Where Is Sudan? Refracting the Globe through Bilad al-Dahab.

EDITION: 5th Birthday.

Understanding the possible trajectories of Sudan since Omar al-Bashir was deposed requires locating it within the tide of forces, local and global, that regularly bypass its nominal borders.

“O’ Mother, what’s your debt?
The debt of the nation, double.
Did you see Zayn’s child?
The only one in his mother’s eye
Filled with tears
The army said to him, ‘How many are your people?’
‘Show us where they stay’
‘Show us for your sake’
He stood like a branch, uncracked
Never broken
Never to waver
Upright towards his death
‘I won’t bring the shame’
‘I won’t bring the shame’
‘Even if they bleed me dry’”

Mahjoub Sharif, ‘O’ Mother, O’ Mariam’1

“Shoot at everything,
at every gust of wind—without warning,
at every word travelling without passport.
Train each bird to file an intelligence report.
Train all windows in cities,
all lanterns in villages,
all stems of sorghum.
Have all ants join the informants’ ranks.
Have the drizzle write intelligence reports.
Even better, pack all the people in bottles.
Keep a close watch on the starving.
Stamp the hell out of the downtrodden,
shell and bomb them down.
Confiscate the stars from the night,
the tide from the sea.
Scratch the morning face.
Cut down the wind’s wings.
Block life’s veins
and send hope to exile;
hope brought in
by the discovery of fire
and division of labour.
then you can get a safe haven,

Mahjoub Sharif, ‘Buffoon!‘2

Introduction: The State of the Nation

In August 2021, Muawiya al-Barir, a Sudanese businessman close to the Inghaz (The Salvation)3 regime of Omar al-Bashir that had fallen two years prior, was arrested under the guidance of the Empowerment Removal Committee (ERC), part of Sudan’s post-dictatorship transitional government.4 Typical of the ravenous neoliberal schemes nurtured by the reign of Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP), the Kanaf5 Abu Na’ama project – a state-owned agricultural project started up in the 1970s in Sennar State6 – was stripped apart and sold off to private investors — al-Barir included — a decade prior, disrupting the livelihoods of local farmers. Unlike the largely counter-revolutionary measures fostered by the then transitional government, the ERC was given the mandate to reverse the “unlawful” expropriations conducted by the dictatorship and to dismantle the “deep state” of Kayzan – the popular nickname given to the NCP’s brand of Islamists – that it had left behind. Despite its limitations, the exceptional character of the ERC as a factor in class struggle did not go unnoticed, as accusations of corruption, overreach, and absolutism were directed at the ERC by factions of the transitional government. In October 2021, the military wing of the transitional government (hereby referred to as the Transitional Military Council, TMC7) carried out a coup against its civilian counterpart, disbanding with it the ERC, now to be replaced by a committee with the mandate to reverse the repossessions made by the ERC. In coordination, former members of the ERC were harassed by security forces and arrested over the coming months. On April 24th, Sudan’s Supreme Court ruled to return all assets seized by the ERC from Muawiya al-Barir, now out of jail, back to him, re-privatising the Kanaf Abu Na’ama project. Less than a month later, on May 18th, popular demonstrations against this second expropriation of Kanaf Abu Na’ama were sprayed with gunfire and tear-gas deployed by the forces of the TMC, killing three civilians and severely injuring more.

The initial uprising that unseated Omar al-Bashir began in December 2018, initiated by a collapse in the Sudanese pound and the retraction of bread subsidies by the state. By April 2019, al-Bashir was deposed by his own forces, trying to satiate a wave of popular pressure. Attempts to replace him with another face from his security apparatus ended in failure, as the Sudanese resistance committees – organising protests, strikes, occupations, and sit-ins – persisted. By the end of the summer, the internal – between and among the Sudanese, protesters included – and external contradictions – between Sudan and the regional/world-systems it found itself inextricably bound by – that had plagued the early uprising would gain a dangerous institutional foothold in the form of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, a transitional government bifurcated between unelected military and civilian parties. The Sovereignty Council’s supposed mandate was to be the oversight of the government until future democratic elections, scheduled to be held in late 2022.

The Sovereignty Council was largely embraced (though, by no means, universally) by a wide array of opponents to the erstwhile junta: civilians that had taken to the streets against the regime, facing murder, rape, and torture at the hands of a bloated military apparatus; segments of revolutionary activists, organized within the grassroots resistance committees, that held support for political networks involved in the negotiating the early transitional government; the secretive Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a union of mainly doctors, journalists, and lawyers, who had come to play a leadership role in the protests once held by the trade unions in earlier revolts; liberal-leaning professionals in the diaspora that had fled Sudan for wealthier Arab states or the West; technocrats across Western governmental and non-governmental organisations, who saw the moment as an opportunity to welcome Sudan into the folds – and “responsibilities” – of the “international community”; the traditional party networks of Sudan that had regularly rotated between opposition and partnership to the regime; and the regional powers that had come to clash with Omar al-Bashir or held preference for actors brought up under his tutelage. Meanwhile, the Sovereignty Council brought together a) civilian politicians and professionals with liberal sympathies chosen by the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), b) former “revolutionaries” from the expansive array of Sudan’s opposition militias, and c) representatives of the state’s autonomous military and paramilitary forces.8

This contradictory network, encouraged to produce a “consensus” at the expense of the spoken and unspoken interests they represented, had no real prospect of success, despite the aspirations projected onto it by a population devastated by state-sanctioned war crimes and exhausted by the seemingly unstoppable wheels of under/de-development. But worse yet, the Sovereignty Council would midwife the counter-revolution in Sudan. In its formal role, the Sovereignty Council was meant to leverage impulse to quickly institutionalise “civilian” gains with those to end the revolutionary unrest that had shook the nation over the course of the year and had been galvanised by the TMC’s June 3rd massacre (on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, no less) that had left over 100 dead. Importantly, the Sovereignty Council also seized on the political unevenness across the protests, holding a fraction of Sudan’s institutions and elites responsible for contradictions that were more central to the (re)production of the state and its successive political formations.

In the period between the establishment of the Sovereignty Council and the eventual usurpation of its civilian wing (August 2019 – October 2021), the TMC had strengthened its institutional roots, extending its direct ties with authorities in the KSA, the UAE, Russia, and Israel, expanding its capture of basic state functions (like food distribution) in key rural municipalities, and excluding itself from association with the ongoing austerity mechanisms demanded by the international community and undertaken by the civilian arm of the Sovereignty Council. Doing more than just biding time, this interim allowed the TMC the opportunity to substitute itself for the role played by Omar al-Bashir’s network in holding together the patchwork of the state and its sponsors.
In response to the coup, the foreign patrons of the military in the GCC and Israel have remained largely intransigent to criticism and “expressions of concern” from the West. Popular protests, however, have reignited, taking aim at both the new military junta and the possible restoration of the former regime. Perhaps the most vital slogan to this new round of protests is the declaration that “Retreat is Impossible,”9 signalling – at least for the time being – a widely-shared rejection of normalisation with the military dictatorship, including in the return of the shared military-civilian transitional government.

In response to the coup, the foreign patrons of the military in the GCC and Israel have remained largely intransigent to criticism and “expressions of concern” from the West.

At the same time, the technocratic strategy has been the retreat to “normalcy,” a return to the “transitional” military-civilian power-sharing compact. As the ongoing coup is nearing its anniversary, the allure of co-governance – “power” constrained by power – has become intoxicating for Sudan’s political class and its established opposition parties.

The burgeoning desire for an “easy victory” was no better reflected than in the antics of Abdalla Hamdook, once the highest-ranking civilian figure – the Prime Minister – of the Sovereignty Council. Initially pursued by the coup plotters, Hamdook was held under house arrest for a month until release, a situation “resolved” by his announcement of a political settlement that would reinstate himself (and not the rest of the civilian forces of the Sovereignty Council) as prime minister of the new military government. Unsurprisingly, this reinstatement was short-lived, with Hamdook again exiting the partnership just past the new year, his reputation in tatters among the ongoing protest crowds as a result of his “antics.” Sadly, Hamdook’s failure didn’t lead to the discrediting of the obsessive compulsions of Sudan’s venal and naïve technocratic class, but rather its galvanisation. Taking office in January, the United Nations’ Special Envoy to Sudan, Volcker Perthes echoed the belief that the only acceptable settlement for Sudan lies through restoring its divided house. So thorough was his commitment that, at the end of May 2022, he took his opportunity to declare his contempt for the “spoilers” – meaning protesters who rejected normalisation with the junta – who were to be held responsible for the failure of any democratic outcome, a view shared by the “international order.”

While demonstrations against the junta have proceeded unabated, Perthes’ words have since resonated with the welcoming approval of none other than the military junta itself. Talking to the cameras in early July, the face of Sudan’s military coup, Abdelfatteh al-Burhan, announced that the military would step back from negotiations, welcome a government led by the same civilian technocrats it had initially deposed, and maintain autonomous and “neutral” oversight of security and defence in the guise of the High Council of the Armed Forces. While this strategy was in no small part driven by the ongoing failure of the junta to establish rule and stability the “moral and intellectual” authority in the face of the resistance committees, its main aims were to enshrine the absoluteness of military authority over “military matters,” a classic trope of the 3rd World security state, and to voice a call of return for Sudan’s political elite. And no sooner was the call returned, with the Democratic Unionist Party and the National Umma Party, the long-standing political wings of Sudan’s most influential Sufi orders, welcoming the news as a magnanimous invitation to the Sudanese people. Armed opposition forces have expressed some reservations, but have entertained the notion, revealing the tenuous links that exist between militancy and principle. And while the resistance committees widely rejected the facade put-on by the junta, some among the opposition forces, including factions of the ever mercurial FFC, seem enticed by the prospect of resolving a crisis by pretending it never existed.

The vast majority of this piece was written in December 2021 and January 2022. While they deserve a fuller treatment, this introduction, written in summer 2022, aims to fill in some of the developments of 2022, particularly the evolving forces of revolution and counter-revolution.

The coup has entered a steady phase of repression. In towns and cities, this is most often characterised by the confrontation between protesters and various military forces, armed with guns, drones, and Humvees and supplemented by plain-clothes informants scattered across the crowd. In regions of Darfur, however, where a militia like the Janjaweed – now rebranded as the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF – famously “cut its teeth” in the practice of counter-insurgency, we’ve seen the return of stochastic massacres, internal cleansing, and a wider array of war crimes committed at the behest of the RSF, driven in part by ongoing disputes surrounding resources in symbiosis with a discourse of racial supremacy.

These massacres also pose as potential fractures for the ruling military alliance, which has managed to integrate the armed forces from both former rebel movements – particularly in the states of Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan – and those backed by the state. A figure like Jibril Ibrahim, current Finance Minister and a leader of the Darfuri Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), has stayed on-board with the coup government. Similarly, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), another rebel militia based in Darfur, has been party to the same coup, under the guidance of Sovereignty Council member and SLM leader Minni Minawi. These accommodations between previously warring factions have been eased by an implicit stakeholder process that has entrenched militia – rather than federal – authority across the countryside.10 But the scale of the atrocities again at work in Darfur, alongside disputes over power-sharing arrangements and the distribution of the wealth accrued from the militia-run gold industry, may become genuine barriers for any smooth reproduction of the current military coalition.

These contradictions even reach into the opposition forces, most notably for the Sudanese Communist Party. While the party’s historic reputation looms large in the intellectual and cultural milieu of Sudan’s activist, labour, and nationalist movements, it currently exists as a shell of its former glory, brought about by decades of repressions and reflected in its proclivity for conciliatory engagements with contradictory and ill-fated coalitions.11 As a member of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), the Communist Party remains member to a coalition that includes the Ibrahim’s JEM and the Minawi’s SLM, a complicity with the putschist forces that it has tried to explain away by holding out for the prospect of internal struggle within the front.

Meanwhile, far from Sudan’s shores along the Red Sea, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has dramatically unsettled both core and periphery in the world-system. Besides the ridiculous visit of one of Sudan’s most notorious war criminals to express solidarity with Russia’s supposed “operation against Nazism,” the collapse of both Russian and Ukrainian grain exports has amplified the pre-existing food crisis in Sudan, similarly rocking Lebanon and Egypt. Given the role hunger played in the intifada that unseated Omar al-Bashir and the current talk of food export bans being enacted, the military junta will find it that much harder to enact anything like a stable hegemony that it and its civilian negotiating partners so desire. Instead, it will likely to choose to respond – as it has up to now – by greater force.

Meanwhile, the American imperial project – and the world-trotting Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization – has been morally revitalized by the invasion at a moment when the War on Terror had become increasingly discredited12 in the eyes of a number of core states. No serious signs suggest that this’ll mark a turning point for Sudan’s relationship to the current hegemon, but the potential political or military interventions it commits to elsewhere may produce dramatic ripples across the country. Similarly, European and American demand for oil has provided new leverage for the KSA and UAE. Previously unsettled that Washington would prove a mercurial patron, they’ve both looked to remain impartial in the midst of the conflict with Russia, even attempting to slowly amend their fractures with the Turkish and Syrian regimes. More worrying for Washington, this growing distance between the United States and its Gulf collaborators has frustrated American calls to increase the rate of oil production by OPEC states. One potential resolution might currently be in preparation by the White House administration, in the form of a discreet visit of American officials to the KSA. As explored in the piece, the KSA and UAE’s relationship with the forces that comprise the TMC has been a vital component of the TMC’s ascension to power and the restored pre-eminence of the Gulf powers may bolster their commitment to establishing regional hegemony, ranging from political intervention in Tunisia to the military devastation of Yemen.

Nevertheless, while these developments have either been excluded or only partially captured in the following essay, Sudan’s impasse remains defined by a number of broader themes found across the world periphery: brief uprisings followed by a prolonged period of counter-revolution; the return of the ancien regime or its farcical re-enactment in its stead; dictatorships that rule by raw military power, lacking even the traditional mantras surrounding “development and growth”; popular (and often urban-driven) non-violent mobilizations that emerge in the context of protracted armed conflicts across the rural peripheries; the (gradual) ossification of traditional political vehicles; sharp geographic divides defining state control and development, channelled through a complex of religious-racial-tribal signifiers; multi-gendered struggles that reproduce the existing division of labor; the subsumption of the 3rd World state and its vestigial institutions to the diktats of a global border regime; the collapse of traditional working-class occupations and the emergence of a sizable strata of de-classed, college-educated youth; the contradictory roles of the so-called “lumpenproletariat,” agents of both revolution and counter-revolution; the persistence of the agrarian question, woven into a crisis surrounding food sovereignty and security; and the local balance-of-forces being shaped, in subtle or profound ways, by the crises of regional and global hegemony.

How the Sudanese impasse will resolve itself is anyone’s guess, but to identify both opportunities and challenges requires locating Sudan’s trajectory within the tide of forces – local and global – that regularly bypass its nominal borders. While most descriptions of the uprising(s) in Sudan have provided strong and powerful activist accounts – ones that provide direct insight into what will ultimately be the most important force in shaping Sudan’s fate – this essay will try to provide complementary account of certain historical and geopolitical developments that have shaped the terrain of the current struggle, including: the fiscal collapse of the territorial state; the rise of the post-colonial military state; the power struggles of the Persian Gulf; the paradigm of Fortress Europa; and the question of the urban-rural divide. It is this set of constitutive factors in the courte durée, where cattle-herders meet the hard currency demands of the United Arab Emirates, that we turn our attention to.

How the Sudanese impasse will resolve itself is anyone’s guess, but to identify opportunities & challenges requires locating Sudan’s trajectory within the tide of forces, local and global, that regularly bypass its nominal borders.

2011, a Pre-History:

Over the course of Sudan’s post-Mahdist history, the late 19th century millenarian project that conceived the modern foundations of Sudanese national identity, authority has largely been held in-and-across two camps: the riverine landed tribes of the North and the Sufist brotherhoods, distinct camps whose fate – especially through its elites – would remain intertwined.13

The early precursor to Omar al-Bashir’s political network was borne out of the 1940s Sudanese encounter with the Muslim Brotherhood, when students flocked to Egypt for schooling. The Brotherhood’s social prowess, however, would not emerge until it found its guidance under the wing of Hassan al-Turabi in the 1960s. Motivated by what they perceived as an incomplete “decolonisation,” of Sudan14 this network grew in the opposition to the increasingly erratic reign of Jaafar al-Nimeiri, a president whose dictatorial reign from 1969 until 1985 found him switching allegiances from the “patriotic” military socialism of the late 1960s (a la Nasser) to pan-Arabism (a la early Gaddafi) to the Islamist politics that would ultimately come to succeed his reign. Al-Turabi, active in the Libyan-based15 armed opposition among the Northern political establishment during the 1970s, would be well-poised to leverage Nimeiri’s faltering hold on power through his new strategy of strategic co-optation. Acting as a figure of “national reconciliation,” al-Turabi was able to grow his network of activists – the tanzim (organisation) – while encouraging the ever-chameleonic Nimeiri’s final political strategy of moral restoration and religious law.

The religious, however, was also the geographic – speaking to widespread dissatisfaction in the South stemming from the moment of independence, the turn to Islamism signalled a new iteration of Sudan’s racial-religious-colonial complex of political marginalisation, economic underdevelopment, and recursive coloniality that had triggered the first Anyanya separatist movement decades prior.16 Nimeiri’s strategy for survival had sparked the Second Sudanese Civil War, a conflict that saw the introduction of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its charismatic leader, John Garang. Unlike the Anyanya revolt, however, the nominal political call of the SPLM was not for independence, but for the establishment of a “New Sudan,” free from the political, geographic, ethic, and religious boundaries that had been endemic to the post-colonial state.18 The SPLM, unlike the secessionist Anyanya movement, would in-turn gain support in pockets of Sudan’s Islamic peripheries – namely the Nuba Mountains and in Blue Nile state.19 Over the course of the civil war and Nimeiri’s brutal pacification campaign in the South, political resistance to his regime grew as state capacity was directed to serving the war effort, leading to the 1985 April Intifada and the fall of Nimeiri.

Meanwhile, the network that al-Turabi had founded hit its territorial limits, particularly along the religious boundaries that had come to demarcate the future South Sudan. But it had also made extensive in-roads across the Muslim peripheries, particularly in Darfur. If the post-colonial state had offered little reprieve from the inegalitarian domination of the political center of Khartoum, for many Darfurian activists (particularly among the educated), a new Islamist politics, separate from the historic Sufi brokerage networks, could potentially serve as a new foundation for an equitable state identity. On the other hand, both the popular classes and the elite beacons of Darfurian “customary authority” were often integrated into the pre-existing Sufist political networks of the Umma Party.20 This was reflective of a larger crisis: the difficulty of constructing a national identity and political authority that (nominally) was opposed to the traditional political order.

All this shaped the playing field of the military coup to come. A steady electoral path to power in Sudan was unlikely when the perceived political threat to the Brotherhood activists was the enshrined party establishment, the political wings of the Sudanese Sufi brotherhoods. In 1989, under the coup of the military leader Omar al-Bashir, with the secret blessing of Hassan al-Turabi, the Inghaz was born.

The Bashir-Turabi Split

In the years to follow, the Inghaz would cohere around the National Congress Party (NCP), but what would emerge from this wasn’t simply the fruition of al-Turabi’s Tanzim. While the Tanzim had initially vied to produce a new cross-national alliance that would traverse the ethnic and geographic boundaries of the Muslim North, the realities of rule had quickly dimmed those ambitions.

For one, the danger of introducing a new ideological framework is that its material content, the rituals and practices and orientations bound up with it, are open to contestation. Hassan al-Turabi quickly found himself losing grasp over the political vehicle he once dominated.21 An “unauthorised” assassination attempt against Hosni Mubarak, then dictator of Egypt, emerged from al-Bashir’s security apparatus, without al-Turabi’s knowledge. The situation for Egypt, both a crucial outpost of American imperial authority following Anwar Sadat’s normalisation and a core opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood, was unacceptable. Meanwhile, al-Turabi’s vision of internationalism, a vision that helped meld Sudan’s contact with not only the marginalised Brotherhood of Egypt, but with the Islamic revolutionaries of Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and elsewhere, had garnered the scrutiny of the United States, who, like their Gulf allies, would come to make their own distinctions between acceptable (a la Indonesia or 1980s Afghanistan) and unacceptable (a la Iran and 2000s Afghanistan) Islamists. In a turn towards the domestic, al-Turabi tried to push through the “rationalization” of the Islamist political bureaucracy: the separation of the executive office from the military, the expansion of its civil institutions, and the push for a non-military – albeit Islamic – rule.22

It often happens that at core historical junctures, a coherent political vehicle comes undone as its factions move increasingly out of phase with one another: in the short term, al-Turabi’s goal for the NCP was to bring about the production of a new social subject through the motor of a pan-Islamic civil society; in the longer term, however, Sudan’s successive regimes had overseen the growth and bloat of not only a formal military apparatus, but the parasitic militarisation of all pre-existing institutions.

It often happens that at core historical junctures, a coherent political vehicle comes undone as its factions move increasingly out of phase with one another.

This wasn’t simply a story of an increasing depot of arms. The dying days of colonialism had seen the emergence of a surveillance bureaucracy (the NISS) that would come to expand to a critical mass, as it came to accommodate new functions, new targets, and new elites in the post-colonial era. Meanwhile, Sudan’s bourgeois elites did not wield an impressive industrial or commercial base to assert their influence23: systemic transformations could only be incurred through the “redemptive” coup, with the military in turn growingly cognizant of its central political role as the power-broker of the state. And in parallel, not only had the state moved in the direction of militarisation, but so had the political opposition, especially at the national peripheries. While the opposition had militarised in a largely reactive fashion, driven into warfare through the dictates of the post-colonial state, it had come to growingly occupy peri-state functions, where federal authority meant little more than the occasional massacre. If anything, this process would only accelerate during the years to come, as the state perfected its strategy of transforming (and therefore exacerbating) economic and tribal disputes at its peripheries into Manichaean military struggles.

Put simply, the NCP was not a civil society vehicle that would “peacefully” midwife Islamic “Salvation,” nor was it simply an administrative tool shed of the bourgeoisie: it was a weak bureaucratic-military complex, whose own internal calculus would grow in favour of the desperate martial order. Hassan al-Turabi, increasingly incompatible with the NCP, was to be softly purged by its ranks, driving forth much grander and punitive reprisals against those outside of the seats of power. al-Bashir would turn to the traditional ethno-geographic stalwarts of power, while al-Turabi would attempt to root himself in the peripheral social bases of the Islamist movement, in a fashion that would come to re-articulate an ethnicised political order:

[T]he patterns of behavior followed a clear political logic. Both Bashir and Turabi were seeking to maximize their power and needed allies they could trust to achieve their goals […] Moreover, as Turabi realized the extent of the resistance coming from Bashir and other Islamists who favored retaining a highly centralized system, Turabi seemed to have made a crude political calculation that his best hope in displacing Bashir and his allies was to tap into historical grievances among those from Sudan’s periphery who had been disadvantaged by such a system. Of course, Turabi’s supporters did not only come from Darfur and western Sudan, but many did. Thus, the geographical roots of political preferences in Sudan (with those from the Nile River Valley favoring a strong centralized government and those from the periphery favoring stronger state governments) go a long way toward accounting for the regional nature of the Turabi and Bashir split. A final key factor that may account for Bashir’s decision to fall back on riverain Arabs, especially those from his own tribe, the Ja’aliyin, was the informational advantage that comes from shared ethnicity […] Even though both Turabi and Bashir pursued such ties for political, geographic, and informational reasons and not for ethnic reasons per se, to the other side it also looked like and could be ethnic mobilisation.24

How Far Does the Territorial State Go?

The absolutist state has never been a reality for any of Sudan’s successive regimes – from the Turkiyya to the British colonial era to the array of faces that were elected to (and more regularly captured) executive authority. The stratagem of Omar al-Bashir, however, was not to quixotically discover the “holy grail” where others hadn’t; it was to forge it out of necessity. This forgery was like a replica of what was happening across the global supply chain: political patchworks and fiefdoms coming to govern over a decentralised economic unity that traversed sovereigns and nations. Darfur was in the midst of a new wave of violence, driven by levels of economic deterioration, land disputes, and politicisation by way of ethnicisation.25 Frustration was at an all-time high in Darfur, with anti-state rebels organizing under the non-Islamist Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the “Turabist” Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Meanwhile, the central government was looking to demobilise its southern theatre through diplomatic negotiations with the SPLM. The NCP made the pacification of Darfur a priority.

The absolutist state has never been a reality for any of Sudan’s successive regimes. The stratagem of Omar al-Bashir, however, was not to discover the “holy grail” where others hadn’t; it was to forge it out of necessity.

Circumstances were not the same as they were when the Inghaz took power. While the NCP was once able to rely on its networks to broker a “cooperative counterinsurgency,” now it had no clear option. Instead, it chose to take it’s campaign of repression to the sky, deploying a devastating aerial bombing campaign, as well as resorting to a strategy of decentralized counter-insurgency, delegating much of its frontline operation to a new militia, the Janjaweed. The Janjaweed’s emergence had been, like the anti-state rebel movements, shaped by the enduring proxy wars across the Libyan-Chadian border.

Idriss Déby, Chad’s former leader who died this past year, had been an important power-broker in Western Sudan across multiple decades. As he fought for state power, his military gains, funded and armed in part by Omar al-Bashir, against former Chadian president Habré in the early 1990s had also signalled declining support for the first wave of the Darfuri rebellion, inadvertently encouraging the later integration between the Darfuri rebels and the SPLM of the South.26 A decade later, Omar al-Bashir would rely on Déby, a Zaghawa, to utilise his “ethno-racial” solidarity to stymy the new wave of Darfuri rebels. But despite Déby’s eye towards maintaining friendship with Khartoum (an “eye” strengthened by growing direct animosity between the rebels and Déby), his military apparatus was largely a great deal more sympathetic to the Darfurian cause. Reality did not live up to al-Bashir’s hopes for a successful strategic pacification by the Chadian state, and, in turn, he buttressed his counter-insurgency by turning to Abbala Arab pastoralists, living across both Sudan and Chad.27 Many of these pastoralists, who would serve as the initial core of the Janjaweed, had been shaped by the experience of prior militarization, working as a proxy militia for Gaddafi against the Chadian state during the 1980s, mirroring the militarised mobilisation of the Zaghawa undertaken by Habré. Furthermore, the Abbala pastoralists had already been at odds with the landed communities of Darfur over the use of land and resources, with the former hoping that an alliance with the state would serve as a shortcut to political domination in the region. The result was catastrophic.

As a result, the casualty count of the government’s counterinsurgency skyrocketed. Omar al-Bashir had confronted and “overcome” the decline of an older set of counter-insurgent tactics, increasingly understood on the part of pro-government forces through the framework of “racial war.” His path to victory was built through a mountain of corpses. His strategy had entailed a new double movement: rule of a centralised military authority established through a growing web of decentralised warfare.

The Janjaweed, later rebranded as the tame Rapid Support Forces (RSF), took advantage of these changing circumstances. Omar al-Bashir’s NCP had slowly contracted into its military core, shedding off its activist and – later – business linkages. But in Sudan’s peripheries, it was the militias that were now expanding, acting as the core of new para-state formations. It reflected something like, to adopt Sudanese analyst Magdi El Gizouli’s coinage, the subsumption of the state to a “militia form”:

[I]n Sudan’s vast peripheries the RSF, thanks to its military organisation, logistical capabilities and command over surplus, has assumed social provision and insurance functions. RSF units dig wells, organise health care, deliver vaccines and supervise rural extension and the development of entrepreneurship skills a la International Monetary Fund and World Bank recipes.

But while the RSF was uniquely poised to take advantage of its state-backed sponsorship, a wider process of deformation — where large swathes of Sudan’s rural peripheries found themselves subsumed to the dictates of the largest gun wielder, gathered apace. This was even reflected in the governance of rebel groups at odds with the state.

In the coming years to 2011, the NCP had finally “resolved” the “Southern Question” that had plagued successive administrations. Following John Garang’s death and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, a referendum on independence was finally on the table in 2011. The overwhelming majority of Southerners chose secession. This decision came with much celebration in the South, a sense of nostalgic loss for liberals of the North, frustration for the allied rebel movements of the SPLM across the North, and cautious optimism from the NCP. The South posed a unique threat for the project of Islamism: its Muslim population was exceedingly marginal and half a century of warfare had done nothing to change those circumstances. Secession, however, also led to the direct loss of the NCP’s oil supply: South Sudan “resided” on the territorial resource base of the state’s crucial exports, a situation for which there were no easy substitutes in the North. The NCP would attempt to salvage the situation through leveraging their infrastructure, including the only oil pipeline leading out of South Sudan and into the Eastern city of Port Sudan. But production and transport were frequently irregular, disappointing the NCP. South Sudan would regularly come to head with Sudan over the oil industry, the share of its proceeds, and the “internal security” issues of the North, where the ongoing conflict of erstwhile enemies and allies threatened to spillover into Southern borders. Most importantly, South Sudan would take a turn towards civil war, as the power asymmetries of the SPLM helped mobilise ethnicised warfare.

Secession, however, also led to the direct loss of the NCP’s oil supply: South Sudan “resided” on the territorial resource base of the state’s crucial exports, a situation for which there were no easy substitutes in the North.

The NCP’s survival strategy had “saved” Sudan through imposing two hard boundaries on it. The choice to outsource and integrate warfare at the rural margins, most notably in the case of the Janjaweed in Darfur, would transform the power distribution in Omar al-Bashir’s military state apparatus. As the geopolitical space al-Bashir relied on rapidly shifted, it was perhaps the peripheries of this network that would have the most to gain. A trajectory of economic decline was almost guaranteed. Sudan’s balance-of-payments would enter free fall. Exports declined, taking with it the fiscal capacity necessary for imports. As a consequence of declining GDP rather than increasing inflows, remittances would begin to steadily mushroom as a percent of GDP from 2015 onwards, growing from 0.29% to 2.32% by 2020, steadily moving closer to the highs that were characteristic of the 1990s and 2000s, where remittances had reached nearly 11%. These changes become even clearer when we look at how these remittances were used to service imports: by 2018, Sudan’s remittances constituted about 40% of total imports, while covering more than 70% of its trade deficit in the same year.28 The collapse of Sudan’s primary source of revenue meant that the state would come to rely heavily on short-lived extractive projects, patron-clientele sponsorship, and capital-accumulating schemas that would enrich increasingly small slivers of the Sudanese population, including its elite, while impoverishing its total capital.

Graph my own:Data taken from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database

New Tides in the “Old World”:

In the years following the Arab Spring, the undercurrents that ran through the Persian Gulf now produced tectonic shifts. Unexpectedly, Iran had grown to be a powerful military authority, moving beyond the weak internationalist Islamic activism of its early years to forging a complex and far-reaching network of armed regional allies. These alliances were in some ways unexpected (save for Hezbollah in Lebanon, neither the Syrian state nor the Yemeni Houthis were parcels of the same ideological movement that had produced the Islamic Revolution) and grew less from natural affinity than from the gravitational force of a shared constellation of opponents (the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia). This growing field of actors – nicknamed “The Resistance” by its supporters – had largely coincided with Iran’s growing domestic military capacity, driven perhaps most directly by its missile technology. And while Iranian military power couldn’t translate to economic prowess, both the scale of its largely educated yet underemployed workforce and its resource-rich territorial base could theoretically pose a looming challenge for the established petro-authority of the region, Saudi Arabia. This, alongside a growing overture towards normalisation – represented in the EU by the political leadership of Germany and Obama’s late-era “Iran Deal” – with key Western markets, ran the risk of reconfiguring the status quo in the region.

But all was not settled. For one, the dethawing of the Western relationship was an uneasy (and undetermined) contradiction played out between competing tendencies of the US’ hegemonic reign. Obama, alongside allies in the European Union, understood that economic sanctions had left Iran a hardened “pariah state,” in consequence bolstering opposition towards the United States among both its domestic political classes and, importantly, its regional allies. They found a friend in the wake of the Iranian Green Movement – a wave of liberal politicians that sought to meld some combination of geopolitical retraction, market integration, and relaxed domestic orthodoxy, reflected most coherently in the reign of then Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. In addition, while Obama’s array of internal advisers were split, Obama had also come to express a belief that the Arab Gulf states would need to “share the neighbourhood” in coming years. This belief remained underdeveloped and half-hearted – the prior and ensuing years would see the enduring coordination between the US and its sub-imperial allies – but, given the effort put behind initially “securing” the Iran deal, it wasn’t non-existent. Trying to expand its alliances in the region also came at an opportune moment, as Obama had, at least for a time, unleashed a massive boom in the domestic shale gas industry, placing the United States as a competitor in the export market. Becoming a fossil fuel giant eased the administration’s potential vulnerability to international shocks, as it came to preside over dwindling imports of crude oil and petroleum. All-in-all, the moment was “opportune” for a transformation in US-Iran relations.29

However, this rapprochement , the pursuit of global economic integration that would inch towards superseding existing barriers to capital, ran counter to the parallel mainstay of the post-Cold War executive office: neo-conservatism. If one saw Iran as a potential trade partner, one whose “revolutionary fervour” would be constrained by joining the international community of capital, then the other saw a political model of rule that ran counter to America’s image. If the Cold War had largely accomplished its economic goals, discrediting both communism and forms of autarkic socialism as a model of development, it had nonetheless left a diverse array of state forms. This “vibrant” tapestry had been, in some ways, an outcome of the realpolitik of the Cold War: neither Deng Xiaoping nor Saddam Hussein could be said to emulate the American model of rule, but they had become crucial allies in the Cold War, regardless of their political proclivities. Even Omar al-Bashir, no classic ally of the West, was an active participant in the economic dimensions of this wider coalition.30 But total hegemony represents a double-sided coin: not only the construction of an unitary economic project, but hegemonic “veto power” over all political arrangements. With the USSR gone and the economic victor clear, the United States could go through the project of cleaning up the “vestiges” that it had been “forced” to tolerate.31 Rather than simply the “blood-for-oil” formula that had dominated popular critical analysis in the lead-up to the onslaught unleashed against Iraqis,32 hegemonic logic was operating on a different basis:

One might ask why the United States targeted the Hussein regime if it was not an imminent threat in military terms. Iraq has the world’s second-largest proven stocks of oil, after Saudi Arabia. But oil cannot provide the full explanation, or even the bulk of it [emphasis my own]. Iraq’s real significance is political. Just as after 1991 Iraq was turned into an example of the punishment that can be meted to a regime that dares go outside the framework of a U.S.-defined alliance, so the significance of Iraq after 9/11 again extends beyond the country itself. In attacking Iraq, the Bush administration hoped to achieved more than just a regime change: Iraq presented another chance to redraw the political map of the entire region, something the United States has tried several times before—the highlights being the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which failed to create a buffer Christian state; the alliance with Iraq against Iran in the 1980s; and the war in Afghanistan […] Writing in April 2003 under the auspices of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Israeli major-general Ya’akov Amidror put it bluntly: “Iraq is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is the Middle East, the Arab World and the Muslim World. Iraq will be the first step in this direction; winning the war against terrorism means structurally changing the entire area.33

Rather than simply the “blood-for-oil” formula that had dominated popular critical analysis in the lead-up to the onslaught unleashed against Iraqis, hegemonic logic was operating on a different basis,

This tension was shared by two of the core entities that comprised the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. While constant US allies, their politics were rarely a simple direct refraction of US authority, but rather spoke to convergent goals between state elites.34 From this vantage point, Obama’s presidency was incoherent, attempting to reconcile a push for Iranian integration with the military onslaught driving Yemen to state collapse. For Saudi Arabia (as well as allies in Israel), the former was – at the time – absolutely unacceptable. Iran represented the threat of a political model (with its own Islamic alliances) and an economic challenger (with oil tankers at the ready for export). Mohamed bin Salman would find a kindred spirit in Obama’s successor, who would tear up the Iran Deal. In sync with the spirit of Washington, Saudi Arabia would also expel Qatar from the GCC. The logic was two-fold. On one hand, Qatar had been amenable to deeper diplomatic and economic ties between the Iranian government and itself, despite its role in an increasingly sectarian landscape. On the other, Qatar had (alongside Turkey and, in critical fashion, Iran) been a crucial patron of the Muslim Brotherhood, much to the consternation of both the Wahhabist ideologues in the Gulf and al-Sisi’s military junta in Egypt.

The message was clear: Iran’s ascension would not be embraced by Saudi Arabia and, importantly for actors outside the direct battlelines flaring across the Middle East but in the Gulf’s geopolitical “sphere of influence,” normalisation with Iran was unacceptable. In the case of Sudan, Iran had once been a staunch supporter of Omar al-Bashir, even during the peak of state-sponsored war crimes in Darfur. These ties had faced their own contradictions, as Iranian military capacity had exhausted its economic strength during the course of the Syrian intervention. But for al-Bashir, Iran had meant a steady diplomatic, ideological, and economic ally. During the course of his reign, al-Bashir had maintained his survival by acting as a professional chameleon, attempting to extend his alliances as widely as possible, while avoiding the contradictions that erupted between them. But this time was different. Even preceding the expulsion of Qatar, Sudan expelled Iranian diplomats in 2014, attempting to carry sway with Saudi patrons. While the expulsions were justified under the rhetoric of sectarianism – Iran was a sponsor of Shi’a intrusion in a Sunni land, they came at a moment in which Sudan began to face an unprecedented economic decline following the collapse of its balance-of-payments after the 2011 secession.

During the course of his reign, al-Bashir had maintained his survival by acting as a professional chameleon, attempting to extend his alliances as widely as possible, while avoiding the contradictions that erupted between them.

The growing reliance on Sudan on the Gulf states would enable Omar al-Bashir to extend his reign, but it would also plant the seeds that would begin to unravel his military coalition.

Goodbye, Hello, Goodbye Gaddafi

Meanwhile, the War on Terror had not left Sudan’s neighbors untouched, perhaps no more-so than Libya. Muammar Gaddafi had come to power after a coup in 1969, at first following a model of rule inspired by Nasser’s “patriotic military socialism.” But unlike Nasser, his reign would endure through decades, owing to his ability to both integrate Libya into the power politics of the continent and avoid the hottest flashes of the Cold War. While the official Western stance on Gaddafi was initially cold, driven both by ties with the former monarchy and Gaddafi’s program of nationalisation, neither was it non-existent. However, in Libya’s role as an “internationalist” patron, direct American ties would largely collapse. It wasn’t until the end of the century that reproachment would begin.

It first came with the gradual winding down of Gaddafi’s international sponsorships, telling TIME magazine that “I supported all liberation movements fighting imperialism, but I believe that is over now.”. But beyond mere rhetoric, amelioration would emerge in the context of his turn towards securitisation. The War on Terror presented a new paradigm of cross-national coordination, centered around the threat of “Radical Islam.” In return for dismantling his nuclear armament program, Gaddafi became an ally to MI6, as Tony Blair drove the UK enthusiastically into Iraq. This warmth began to reach across the Atlantic, with Gaddafi winning the praise of the “maverick” Senator John McCain, who promised enhanced military sales.

Yet the War on Terror represented only a slight thaw in Libya’s standing: a global security campaign required far-reaching alliances, particularly with states that were either seeking to gain or maintain favour with the United States. It wasn’t British advances that dictated Libya’s trajectory, but rather that of Italy’s. In a precursor to the decade(s) to follow, Berlusconi led the European crusade against migration, even preceding the years of the Syrian Civil War. In a manoeuvre that would come to reflect the offshore detention centres undertaken by Australia in Papua New Guinea and the United States across Latin America, Berlusconi had elected Gaddafi to stymie the flow of African migrants to the boundaries of Fortress Europa. Signing a friendship treaty in 2008, Libya was compensated for its “border governance”: this meant maintaining a force of armed border patrols, overseeing detention centres, and accepting refugees deported by Italy. And, in his own words, Gaddafi could be viewed as the existential bulwark that prevented Europe from becoming “another Africa,”36 as European far-right ideologues propagandised about a nightmarish possible future where Europe was sunk by an “infestation” coming from the 3rd World.37

This set of circumstances was not to last: like the ascension of Hassan al-Turabi’s activist apparatus, Gaddafi’s moment in the European sun came shortly before the collapse of the historical wave that brought it forth. When the Arab Spring had come to Libya, Gaddafi’s fate was unclear even to his eventual executors: Tony Blair had cautioned him to flee, sparing his own life, while Obama was initially unconvinced on the course of NATO military action. Both his Defense Secretary and his national security advisor opposed taking military action (though to no strict exclusion of other tactics), while Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power championed Libya’s detonation, representing the call for extending the “Pax Americana” to the region: Obama ultimately came down to side with the latter. At the U.N. Security Council, the US chose to strike, with no dissent among the veto-holding permanent members.38 The tug-of-war between the ascendant “War on Migration,” which beckoned the Western establishment (in particular Europe) to use any “precaution” necessary to block the flow of migrants and refugees, and the older neo-conservative call to finally “democratise” a decades-old Cold War holdout had been called in favour of the latter.

The fall of Gaddafi was met with one-note celebration across Khartoum’s political circles. However, the relationship with the late colonel was rarely so unambiguous for both rebels and the state, with Gaddafi, an important power-broker and frequent meddler in Sudan, shifting regularly from friend to foe. He had, under Nimeiri, aided in capturing the political leadership of the Sudanese Communist Party following the 1971 coup attempt against Nimeiri (culminating in the execution of who can be best described as the “patron saint” of Sudanese communism, Abd al-Khaliq Mahjub), but he had also backed and armed Turabi and the traditional political opposition against the sitting leader just half a decade later. Some years later, he had also stood as a powerful ally to the SPLM. His role in Darfur was not to be understated: new political factions and broad militarisation had occurred in Darfur under the backdrop of proxy wars across both sides of the Chadian-Libyan border. Following the expulsion of Khalil Ibrahim, the former founder of the JEM, from Chad in 2006, Gaddafi provided what competing commentators have either described as safe haven or house arrest for the Darfuri rebel leader. At nearly the same time, this mercurial relationship would be concretized in Sudan’s “Corinthia,” a towering luxury hotel in Khartoum “gifted” from the late colonel in 2006 meant to signal Sudan’s developmental “advancement” into the new century, but which would instead remain largely empty and inaccessible to all but the wealthiest elites and expats. For the Janjaweed and the security apparatus, Gaddafi’s death would signal one last “gift” in the subsequent years.

The collapse of Libya was met with either silence or, in some circles of the imperial helm, a growing frustration towards what was euphemistically referred to as an “activist foreign policy.” In the years to follow, European actors would try their best to “seal” the Libyan pipeline, criminalising migrant transport, extending the militarisation of border policing, and backing warlords that promised to bring order back to the Mediterranean.39 Militarism had no end in sight, but Libya would mark something like a “signal crisis”40: the imperial “adventurism” of the War on Terror had come to a set of limits, demonstrating a singular capacity towards destruction (communicated through the seemingly banal of the “failure of nation-building”), suggesting an overextended American military enterprise, encouraging the push for a new (and, although not exclusively, most often right-wing) project of the “reclamation of sovereignty” across Europe, and transforming the internal political calculus of African states (and, in parallel, Latin American) that could deploy their “comparative advantage” in the border provisioning sector. And the RSF, alongside the security services, could provide.

Libya would mark something like a “signal crisis” for imperial “adventurism”, it also transformed the internal political calculus of African states that could deploy their “comparative advantage” in the border provisioning sector.

¿Dónde Están?

Back in Western Asia, a greater re-alignment was emerging in the century-long war against the Palestinians. Given both the scale of the refugee crisis unleashed by the 1948 Nakba (literally, “Catastrophe”), where three-quarters of the Palestinian population were made stateless overnight by the cleansing campaigns of the Haganah, the Irgun, and the Stern Gang, and popular support for the Palestinian cause in the region,41 “Arab states” felt the pressure to maintain rhetorical support for the Palestinian camp, despite an extensive history of backroom deals and security coordination with the Israeli regime. But this era was now coming to an end.

For one, the Israelis were more than amenable to normalisation with these regional governments. Following the amelioration of ties with Egypt during Sadat’s reign, it had been clear that many states were willing to forego their anti-normalisation policies, insofar as Israel could offer an attractive deal (in the case of Egypt, it was the return of the Sinai Peninsula, conquered in the course of the 1967 War). These in-roads, however, had been partial, like South Africa’s own towards other African states during the era of apartheid (and like the case of South Africa’s relationship with Zaire and Uganda, relationships were typically kept discreet). The growth of the “Iranian crisis,” however, which saw a once-former ally of Israel (both during the Shah and, discreetly, during the Iran-Contra operations) reposition itself as a patron of the Palestinian political camp (including what may be the military adversary Israel is most anxious about, Lebanon’s Hezbollah), presented a lucrative opportunity for autocratic powers to swap “antiquated” partisanship for the realpolitik coordination it would supposedly take to confront Iran.

The case for normalisation was aided by a number of parallel factors. For one, Israel was a sub-imperial authority onto-itself, boasting an economic advantage not around the hold of crucial resources, but rather in an over-developed security and technology sector. For those looking to digitise both their foreign and domestic pacification campaigns, no set of ties were more attractive than those with Israel. The most recent set of leaks concerning Pegasus, the spyware produced by the Israeli NSO Group, have revealed the impressive scope of their customers, ranging from Uganda to Saudi Arabia, who see surveillance technology as a crucial defence fortification.

Another factor to be considered was that the Middle East was not the same place it had been only two decades prior, let alone 70 years ago. By the mid-2010s, popular opinion across the region towards an organisation like Hezbollah was far more polarised, with opinions painting a range of sentiments from “heroic” to “blasphemous” to “desperate,” in comparison to the situation only a decade prior, as a former US statesman observed:

Throughout Egypt in July and August there were dozens of demonstrations to protest the war or express solidarity with the Lebanese and often with Hezbollah. On August 4, 2006, for instance, demonstrations in Cairo involving about eight thousand people were timed to coincide with parallel ones in Baghdad, Amman, and Damascus. Many of the demonstrations were organized by the Society of Muslim Brothers, a venerable Egyptian Sunni Muslim group, but they were also joined by non-Islamist opposition groups including the Kefaya movement. If the demonstrations over the course of the war engaged tens of thousands of Egyptians, they were only the most obvious manifestation of a seething anger among the broader public. Egyptians talked openly about this reaction to the Lebanon war after the August cease-fire. What was most remarkable about the demonstrations in Egypt and elsewhere was that the Sunni Muslims publicly expressed solidarity for a trademark Shi’i [sic] party. The presumed Sunni-Shi’i sectarian divide that fascinates a variety of pundits and scholars proved to be a marginal phenomenon, whereas Hezbollah’s example of resistance and its rejection of quiescence catalyzed support among many Sunni [emphasis my own].42

The Syrian Civil War had sharply cooled support for Hezbollah among a number of Sunni communities (and ironically, may have bolstered it among Lebanon’s notoriously unsympathetic Maronite population). In the eyes of the Syrian government, Sunni subjects, particularly those from the countryside, were potential vehicles of foreign radicalism, despite the regime’s survival by no means being built on the cooperation of the Sunni urban elite. On Arabic-language television, including household names like MBC and Al-Jazeera, the accusations against the Syrian government ranged from war crimes to apostasy. These political crises also reflected an “enchantment” of sectarian affiliation (although it was certainly not the first time), as religious identities were posed as antagonistic (i.e. irreconcilable) political identities, a process that had already been unfurling in both Lebanon and Iraq.43 This process, of course, held a striking resonance with the Manichaean, permanent identities established under colonial administrations.44

The Palestinians were caught in the cross-fire of this sectarian calcification. While most Palestinians were of Sunni background, the breadthof Palestinian political ties rendered them suspect. Palestinian parties could enjoy economic and diplomatic support from the Brotherhood-sponsors in Qatar, military aid and coordination from the Shi’a-predominant IRGC, or even ideological commitment from hardened atheistic communist holdouts across Europe. Even the most notorious Islamist faction of Palestine, Hamas, has not been able to escape targeting by other Sunni formations that accuse it of placing nationhood above faith.

