Skip to main content

Sudanese coup leader’s trips to UK, US fail to win over the West

Burhan tried to portray the trips to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral and the UNGA meeting in New York as the beginning of a new chapter with the Western capitals.
Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, president of the Transitional Sovereign Council of Sudan, addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters, New York, Sept. 22, 2022.

The contested president of Sudan’s sovereign council and leader of last October’s military coup, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, culminated on the evening of Sept. 24 an international tour of sorts that included the West for the first time since he took power. The trips were portrayed by Sudanese coup authorities as the beginning of a new chapter in their relations with Western capitals, which isolated the military junta after it seized power. But by the end of the tour, Burhan had failed to achieve any significant diplomatic breakthroughs.

Burhan’s tour included London, where he attended the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, then New York, where he addressed the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), and finally Cairo, where he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. However, the Sudanese general only managed to be received in a courtesy meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and did not meet any Western official.

“Neither the trips to the UK or the US signal the acceptance of these countries of the coup or the post-coup situation it created,” said Nada Wanni, an independent researcher and consultant focused on Sudan and the Horn of Africa. She told Al-Monitor, “Despite attempts by some to spin these trips as such, officials from both countries made clear in their statements following these events that this was not the case.”

Although none of the visits revolved around Burhan, the opposition in Sudan and abroad criticized the West for not taking a more forceful stance against his attempts to break his international isolation in search of some diplomatic recognition. In New York, members of the Sudanese diaspora held demonstrations to express their solidarity with the ongoing revolution in Sudan, condemn the visit and demand greater pressure.

Since the military coup of Oct. 25, 2021, the international community has halted political and economic support to Sudan, including billions of dollars in loans, investments and aid. Burhan, who has so far been unable to form a stable government or deliver on other promises such as bolstering the economy, has also faced strong diplomatic isolation from the West, which is pressing for the generals to hand over power to civilians.

“It’s clear that the military was trying to use these trips as a way to demonstrate that it had legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the West and the international community,” said Cameron Hudson, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former chief of staff to the US special envoy to Sudan. He told Al-Monitor, “I think they failed in trying to make that argument."

Burhan first traveled to London on Sept. 18 to attend the funeral for Queen Elizabeth II, to which 2,000 people were invited. Sudanese officials stated that Burhan’s attendance reflected the deep relations between Sudan and the United Kingdom, as well as the Queen’s status among the Sudanese people.

However, Hudson noted that all former British colonies were invited, and said that the decision appears to have come from Buckingham Palace and not the Foreign Ministry, so the invitation followed royal protocol and was not a political decision by London.

On Sept. 21, Burhan left for New York to participate in the 77th session of the UNGA. During his speech, which lasted less than 15 minutes and took place in front of a visibly empty hall, Burhan called on the international community to resume the debt relief program for the country, officially frozen in June. He also stated that Sudan is trying to improve the security and development situation in the region, and noted that the country is hosting several million refugees, for which he called for increased international aid.

Burhan’s media adviser, Brig. Al-Tahir Abu-Hajja, stated that the general’s participation in the session opened a new chapter in relations with the West and the United States in particular. However, Hudson noted that Burhan was not personally invited to New York, but that Sudan was invited to attend the UNGA, and as such Khartoum was allowed to choose one representative, like any other country. 

US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey also stated in a recent interview with the local newspaper El Tayyar that Burhan’s participation in the UNGA session does not represent any change in its relations with the United States. Wanni noted, “Sudan is not going to be invited [either] to the US-Africa Summit to be held in Washington on Dec. 13-15 together with other countries on AU’s list of suspended countries.”

The most prominent leader Burhan met with was Guterres, who expressed serious concern about the continuing political crisis in Sudan and its rapidly deteriorating security, economic and humanitarian situations, according to a press release. Guterres also reminded Burhan of the urgent need to seal a political agreement that restores a civilian-led political transition in order to fulfill the aspirations of the Sudanese people for sustainable peace, inclusive democracy and economic prosperity.

Another prominent leader Burhan met with was the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, with whom he discussed the current situation in Sudan. The general took advantage of the meeting to call on the union to reconsider the suspension of Sudan’s membership, adopted after the coup. But Mahamat reportedly limited himself to reaffirming the AU’s readiness to resume its participation in the political process in Sudan.

“Burhan had no significant bilateral conversations with any officials on either of these trips. He made no news, no announcements, no new deals. So, he came away essentially empty-handed, not having been received really by anyone he needed to be received by, and so I think it was probably more of an embarrassment,” Hudson said.

Burhan also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, whom he thanked for his continued support and commitment to maintaining cooperation, state news agency SUNA reported. Other meetings held by the general on the sidelines of the UNGA session included meetings with the presidents of Burundi, Gambia, Senegal and Somalia.

“The acceptance-by-the-international-community narrative appears to be directed internally to send certain political messages. First to the Sudanese people, to persuade them of the futility of the ongoing resistance and urge them to accept the current situation as it stands. And second to pro-democracy political forces who are trying to reach a political solution that ends the coup and restores a civilian democratic process — that their position is getting weaker in light of this alleged ‘international community acceptance’ and that they should therefore make significant compromises,” Wanni noted.

What was probably the most significant trip for Burhan, however, is the one he made to Egypt Sept. 24, when he was on his way back to Khartoum from New York. In Cairo, the general was received by Sisi, and they discussed the state of their bilateral relations, joint economic and development projects, and a number of regional issues such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, according to an official statement.

“That meeting served as personal support for himself, to say to members of the Sudanese Armed Forces that are maybe grumbling about his leadership that he has the backing of the Egyptians — that he still can command the support of Cairo even after putting the Islamists back to power in Khartoum,” said Kholood Khair, founder of the think tank Confluence Advisory based in Khartoum.

However, Khair told Al-Monitor that even the outcome of the meeting in Cairo seemed to fall short of Burhan’s expectations and personal needs, which could indicate a possible loss of confidence on the part of his Egyptian allies given his inability to consolidate authority.

“What’s interesting is that he also seems to have come empty-handed from that meeting, and that was a much more predictable support that he would get from Cairo [compared to] the United States and the United Kingdom, which have not given him any indication,” Khair noted.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

Text Alerts - Be the first to get breaking news, exclusives, and PRO content.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial