million people in an area five times the size of Germany) once jousted with Saudi Arabia for the crown of the ultra-conservative Islamic world. Until recently, women were flogged by religious police if they wore trousers. But in 2018, students took to the street crying out for bread, democracy and liberty.

Omar al-Bashir’s three-decade-old Islamist dictatorship was swept aside – one of the only successes of the Arab Spring, at the cost of hundreds of young Sudanese lives. Now, as the smoke billows out across Khartoum, those dreams of a democracy on the Nile are either dying or dead. And the region’s autocrats will be looking on with glee.

Living by the gun

Conflicts have blighted Sudan for decades – first in the South, then Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. More recently there have been clashes on the Ethiopian border. But Khartoum always held. Elites played a careful game, balancing Chadian and Libyan warlords off against each other as they did Washington, Al Qaeda and Riyadh.

Now the centre is collapsing: 

  • General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemedti” commands the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary force of about 100,000 which grew out of the murderous Janjaweed militias in the Darfur genocide. (He helped the EU crack down on migration in 2018 and one source said Paris was thinking of using him to fight jihadists in the Sahel two years ago.)
  • The RSF ran in uneasy parallel to General Abdel al-Burhan’s Sudanese Armed Forces in recent years and in 2021 the two allied for a coup against the liberal Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. Al Burhan, who became de facto ruler, wanted to merge the RSF into the army.  
  • But Hemedti, who has grown immensely wealthy from gold mines in Darfur and has powerful allies in Moscow and Dubai, refused. 

Both sides are armed to the teeth. Now millions of civilians in Khartoum are locked in their homes as the ground shakes from explosions. Many are without stocks of food or water; others cannot pick up their dead relatives from the streets.

This is “a fight between two partners in one crime, [the] 25 October 2021 coup, over the spoils of their crime,” says Amgad Fareid, a former top adviser to the ousted PM. “This is a war between two evils who both don’t have the interest of this country in their hearts.”

–   At least 185 people have been killed and 1,800 injured, according to the UN. The real figures are likely far higher. Doctors say they are running out of blood supplies and about a dozen hospitals have either been attacked or closed down.

–   The NYT reported that the EU’s top humanitarian aid official has been shot, while the house of the EU Envoy to Sudan was stormed. The US also says gunmen fired on one of its diplomatic convoys. 

–   A 24-hour ceasefire on Tuesday broke down in minutes.

–     Sudanese Armed Forces released a video claiming that they had captured thermobaric shells apparently supplied by the United Arab Emirates to the RSF 

While the blame ultimately rests with the two generals, no autocrat in the region wanted a successful democratic Sudan. Since the revolution Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and even Russia have allied themselves with anti-democratic Sudanese factions. Others including Eritrea and Ethiopia sowed division to keep a rival down.

“There was a tantalising story in Sudan – you could go from a terrorist state, a dictatorship to a democracy,” says Cameron Hudson, former Africa head at the National Security Council at the White House. “We in the West allowed those in the security sector to portray themselves as legitimate political actors rather than the criminal mafia they are. We have enabled a lot of what is happening now.”

What is happening is a tragedy with two leads, international supporting acts and 45 million helpless onlookers.


Fox Unsettled
The jurors were seated. Lapel mics were clipped and live. Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson were among the star witnesses to be cross-examined in week one. And then Judge Eric Davis said the defamation trial of the century wouldn’t happen. The Fox Dominion case was settled at the last minute for $787 million that spares the News Corp principals the horror of cross-examination on the lies they foisted on the American public about the 2020 election – and means anyone who wants to can go on believing those lies. Dominion, which makes voting machines, said the money was “vindication and accountability”. Up to a point. Fox didn’t have to apologise and $787 million is a small fraction of its $14 billion 2022 revenues (up 8 per cent year on year). But at least Dominion will get the money rather than face years of appeals. Fox is still being sued by another voting machine company and one of its own producers.


Kindle erotica
First it was corrupted Peppa Pig YouTube videos; then it was BeReal. Now it seems even Kindle can’t prevent explicit material reaching children. After pornographic images circulated on Amazon’s Kindle app, Google and Apple both called on Amazon to step up its online safeguarding measures. With no parental controls, the Kindle app offers access to a dubious world of self-published content. A child-friendly alternative, Amazon Kids+, is on the market, but at a cost of £6.99 a month many parents opt for the free alternative. Efforts to introduce federal online safety legislation failed in the US last year, but 16 states are proposing online bills of their own.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Liasons mystérieuses
Here’s an odd one: London’s Metropolitan Police arrested a French publisher on Monday as he arrived in London for the biannual book fair. Ernest Moret, foreign rights manager for Editions La Fabrique, was “pulled aside by police officers” acting under provisions of the Terrorism Act. Officers claimed in justification he had taken part in the ongoing protests in France. The British publisher Verso added in a joint statement with Editions La Fabrique that the arrest “seems to clearly indicate complicity between French and British authorities on this matter”. The National Union of Journalists called the arrest “extremely concerning”. Moret was questioned for six hours and arrested for obstruction, having refused to hand over the passcodes to his phone and computer. He was released on bail on Tuesday evening. Since when does protesting in France count as terrorism in England?

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Son of a Shah
Israel has received an unlikely visitor – the heir to Iran’s peacock throne. Reza Pahlavi, the son of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah ousted by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, has travelled to Jerusalem to express “a message of friendship from the Iranian people”, pay his respects to victims of the Holocaust and see some of the country’s water technology – Israel gets more than half its water from desalination, while Iran is struggling with water shortages. Israel’s government said the self-styled crown prince, 62, who’s spent most of his life in exile in the US, would be the most “senior Iranian personality” ever to pay a public visit to Israel. Pahlavi has become a popular secularist and democracy campaigner in the West. In Iran, officials dismissed the trip as insignificant, and even anti-regime protesters may be sceptical. The scars inflicted by the Savak – his father’s secret police – have yet to fade.

culture society identity and belonging

Culture clash
The US is making a dash to reclaim international culture via Unesco, the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural agency. The Obama administration halted payments to Unesco in 2011, citing anti-Israel bias. China moved to fill the Uncle Sam-shaped funding hole and now boasts 56 World Heritage Sites, second only to Italy and eight times the number of Unesco sites in Egypt, a country that doesn’t lack significant historical locations. China has funded everything from film festivals in Ouagadougou to an artificial intelligence summit in Beijing. But Unesco is also setting standards on artificial intelligence – and the spectacle of China writing international AI rules seems to have been a step too far for the US. Washington is now considering paying $150 million to come in from the cold.

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Will Brown

Additional reporting by Catherine Neilan, Anna Scott and Carla Conti.

Photographs Getty Images

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