Finally, Israel’s thrust for normalisation was animated by events largely happening elsewhere. While the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement had emerged from the ranks of Palestinian civil society in the mid-2000s, mirroring the strategy of the late Anti-Apartheid Movement, its influence on shaping sentiment in Israel across the Middle East was marginal (as would be the gains or losses). Rather, it was the classic strongholds of Israeli support, the metropoles of Europe and North America, that these calls were most firmly directed towards and, in a piecemeal and uneven fashion, Israel’s once-uncontested support across civil society (speaking only of the United States) had begun to fracture. The strategic logic behind BDS was not that personal boycotts or even university divestment could impart the economic devastation that would put a price for Israel’s ongoing settler-colonial project, but rather that changing sentiment could eventually force a reverse-face at the highest levels of (US) federal authority, without which Israel’s faith in unilateral aggression would suddenly become far less secure. For this reason, ideological victories, even without a clear economic payoff, were crucial.

The other side of this calculus, however, was that waning support for Israel would leave the Palestinians equipped to negotiate their own freedom, a position that had traditionally been bolstered by the range of ties from its large assortment of regional backers. Rare was the anti-colonial movement that was able to achieve complete “self-sufficiency” during the course of the struggle for decolonization. As BDS threat grew to existential proportions in the Israeli imaginary,45 the shortest route to disarming the still nascent movement in the West was to look East.

The State-Within-A-State:

The Border Returned

While Europe was caught in a delirious fantasy about “reclaiming” its territorial borders, for many African states, the border had never been a coherent and permanent enforceable boundary. This owed to the conjuncture of cross-national communities, like the Zaghawa cattle herders that regularly traversed the border between Chad and Darfur, and the weakness of the post-colonial territorial state. Borders could of course be a site of violence, but the tangibility of the border and their enforcement, particularly given limited resources, emerged in moments of political contingency.46

With their “hands tied,” looking to outsource the atrocities necessary to keep their borders uncrossed, the European Union initiated the Khartoum Process. Alongside former enemy Omar al-Bashir, looking for any means to stay afloat amidst the economic collapse Sudan was undergoing, the EU “exchanged 155 million euros in trade, aid, and development funding for al-Bashir’s policing of migration through Sudan, which is considered both a transit country to Libya and a country of origin for migrants and refugees.”47 Border securitisation became primarily delegated to the RSF, now responsible for holding off the “infestation” European politics has come to so thoroughly fear. Echoing Gaddafi, RSF leader Hemedti declared: “We are hard at work on behalf of Europe in containing the migrants, and if our valuable efforts are not well appreciated, we will (re)open the desert to migrants.”48 The RSF were compensated through both the EU and the Libyan traffickers it regularly “sold” migrants to. Not looking for the rural militias to capture all the glory, Sudan’s security establishment, the NISS, joined the fray, both policing and smuggling across the borders of Libya, Chad, Eritrea, Egypt, and Sudan. Even during the tail-end of Omar al-Bashir’s reign, two lessons were immediately clear. One was that the myth of a fixed, spatial border, that secured European identity from invasion since time immemorial, had ceded way to a new variation on its colonial history, to a reality in which it was rapidly expanding across the Global South. The other was that the externalised border was producing a new division of power across African borders, as authority, arms, and aid flowed from state to para-state to anti-state formations.

With their “hands tied,” looking to outsource the atrocities necessary to keep their borders uncrossed, the European Union initiated the Khartoum Process.

Burying the Pearl Divers

As the isolation strategy against Iran was gearing up across the Gulf, Omar al-Bashir’s fracture of ties with the Islamic Republic had only gained him partial support. While al-Bashir was keen to demonstrate his pliability to the remnant authorities of the GCC, it was obvious that his actions were rarely to be taken at face value. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood association the NCP held was a constant source of institutional tension with its Egyptian neighbor.

The hottest zone of the standoff against Iran, however, was not Iran itself: like the Cold War, the greatest price was to be paid at the peripheries of the conflict, where the tactics of total warfare were expected to be least easily documented and contested. When Houthi insurgents took over Sanaa, Yemen’s capital city in 2014, Iran came under great frustration. Committed to maintaining its firm intervention in Syria, a new war front was unappealing and, like the Soviets who had initially demurred at the PDPA’s plans to takeover Afghanistan, Iran believed in a strategic pragmatism in Yemen, particularly given the relatively light ties it held to the Houthi movement. However, after the Houthis acted and Saudi Arabia began its total war campaign with US blessing, Iran intervened, looking for a “cheap way to bog Riyadh down in an expensive, unwinnable war.” The Saudis’ initial hopes were to squash Shi’ite unrest in Yemen, with the fear that it would percolate to Saudi’s Eastern provinces, where its highest density of Shi’a followers resides. But as Iran intervened, it extended to killing two birds with one stone.

Saudi strategy was simply, following the moral lesson its American patrons had established in Vietnam: “kill anything that moves.”49 Like the destruction Omar al-Bashir had unleashed on Darfur, the violence grew to indiscriminate proportions, reflecting what A. Dirk Moses has called the logic of “permanent security”:

This security imagination [articulated by Einsatzgruppe D, SS-Fuhrer Otto Ohlendorf during the Nuremberg Trials] – permanent security – entailed a radically new temporal structure. It was concerned not only with eliminating immediate threats but also with future threats. Governed by a logic of prevention (future threats) as well as preemption (imminent threats), it strove to close the gap between perceived insecurity and permanent security […] Ohlendorf’s defense counsel called his actions “putative self-defense” (or “putative necessity”).50

Both combatants and non-combatants alike were implicated in the “security crisis” facing Saudi Arabia, the former as actualised and the latter as potential. Justifying the high casualty count, the Saudis would echo formulations once posed by Fascist Italy in Ethiopia, the United States in Vietnam, and now Israel in Gaza: “After verification, it became clear that the building was a medical facility used by Houthi armed militia as a military shelter in violation of the rules of international humanitarian law.”51

If life had no cost in Yemen, then things weren’t quite the same in Saudi Arabia. While aerial bombing allowed minimal Saudi casualties, it could only accomplish a restricted number of goals . But the Saudis were deeply apprehensive of the political costs of “wasting” Saudi life. Instead, Saudi Arabia took to outsourcing its on-the-ground campaign, looking for the mixture of desperation and social abjection that would constitute a critical mass of soldiers.

The RSF had, by now, “pacified” Darfur. Violence remained semi-stochastic, but it was now largely one-sided, with the rebel groups caught up in a web of ceasefire agreements that were to go unheeded by the power wielders. The RSF’s ranks also filled with the masses of that “dangerous class,” the lumpenproletariat. In the course of the 19th Century, the lumpenproletariat was held up as Bakunin’s revolutionary agent, an underclass working outside the confines of formal and regular labour; meanwhile, Marx’s 18th Brumaire had taken the lumpenproletariat to task as the de-classed refuse of the proletariat, incoherent enough to be melded into the vanguard of reaction to suppress the French uprisings of the mid-19th Century. For Fanon, the lumpenproletariat was some synthesis of the colonial peasant and the seasonal labourer of the urban peripheries: unlike the working industrial classes of the colonial era – perhaps best understood as a sort of middle class, given the rarity of industrial urban employment – it held no investment in the preservation of the colonial regime, which had given it nothing but abjection, choosing to throw its stakes with the liberation of the land.52 Austerity in Sudan had dislocated the social classes of the countryside as much as it had those of the city. In addition, the collapse of regimes of social reproduction – built around agricultural and pastoralist economies – had left military employment as one of the only remaining viable economic spheres, particularly for rural youth. In this case, Marx’s analysis was most relevant. The RSF negotiated directly with Saudi Arabia, the money never formally crossing through state coffers, as the RSF sent over soldiers-for-hire – many children – to take the place of Saudi boots-on-the-ground, a perverse extension of the remittance economy:

The Saudis told us what to do through the telephones and devices,” said Mohamed Suleiman al-Fadil, a 28-year-old member of the Bani Hussein tribe who returned from Yemen at the end of last year. “They never fought with us.” “The Saudis would give us a phone call and then pull back,” agreed Ahmed, 25, a member of the Awlad Zeid tribe who fought near Hudaydah this year and who did not want his full name published for fear of government retaliation. “They treat the Sudanese like their firewood.” […] The Sudanese are sometimes deployed to defend the flanks of the Yemeni militiamen who spearhead attacks. But the Sudanese fighters insist they are also the main barrier against the Saudis’ Yemeni foes, the Houthis. “Without us, the Houthis would take all of Saudi Arabia, including Mecca,” Mr. Fadil said.

The RSF negotiated directly with Saudi Arabia, as the RSF sent over soldiers-for-hire – many children – to take the place of Saudi boots-on-the-ground in Yemen, a perverse extension of the remittance economy.

Trading One Fossil for Another

Structural adjustment – built around the stripping of public assets, the (often start-stop) retraction of subsidies, and imposed austerity – had made Sudan’s primary sector a viable gamble for those countries willing to take on the risk of its “security situation.” Negotiating with Turkey, Omar al-Bashir would agree to allot thousands of square miles for investment, helping Turkey secure its food supply needs. Jordan, Lebanon, the Emirates, Bahrain, and even Saudi Arabia have pursued attractive land across Sudan’s Northern and Eastern states. Sudan’s breadbasket, following the model of African states (pariahs or not), was up-for-grabs by a slurry of multinational corporations, particularly from the “Islamic world.” Recalling Kenneth Pomerantz’s “ghost acreages,” the middle-income and petro-empires of the Middle East have secured their primary inputs – ranging from groundnuts to alfalfa – at the expense of Sudanese hunger. The state plays its role in attracting and then securing these investments – the RSF’s contract-killers in Yemen has led to Saudi investors being incentivized to work in Sudan, while Omar al-Bashir (and now his successors) have granted cheap and long land leases (“less than 50¢ per acre” for “generally 99 years”) and free plentiful water.

Through agricultural land grabs, the middle-income and petro-empires of the Middle East have secured their primary inputs – ranging from groundnuts to alfalfa – at the expense of Sudanese hunger.

Agricultural land grabs were not the only boom to small, private-sector actors. The RSF, alongside other rural militias and the central government, have presided over a global boom in gold prices. Represented in bulk by artisanal and semi-mechanized mining, gold mining was supervised and managed at the local level by armed militants, (formally) held and traded by the central bank, and staffed by internal migrants, seasonal labour, and internally displaced peoples, particularly in the periphery outlying states, (re)producing the urban-periphery divide that no Sudanese regime has been able to supersede:

In the mining sector, the activities undertaken, as well as the conflicts that mining generates at a local level, favour the redeployment of regional territorial strategies on the part of investors and thus reduce the total control that the central government seeks to establish […] This operation differs profoundly from that of the major industrial mines (very rare in Sudan, with the exception of the Ariab company); the consequences of the economic system of such mines are similar to those in the oil economy: two enclave economies that exclude the regions and most of the national actors. Thus, the new policies perpetuate the asymmetries between the players who are close to the regime and those who are not, but also between the central authorities and local authorities. They simultaneously created the need for a redefinition of relations between regional territories without calling into question the authoritarian and deeply inegalitarian structures established by the government, which is the instrument of its own protection.54

Gold, most importantly, had become a crucial source of hard currency for a country that was regularly deprived of US dollars; and not just Sudan was looking to hold onto it, with the Emirati state becoming one of the largest sources of foreign demand The RSF leader Hemedti – in the years following Omar al-Bashir’s fall – supervised the export of $16 billion of gold per year to Dubai. Mining production at the peripheries had become a crucial arm of the militarised-security apparatus left after the erosion of the state and the loss of oil reserves with the secession of the South.

The Gilded Road towards Normalisation

Formal normalisation with Israel wouldn’t be achieved until after the fall of Omar al-Bashir, but its negotiators were high-ranking nodes in al-Bashir’s circle. For Sudan’s NISS, Israel was something like Disney World, a country willing to sell arms and security, regardless of the bidder (that is, excluding those with extensive Palestinian contact).55 This had meant backdoor engagement with a range of Sudanese governments,56 including al-Bashir.57

Israeli interest was two-fold. Normalisation with Sudan represented a fracture of “Arab” support for the Palestinians, but it also meant a step forward in Israel’s attempts towards improving its standing in Africa. The cold reception Israel received across African postcolonial states was, in part, the lingering influence of the Cold War: Israel, alongside Taiwan, were ready arms purveyors, particularly for the African colonial regimes in South Africa, Rhodesia, and the Lusophone territories.58 With the growing strength of BDS, the active comparisons made between Israel and South Africa, as well as the growing ties Palestinian activists had forged with Black Lives Matter, had particularly unsettled Israel, with the worry that the state, alongside its supporters, may become associated with the “stench” of colonialism and racism.

