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Sudan’s army chief in Egypt after Libya visit as civil war drags on

Sudanese Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is trying to drum up African support in the war against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) hosts Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of Sudan, in Cairo, Feb. 29, 2024.

Sudanese army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan arrived in Cairo on Thursday, days after visiting Libya in an apparent attempt to mobilize regional support as the civil war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) approaches the one-year mark.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hosted Burhan at the Ittihadiya Palace shortly after his arrival.

The two leaders discussed ways to boost joint cooperation between their countries, reviewed the latest developments in Sudan and spoke about efforts aimed at ending the conflict between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary RSF, according to a statement by the Egyptian Presidency.  

Sisi stressed Egypt’s support for the security and stability of Sudan, while Burhan thanked Egypt for receiving Sudanese civilians fleeing the war and praised Cairo's role in trying to resolve the conflict, the statement added.

More than 12,000 people have been killed in Sudan since fighting erupted in April 2023 during a power struggle that resulted in the army being pitted against the RSF, led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

The United Nations says the conflict has created one of the worst displacement crises. Nearly 8.1 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Of those, more than 6 million are internally displaced, while 1.8 million have fled abroad, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which reports more than 450,000 Sudanese having gone to Egypt.

Deepening ties

Sisi has repeatedly expressed his support for Sudan and its unity since the war's onset. In July, Cairo hosted a summit of heads of state from countries neighboring Sudan to discuss ways to end the conflict.

The participants — the leaders of the Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Libya and South Sudan — called on the warring parties to commit to a cease-fire and agreed on the need to find a political solution to the conflict and to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid to the crisis-stricken country.

Relations between Egypt and Sudan had improved after the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The two countries deepened their military cooperation and conducted joint drills in the past few years.

Egypt and Sudan are also aligned on the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile and which has caused serious concern among Ethiopia’s downstream neighbors.

Cairo fears the dam will affect its share of Nile waters, on which it depends almost entirely to meet its drinking and agricultural needs. Although Khartoum believes it could benefit from the electricity generated from the dam, which could also help regulate the flow of Blue Nile waters during flood seasons, it still wants guarantees from Addis Ababa about the dam’s safe operation to ensure the preservation of its own dams.

Last August, Burhan had made a visit to Egypt his first foreign trip after the outbreak of the civil war. With the current visit and others, Burhan appears to be aiming for the upper hand diplomatically, with his rival, Dagalo already having made strides in Africa.

The RSF leader embarked on a regional tour earlier this year, with stops in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda. His visits followed the RSF making significant advances in Sudan, seizing control of Gezira state. The paramilitary forces control all the states in the Darfur region and parts of Khartoum.

In Tripoli on Monday, Burhan met with Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, prime minister of Libya’s internationally recognized government, and Libyan Presidential Council head Mohammad Younes Menfi. The Libyan leaders expressed their support for meditation efforts to end the Sudanese conflict.

In January, Burhan had traveled to Algeria on an official visit. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune stressed his country’s support for Sudan “to overcome the difficult circumstances and confront the forces of evil targeting it.”