For Israel, normalisation with Sudan represented a fracture of “Arab” support for the Palestinians, but it also meant a step forward in Israel’s attempts towards improving its standing in Africa.

The second pillar of Israeli interest was far more personal. Sudanese refugees, fleeing crimes against humanity in sites like Darfur, had steadily entered Israel over the years. The MK Miri Regev had likened the Sudanese to “a cancer in our body,” while mass demonstrations among Israeli citizens had unfurled into lynch mobs against asylum seekers within the state. Like the EU, Israel had a “crisis” that needed to be resolved. There was also a unique settler-colonial edge to this crisis. After an Israeli court ruled in favor of deporting 1500 South Sudanese refugees, the interior minister declared: “This is a war for the preservation of the Zionist and Jewish dream in the Land of Israel.” There was an underlying fear: if Israel were to become a haven for (non-Jewish) refugees, could it remain a “Jewish State”? And if it couldn’t remain a “Jewish State,” would it be finally forced to accept the repatriation of millions of Palestinian refugees?

From the Sudanese end, normalisation with Israel allowed a unique diplomatic overture between an Islamist dictatorship and liberal elites, particularly those among the diaspora. The latter’s support had accumulated over the years of the NCP’s uncontested rule. For one, if the crimes of Omar al-Bashir could ultimately be attributed to the racial-Arabist complex of power holders in the country, then support for Palestine carried with it the stench of being the most notable “Arabist” cause. The logic was neatly mirrored by the Islamist undertones that now animated the Palestinian cause, alongside the tacit (and sometimes fervent) approval of liberals to the War on Terror enterprise. Omar al-Bashir only strengthened this conviction, regularly wielding the antisemitic accusation that any form of opposition to his rule amounted to a “Zionist plot.” Normalisation may have been advanced by the genocidaires of Omar al-Bashir’s military-security apparatus, but it also held the allure as a shortcut to rejecting the Arabist-Islamist complexes of the riverine elite.

Normalisation of Israel may have been advanced by the genocidaires of Omar al-Bashir’s military-security apparatus, but it also held the allure as a shortcut to rejecting the Arabist-Islamist complexes of the riverine elite.

More important than domestic “consensus-raising,” however, was the modest force of the United States. Donald Trump, tapping into evangelical fervour for a “repatriated” Jerusalem, backed the so-called “Deal of the Century,” while also pushing forward regional normalisation of Israel. Saudi Arabia, still reticent to be at the forefront of what its elites worried might erupt a social backlash, encouraged Oman, a small vassal state then under the tutelage of Sultan Qaboos, to be at the vanguard of Gulf normalisation, publicly hosting Israeli officials in 2018. The Sudanese economy, largely at the mercy of American sanctions that had throttled the country’s currency reserves for decades, was offered up as an award for the price of normalisation. In the moments following Omar al-Bashir’s fall, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates helped broker communications between Sudan and Israel, through its head of army – Burhan – and its RSF leader – Hemedti. Israel, for its part, promised to convince Congress to lift sanctions on the state. Setting aside the ideological contestation around normalisation, it was clear that Sudan’s rejection of normalisation would only enhance its pariah status, while normalisation suggested a direct pathway to economic integration. Meanwhile, the patron-clientele relationship between Sudan and the Gulf, with Burhan and Hemedti as its intermediaries, was assured to provide “crucial leeway to resist popular demands for civilian rule, shaping a lopsided balance of power that allowed the generals to navigate a period of mass mobilisation.”59

The Long Winter

In December 2018, a Sudanese revolt was unleashed. Footage circulating across WhatsApp revealed the burning embers of the National Congress Party’s headquarters in Atbara, the old heart of the Sudanese trade unions. In Sudan’s recent past, two expressions of political opposition had coexisted, without overturning the political order: armed insurgency in the rural peripheries and (typically) small, short-lived protests led by students and downwardly-mobile professionals in the urban centres. In their regularity and their inefficiency, neither could crack the resignation people held to the forever reign of Omar al-Bashir. Neither seemed to be able to point to something new and, perhaps more importantly, neither could they signal the death of something old. Counter to certain romantic accounts, the protests were not spontaneous: mobilisations were organised by various opposition parties and groups to take place across the country in mid-December, in the midst of cash, bread, and fuel shortages. But, in their ability to so assuredly destroy a symbol, let alone a HQ, of the institution that had seemingly devoured all of Sudan’s past, present, and future, the protests were experienced as eruption, catharsis, and confidence. Without these sensations, no revolution would have followed.

In their ability to so assuredly destroy a symbol, let alone a HQ, of the institution that had seemingly devoured all of Sudan’s past, present, and future, the protests were experienced as eruption, catharsis, and confidence.

The uprising’s immediate causes were driven by the collapse of wheat subsidies, whose curtailment was encouraged by the technocrats of the International Monetary Fund, who suggested direct cash transfers as a short-term substitute.60 The rural population, representing the mass of Sudan, largely lived off sorghum, while wheat bread was the main pillar of the urban consumption basket. The urban diet had been gradually destabilised over al-Bashir’s reign, but the post-oil economy and spiralling inflation meant even greater shavings from the average consumption basket. Unlike the protracted military mobilisation that had come to define challenges to state power, largely relegated to the armed conflicts of the rural periphery, this revolt had the vital backing of the urban population. This was both a blessing and a curse. As a blessing, it meant Omar al-Bashir’s strategy of recursive domination, outsourcing the greatest excesses of violence to the state peripheries, had come undone. Revolts were now emerging even among his tribal base. But as a curse, it meant that the social divisions of the state were conveniently “taken as they were,” with geographic and ethnic divisions largely unconfronted. A contracted military state had also provided Omar al-Bashir with limited vulnerabilities to his rural constituents, a situation that could only be reversed by urban uprising. The urban-rural divide has remained a “primary contradiction” across the African post-colony, even stumping regimes – like Samora Machel’s Frelimo – that had built their ascension on peasant mobilisation.61

A contracted military state provided Omar al-Bashir with limited vulnerabilities to rural constituents, which could only be reversed by urban uprising. The urban/rural remains a primary contradiction across the African post-colony.

In the context of the urban movement, the exhaustion of Sudan’s traditional parties – largely left out of this narrative, but occasionally entering normalising coalitions with the ruling NCP – meant that the political establishment could not easily dictate the early methods of the revolt, which began with the arson of the NCP’s offices in places like Atbara (the old stronghold of the railway workers union) and Al-Rahad, as well as the raiding of the party’s food depots, directly distributing food to the hungry. But similarly, it also meant that the initial coherence of the protests, beyond opposition to the regime of kayzan, was limited. In this vacuum, rumours spread across WhatsApp and social media about one or another figure, who would come in to save the day. Some even celebrated when footage emerged of soldiers refusing their orders to target protesters, a welcome (if short-lived) reality that had unfortunately not been extended to much of the peripheral states.

Eventually, consensus, especially among urban protesters, coalesced around the anonymous, underground proclamations of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA). While Sudan’s trade unions were an active feature of prior democratisation struggles, the combination of economic contraction and the weak manufacturing base endemic to many African post-colonies had meant their decline in scale. Instead, the “professionals association,” a conglomeration of Sudan’s downwardly mobile university graduates, had taken on the hopes and aspirations of many protesters.

Their relationship was also cordial, though not identical, with the “neighbourhood resistance committees” emerging on the ground. These committees were differentiated in function: some mainly worked on setting forth policy demands, others disrupted the calls for “law-and-order” issued by the regime, while still others worked as agents of social provisioning, distributing grain to locals. In the urban “planet of slums,”62 committees were driven by the “lumpenproletariat,” the surplus populations subsisting day-to-day without the assurance of steady employment. Even liberal supporters demurred when the regime lambasted the sit-ins at Columbia as a site of moral delinquency. De-classing is a complicated and multiple process that remains particularly sensitive to the specificities of location. In this sense, one also feels the cogency of Fanon’s invocation. In these resistance committees, one could glimpse something very different in the “lumpenproletariat” from those entering the ranks of the RSF. On June 3rd, 2019, the latter would unleash a massacre on the former, killing and disappearing over a hundred, alongside countless injuries and widespread sexual assault. While the event was notable for its occurrence in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital city, it’s important to recognise its exceptional status came from its geography, episodes like this more regularly occurred across Sudan’s periphery states, particularly in Darfur or Blue Nile State. But the massacre would signal that without resort to either economic or institutional legitimacy, Sudan’s military state was no longer capable of relegating its battlegrounds away from its urban terrain. This event would also be a sign of the new order to come.

Omar al-Bashir’s downfall had a long and convoluted trajectory, but by the end of the process, Sudan was left with a new unstable configuration: the bifurcated regime. The Sovereignty Council of Sudan, established months after the massacres of June to oversee the eventual “transition to democracy,” was composed of civilian and military officials. On one hand, you had the technocrats of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), a coalition brought together with the participation and initial backing of the SPA; on the other, you had the Transitional Military Council (TMC), built from the backbone of the army and the RSF, whose backdoor dealings with the Gulf states had pulled the rug from underneath Omar al-Bashir’s feet. Activist mobilisation had helped bring the downfall of the nightmare that began in 1989, but a longer nightmare, that of the military, which had subsumed nearly all remaining economic functions, had only continued.

Activist mobilisation had helped bring the downfall of the nightmare that began in 1989, but a longer nightmare, that of the military, which had subsumed nearly all remaining economic functions, had only continued.

While the FFC, eager to please donors in the international community, took the lead on pushing forward a new set of structural adjustment programs in order to lift Sudan’s debt obligations; the TMC retained its patron-finance network with the sub imperial forces of the Gulf, funding basic circuits of distribution in the country-side. Structural adjustment was the preferred direction of the TMC, but letting the FFC carry it forward provided ample political benefit. While one wooed the camp of the liberal diaspora and US officials looking to extricate themselves from the direct conflicts of the region in order to focus energy on its Chinese and Russian “foes,” the other had used its warfare-welfare nexus to pacify and co-opt rivals in unequal measure. It is under this unstable equilibrium, only tangible from the purview of restoring Sudan’s position in the world economy, that the events to follow, the road to Sudan’s latest October Coup, become intelligible.

The Typical Brokers

In the late autumn of 2021, the TMC would unleash yet another coup. The response from the most relevant power brokers was silence, followed by (in the case of the UAE and KSA) a tepid call for restraint. The UAE and KSA had relied on the TMC, in particular its leadership, for a wide range of functions and had likely encouraged Burhan and Hemedti behind closed doors. Meanwhile, Burhan held aspirations to become something like Sisi, who had supervised expanding defence cooperation between the two states. Israel, as discussed above, could care less if the Sudanese were ruled by Vorster or Volcker, so long as its “security concerns” (refugees and the Palestinians) were met: the civilian wing of the Sovereignty Council, however, had been passive and generally more reluctant to accede to normalisation and, moreover, represented a space of politics open to civilian contestation, leaving the military forces to be the most promising “guarantor” of this compact. In the days before the coup, Hemedti’s brother travelled to Tel Aviv, and only a week after the coup, Mossad officials met with both Burhan and Hemedti. Sisi, for his part, held a more common Egyptian attitude of colonial paternalism to the Sudanese, their so-called “brothers of the Nile.” A Sudanese military state under Egyptian direction could accomplish a number of ends. For one, Egyptian backing (alongside the Emirates and Saudi Arabia) would exert real pressure on the military state to re-integrate the “ideological” kernels of the Muslim Brotherhood. The end of October saw the release of Ibrahim Ghandour and a number of other core officials from the NCP, seemingly confirming the fears of activists who perceived the enduring relevance of Sudan’s kayzan, but in quick response, al-Burhan dismissed the acting attorney general and re-arrested Ghandour the following day. This quick turn-around suggests that while sympathy for the kayzan among the armed forces represents a potential force of counter-revolution, the junta’s patrons likely wished to constrain their re-emergence, at least for the time being.63 Moreover, Sisi’s vision for Sudan includes vital support in its fight against the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, on claims that Egyptian water access would be significantly threatened by the development. Sisi lacked the “confidence” that Sudan’s civilian force, broadly sympathetic to reigning president Abiy Ahmed before the start of his pacification campaign across Tigray, would be willing to back Cairo tout court in its negotiations with Addis Ababa.

DC: Offensive or Retreat?

Washington D.C., for its part, stands over a global system in flux. Biden’s administration had brought strong liberal credentials to Trump’s so-called “trade war” against China. While this had been entirely ineffectual in terms of bringing about something like an “economic de-linking,” the prospect of a new “Cold War” against China was compelling to officials looking for a catch-all panacea that would simultaneously provide consent across the political aisle and function as an ideological motor for ambitious political transformations – “defusing” domestic polarisation,64 bolstering geopolitical decline, reconstructing a ‘welfare state’, driving a green transition. As of the end of 2021, most of the domestic dimensions of this campaign have failed, but its impact on the US’ “outward” presence has been more tangible, albeit in diminutive form.

A certain fatigue became visible in the US’ withdrawal from its longest-standing front in the War on Terror, Afghanistan. Two decades of cataclysm and counter-insurgency had communicated something to even the inner circles of the security committee: the ability of the US to destroy was in no dispute, but its ability to (re)create the world as per its whims were in growing doubt. In a matter of days, its puppet administration entirely collapsed to the rural insurgencies waged by the formerly ousted Taliban, with warlords and the standing president, Ashraf Ghani, desperately fled.(Ghani, to his credit as a former anthropologist, has “Made Anthropology Great Again,” absconding with over $150 million in cash in a return to the field’s old colonial origins). As if trying to leave a final record of American rule, Biden ended his stay in Kabul by drone-striking ten civilians, a crime for which no one will ever be held responsible. The return to a steady regime of economic sanctions is a sign that suffering is not over for ordinary Afghans, but while this confirms some dimension of leftist incredulity around the retreat, it’s important to understand the administrative logic put-forth by its authors: Afghanistan had become an “intractable” conflict, requiring an ongoing transfer of military resources and soldiers to a weak bureaucratic authority that only held legitimacy in the cities; that this situation had reached an “impasse” for architects of the war, who had hoped that the overthrow of the Taliban would quickly lead to a new and stable political configuration; and that this hoped-for turnover, which would have provided the United States with a steady political alliance forged through a “convergent” geopolitical consensus among the Afghan political state, had decisively failed. Biden’s administration, unlike the wailing forces of the European Union that called for an immediate re-deployment of soldiers, had understood that this front in the ongoing “War on Terror” (secured by “boots-on-the-ground”) had left the United States’ military bloated and overextended, while threatening the US’ projected image as something like God on Earth, as Vietnam had decades before. All this, while the United States was gearing up for a new “war,” one uniquely concerned over economic might and (both in the nightmares of the political establishment and the hopes of some of its opponents) hegemonic reign.

“Might Makes Right”: The Ethiopian Test Case of American Diplomacy

The retreat from Afghanistan is elsewhere (particularly in the Horn) paralleled by the reticence of US intervention. The US is looking for allies, ones that hold power, will hold power, and will help, rather than hinder, their geopolitical effort against China. Before the latest Sudanese coup, this dynamic was already in development in Ethiopia. A wave of popular demonstrations had rocked the long-standing ethnicized federal rule of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), led by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in 2018. The TPLF, like much of Ethiopia’s political classes, had come to maturity in the war against Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Derg, which had wedded Marxist-Leninist credentials to what its opponents, equally inspired by the Marxist traditions of the anti-colonial movements, had described as a much longer-tradition of Abyssinian imperial rule from the political centre. The war eventually unseated Mengistu, but with great casualties and fractured alliances, particularly from the newly-born Eritrea and its former allies in the TPLF. (The Derg had been an important initial backer of the SPLM and was largely responsible for its early commitment to Marxist slogans, something which disappeared in the wake of Mengistu in favour of liberal pluralism). Despite the establishment of a new federalist constitution, which ostensibly guaranteed representation and sovereign expression for its myriad nationalities, the EPRDF’s reign ultimately culminated in a reinforcement of ethno-national divisions of power. Moreover, the TPLF had also overseen massacres across the country, including among the Somali communities of the Ogaden. For the US, this was no problem – Ethiopia was an important security broker in Somalia and had been a steady economic ally, presiding over notable declines in general hunger. Internally, TPLF reign was contested by a wide array of ethnic groups, both at the inner-party and popular level, eventually leading to a wave of protests that ushered Abiy Ahmed, a “young” army man into power as a “rainbow” candidate, son of a Muslim Oromo father and a Christian mother. By the end of 2019, he had liquidated the EPRDF and instead set in its place the Prosperity Party, with the TPLF refusing participation. Economically, the PP maintained an ongoing commitment to coordination with the United States and “development” orthodoxy, pleasing the international community, liberal Africans, and the pages of The Economist alike, as Abiy Ahmed presided over a rapidly growing economy. Meanwhile, Abiy, a good and devout Pentacostal, had charmed the American evangelical community, while securing a formal cessation to long-standing hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia (though under what terms, it remains unclear). And, as a significant member of the European Union-funded AMISOM (African Union Mission to Somalia), Ethiopia continued to play a crucial role in counterinsurgency.

Nearly four years after being sworn-in, it’s still unclear what the future holds for Ethiopia beyond a tsunami of bloodshed. The TPLF had been removed from government, with Tigrayans purged from the security sector, perceived from Addis Ababa as a reprisal for their overrepresentation during the days of the EPRDF. Protests among the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups, came to the fore in the summer of 2020, with calls for Abiy Ahmed to take responsibility and resign for the assassination of Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa. Instead, Abiy Ahmed responded with a political crackdown, with hundreds suspected killed and many more arrested. The government’s response was to demur responsibility, suggesting those responsible had been internal agitators from an Oromo paramilitary force (the administration has also taken to suggesting that its internal protests emerging from non-Tigrayan constituencies are simply the enduring consequence of the EPRDF’s reign). Moreover, the response to COVID-19 had seen the government postpone elections that were to take place near the end of summer 2020. The TPLF responded by holding its own elections, leaving tensions to simmer until November, when the TPLF seized Ethiopian military bases in response to a claimed build-up of Ethiopian and Eritrean forces along the Tigrayan border. Over half a year later, the New York Times reporter Declan Walsh would report that the Democrat Senator Chris Coons had spoken to Abiy Ahmed shortly before the formal start of the conflict, with Abiy Ahmed assuring Coons that “[h]e was confident it [future conflict] would be over in six weeks.”

The counterinsurgency campaign that followed, waged through total war and a complete media blackout that still affects the Tigrayan region, has now led to a more general civil war. While anger against the TPLF had been widespread, further developments were key: a) the equation between Tigrayans and the TPLF, who came to be likened to a “cancer,” “rats,” or, in the more acceptable geopolitical parlance, “terrorist” by Abiy Ahmed, culminating in the mass slaughter and arrest of Tigrayans across Tigray and Addis Ababa respectively. This had, in turn, driven Tigrayans that had never experienced the days of Mengistu to side with the re-emerging military complex in Tigray; b) the conduct of massacres undertaken by the Tigrayan forces as they came to break the siege on Tigray, which – alongside long-standing memories of the TPLF’s rule only some years prior among Ethiopia’s marginalised communities – had encouraged little sympathy for the Tigrayans, even among those nationalities that held grievances with the state; and c) the difficulties of federalism, which had linked land access to communal identity, and the even more deadly re-emergence of anti-federalist politics among Abiy Ahmed and the PP, which came to perceive a division of power across ethnic groups as an immediate obstacle to both Ethiopia’sterritorial unity and its economic future.

The United States’ response was to remain largely silent initially, although Trump was no stranger to activist positions in the region, straightforwardly backing Egypt’s claims against the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Speaking some weeks after the conflict had begun, Tibor Nagy, Trump’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former ambassador to Ethiopia, had called for a “de-escalation,” but then turned to argue that there was “no equivalency here” between the PP and the TPLF (over a year later, Nagy would reiterate that “there was not an equivalency between a sovereign state and a region that’s in rebellion” and “ compared the initial attack by the TPLF on the ENDF Northern Command to the Confederacy launching an attack on Fort Sumter”65), casting Abiy’s legitimacy against the Tigrayans as that of the Union against the Confederacy, while celebrating Eritrea’s “continued restraint” in the face of Tigray’s failed attempt to “internationalise the conflict.” The conflict, unfortunately, had been internationalised since day one, with Eritrean soldiers readily coordinating with their Ethiopian counterparts and early (unconfirmed) accusations from the Tigrayan forces suggesting the role of the Emirates’ military base in helping launch aircrafts over the region.

As reports grew of the violence unfurling in Tigray, the US would tone down its initial overt support for Abiy Ahmed, moving into the occasional call for “restraint,” “negotiations,” and “cessation of hostilities,” a decision upheld in the early days of the Biden administration. Some have taken these calls as an explicit sign of the US’ drive to oust Abiy Ahmed, but it’s important to recall that this language used here wasn’t far off from the rhetoric undertaken by both the Obama and Biden administrations vis-à-vis Israel: calls for “cease-fires” and “cessation of hostilities,” a claim of non-equivalency between parties, and a “concern” for “alleged human rights violations.” Recognising the US’ crucial role in the colonisation of Palestine has been first-and-foremost through its material support for the Zionist project, from the days of the Yishuv onwards.66 During the period from November 2020 until the following summer, the strategy had amounted to wait-and-see, pairing empty rhetoric with – from what news is available to us – no real material intervention against Abiy Ahmed. It had even returned to some levels of normalcy, withdrawing Trump’s bellicose one-sidedness on the Great Ethiopian River Dam and returning to the more standard rhetorical rituals of non-commitment that had characterised the Obama administration. Given both the new priorities of Biden’s “foreign policy” vision and the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the logic is seemingly legible: support the victors, so long as they can rule with “stability.” Ethiopia has come to occupy a crucial role in the regional security apparatus, it remains a strong ally to both US-favoured power-brokers in the Gulf (in particular, the UAE) and the African Union, it has overseen an economic rise like no other in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Horn of Africa was not where the United States wanted to focus its political intervention. By the dawn of 2021, it had become clear that Abiy Ahmed’s crusade in Tigray would take longer than “six weeks,” despite the early tide of the war, and by mid-2021, it was no longer clear that Abiy Ahmed could either hold onto his reign or succeed in “weeding” Tigray, at least while presiding over a united Ethiopia.

Biden would announce a round of sanctions against Ethiopia in September 2021. When November came, new reports widely suggested that the Tigrayan forces were on the verge of capturing the capital city, that Tigrayan forces had announced an alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), and that ethnic Tigrayans had been rounded up en masse in Addis Ababa. The African Union put out a call for political dialogue and cessation to hostilities. Jeffrey Feltman, the US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, announced that the White House was “absolutely opposed to the [Trigayan Defense Forces] threatening Addis,” while echoing the AU’s push for negotiations. Biden’s actions followed the sway of the Ethiopian battlefield. The assumed conclusions of November were not to come, however: despite claims of extensive foreign interference on the behalf of the Tigrayans, the Prosperity Party had purchased an impressive score of military drones from Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Some, like the Bayraktar TB2, had been used in the ethnic-cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh just a year prior, while arm sales between the Emirates and Ethiopia had been conducted through Spanish and Ukrainian shipping firms. The turnaround also emerged as a result of the Tigrayan encroachment: the TPLF remained a deeply unpopular force outside of Tigray, with a number of communities choosing to support Abiy’s pushback, lest they “face a return” the decades that had preceded. Abiy Ahmed wasn’t out yet – the White House refused to release its internal report on the designation of “genocide” in Ethiopia. As of the present moment, the Tigrayan forces have been repelled back to Tigray, with Abiy Ahmed remaining cautious about whether another direct intervention into Tigray would succeed, even with Eritrean support. No calls yet have been made for the ouster of Abiy Ahmed, as calls a decade prior had in the case of Syria. While the war has threatened the foundations of the state, any quick and easy substitute for Abiy Ahmed remains hard to identify for the Americans. In addition, the relationship with Egypt notwithstanding, Ethiopia and Eritrea have warmed ties – particularly military ties – with the UAE and Turkey, as the GCC and the AKP have set their eyes on the Horn of Africa. These have all extended Abiy’s lifeline in the eyes of DC. If he survives, Washington may very well reward him: Salva Kiir’s political endurance in South Sudan, despite now a decade of regular condemnations and the occasional sanction, shows that DC has patience. In the meantime, the United States continues its “wait-and-see.”

The October Stand-Off

The US demonstrates this very same reticence in present-day Sudan. Trump’s ambitions for Sudan were simple enough: winning a diplomatic triumph for Israel and finding a steady replacement for Omar al-Bashir that would please his friends in Cairo, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi. Although rebuking Trump’s bombast, Biden has largely stuck to the path laid out by his predecessor, but now under the aegis of “ensuring stability.” Looking beyond the Middle East, Sudan also plays a discreet, yet important role in building the transcontinental Fortress Europa for the United States’ European allies, a commitment that has seen the state department silent while commentators celebrated Poland’s demonstration of force against asylum-seekers on the Poland-Belarus border last November. When confronted with the coup and its wave of arrests against civilian figures, the immediate response by the Troika – the United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway – was to, like elsewhere, make a call for a return to normalcy: release the political prisoners, undo the state of emergency, and go back to governing. It seems unlikely that the Americans had called forth the coup, given the unthreatening alliance (between a police state and an urban austerity force) that the Sovereignty Council posed for US interests; rather, the coup represented a culmination of fermenting tensions driven by the incoherence of the post-Bashir settlement, with core regional brokers – such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – having likely provided guarantees of political shelter for the TMC. The coup, however, did threaten to sink a potential ally state into an economic crisis, through the political resistance it encountered on the streets of Sudan. Light chastisement of the military state was met with a call for political calm among demonstrators, and, as reports came in of internet shutdowns and killings, the US turned to the UAE and KSA for support.

Trump’s ambitions were simple: winning a diplomatic triumph for Israel & finding a steady replacement for Omar al-Bashir that would please his friends in Cairo, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi. Biden has largely stuck to this path.

In a short time, a “silver bullet” was found: with the nudge of its Gulf patrons, the military government released the standing prime minister, Abdalla Hamdook, from house arrest and offered him a role a seat in government. To the shock of many, including those who had envisioned Hamdook as Sudan’s Abiy, he accepted. The hopes for the United States were quite clear: protesters would return to their homes, the streets would settle, and the political regime that had emerged in the summer of 2019 would continue on as if nothing had ever happened. What they didn’t expect was that civilian demonstrators would rebuke the settlement. The support from the Sudanese Professional’s Association that had once offered its political backing to Hamdook was now withheld; the rejection by the traditional political parties was even more shocking, as they had made a name for themselves in the years of al-Bashir of being more than willing to drop nominal opposition to an administration if offered a modicum of incentives; and, the greatest threat to the military’s “law and order” proclamations, the resistance committees, were back in full swing, turning to strikes, blockades, and regular confrontations with the forces of the state.

Neither was the other end of political power stagnant. Alongside Hamdook, Burhan, and Hemedti, military rule was now supported by none other than its former existential threats. Minni Minawi, the former Zaghawa leader of the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) that had fought against the Janjaweed and the Sudanese state in the 2000s and who would later join the Sudan Revolutionary Front (composed of the oppositional armed forces), had kept silent in the immediate aftermath of the coup, despite his role as Darfur’s regional governor, waiting to see if Burhan’s gamble would survive; when it did, he would caution that an end to the military alliance would mean a civil war, suggest that massacres in West Darfur were the work of secret agitators, then come to condemn protesters as saboteurs working against the state. The formula was paralleled by Jibril Ibrahim, Sudan’s standing Finance Minister and former head of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which had once been led by his brother, Khalil. In the eastern Red Sea state, meanwhile, blockades undertaken by the Beja Council threatening Sudan’s port seemed oddly timed to help heighten the sense of economic crisis the TMC used to justify their coup, and, in the months following, the military forces would make direct concession to the Beja in return for squashing the threat of blockade, counter to guarantees to other ethnic communities in the region. For some, these “practices of solidarity” between the military and formerly marginalised ethnic elites remain beguiling, and among others, a go-to xenophobic response has accused Sudan of falling under the grasp of “Chadian foreigners” or “Darfurian rule,” a description enabled by enduring elite apathy towards the spectacular violence regularly unleashed on Sudanese by other Sudanese. Nevertheless, these alliances are not without their sense, a consequence of the shared stakes both state and anti-state armed forces hold in the continued direction of the economy.

But the success of the putschists is certainly not guaranteed. Alongside rampant protests, the economic crisis has only deepened. Jibril Ibrahim had been overseeing the steady liberalisation of the Sudanese economy (or whatever remained of it), floating the pound, steadfastly cutting subsidies, and “practically abandon[ing] the provision of commodities” by the state. However, the coup has shaken economic confidence from the international financial community in Sudan, even despite Hamdook’s return. Moreover, while the Gulf states had backed the putschists, they were incapable of covering the loss of assistance and aid that the US and IMF dangled before their eyes.

Protests have only ramped up following November. Reports of urban massacres have become more regular, as the RSF and the army have shown no concern about producing more young “martyrs.” As the corpses piled up, especially in Khartoum and Omdurman, Hamdook’s political credibility quickly evaporated. Shortly after the New Year, Hamdook would resign, although over altogether technical disputes: the rejection by the military of his secretary appointments and the formal re-launch of the state security apparatus, which had ostensibly) been decommissioned in the wake of al-Bashir’s deposition. While the initial protests against al-Bashir had coalesced most coherently around opposition to Sudan’s Islamist bloc, these new round of protests had coalesced on a tout court rejection of the military. This rejection has been of great annoyance to the United States, the European Union, the United Nations. and segments of the “human rights” community, who have insisted that any solution must involve all parties – military or civilian. Following Hamdook’s resignation, the Troika declared:

No single Sudanese actor can accomplish this task on their own [italics my own]. While the Troika and the European Union will continue to support the democratic transition in Sudan, Sudanese stakeholders will need to work on the basis of the 2019 Constitutional Declaration on how to overcome the nation’s current political crisis, select new civilian leadership, and identify clear timelines and processes for the remaining transitional tasks – including establishing the legislative and judicial branches of government, creating accountability mechanisms, and laying the groundwork for elections.

Ironically enough, if the TMC had followed US advice in the immediate days after the coup, it’s possible that the military may have avoided the radicalisation of the Sudanese movement. On the part of the US, its ongoing commitment to the resurrection of the ossified Sovereignty Council may lapse if they lose confidence in the military junta as capable agents of stability.

But profound obstacles still remain for the Sudanese uprising. Among domestic matters, the attempt to dislodge the cold reality of military power through non-violent force was as much an outcome of the history of protracted militarisation as it was a choice, but few (if any) movements can claim to have extinguished the military forces, particularly one’s so central to the state’s operation, by peaceful direct action.67 In addition, while the state’s devolution into a machine of death has presented new vulnerabilities to many of Sudan’s urban classes,, both the reality and the attitudes of the urban-rural divide persist into the present era, particularly among its privileged elites. Finally, the ascendancy of both the FFC and the TMC were the unfortunate outcomes of piecemeal transformations, one’s that in part (although not totally) sidelined class politics, gendered violence, and a persistent “recursive” character to marginalisation that has emerged across Sudan’s array of political regimes This suggests a need to confront the limitations of reform beyond the usual critique of its unambitious scale of change to the new and potentially greater dangers that it may unfurl. At the international level, any political resistance to the present state of affairs will not only include opposition to the present investment of “interested parties,”68 but may threaten to change the wider strategies and political calculus of these geopolitical entities. While this might mean the possibility of direct intervention in Sudan, it more likely means the possibility of strategic co-optation and dangerous “low-hanging fruit,” as states like Israel, the KSA, or the USA look to “offer amends” for whatever new political settlement emerges in Sudan.

  1. Translation my own. 

  2. Translation found in edited by Adil Babikir. 2019. Modern Sudanese Poetry: An Anthology. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. 

  3. The name adopted by the orchestrators of the 1989 coup for their campaign of Islamist revitalization, positioned against the spectre of social degeneration and moral decline. 

  4. The committee, whose full name was the Committee for Dismantling the June 30 1989 Regime, Removal of Empowerment and Corruption, and Recovering Public Funds, was a provisional institution set-up in the aftermath of the dictatorship, which sought to identify and target the networks of the ancient regime, including its benefactors and beneficiaries. 

  5. A type of hemp used in textiles. 

  6. Once the site of the Funj Sultanate, which spanned across parts of present-day Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia from the 16th century until the early 19th, Sennar had cultivated an early merchant class. Unlike the “popular” traditions more generally represented by the Sufi and “syncretic” strands of Islam in the region, these merchants were sympathetic to a standardized variant of Islam, increasingly central to the intra-Islamic trade networks that had birthed them, and its juridical arm, sharia. Increasing conformity to a transnational sharia had incubated new property relations in the region, defined by strict and regularised rules of property – in particular, land – succession within the individuated household. While property relations in the land of the former kingdom were to undergo significant ruptures across successive regimes (Ottoman, English, and post-colonial), these classic period of accumulation – land grabs, privatizations, and a call for “religious piety” – had returned in full-swing under the reign of the NCP. For more on the role of Islam in the development of the pre-modern state see M. El Gizouli, “Sudan; The Quest for an Emancipatory Subject”. 

  7. While the “Transitional Military Council” formally refers to the military alliance that took power in the “transition” between the fall of Omar al-Bashir and the emergence of the Sovereignty Council, it also refers to a steady assortment of armed forces that formed one half of the Sovereignty Council, before supplanting it wholesale. As such, this essay will use the title to designate the current military junta, composed of largely the same forces, who are committed to largely the same rhetoric of gradual “transition” as before. 

  8. Despite their pivotal role in the protests that ousted al-Bashir, women were largely excluded from the Sovereignty Council. 

  9. “الردة مستحيلة” 

  10. In the case of Jibril Ibrahim, the explicitly Islamist vision of the JEM has almost certainly helped. 

  11. While this reputation is certainly not new, one particularly illuminating account comes from Muzan Alneel, who expressed the widely held perception that the Communist Party vacillated incoherently between “an alliance with the enemy” and “fight[ing] the enemy”. 

  12. With notable exceptions, like Palestine. 

  13. A. A. Ibrahim. 2008. Manichaean Delirium: Decolonizing the Judiciary and Islamic Renewal in the Sudan. 1898-1985. Leiden: Brill. 

  14. Ibrahim. Manichaean Delirium

  15. Ibrahim. Manichaean Delirium

  16. Benaiah Yongo-Bure. 2009. “Marginalization and War: From the South to Darfur” in edited by M. S. Hasan and E. C. Ray. Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in Sudan, A Critical Reader. Cornell University Press. 

  17. To refrain from hagiography, its important to note two crucial factors. Firstly, the political base of the SPLM (and Southern rebels before it) was under the Derg, the Ethiopian regime under Haile Mengistu. Mengistu’s motivation for hosting the SPLM and its guerilla army, the SPLA, was to be found in his fears surrounding Sudanese political and military intrusion in Ethiopian affairs, in particular, the accusation that Nimeiri had chosen to aid the guerilla movements that had come to contest the Derg’s political reign. Sudanese support for Eritrean rebels preceded Mengistu, but Mengistu’s rise to power led to the collapse of the Addis Ababa Agreement and a return of Sudanese aid to the rebels; see D. H. Johnson, D. H. 2011. The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars: Peace or Truce. Rochester: James Currey. Under similar grounds, Mengistu did not wish to see a divided Sudan lest he encourage the aspirations of the national liberation movements fighting in Ethiopia. Secondly, John Garang’s strategy rested on some level of both ambiguity and repression – reaching back to even the late 1950s, it is hard to believe that any democratic referendum taken in the South would not be taken in favor of secession. This situation was even abundantly clear at the time – the late Joseph Garang (no relation), the highest-ranking Southerner in the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), acknowledged as much when he spoke of the extensive barriers across all social classes of the South to the SCP’s strategy of national unity under the leadership of workers and peasants; see J. Garang. 1961. The Dilemma of the Southern Intellectual: Is it Justified? Khartoum. Post-colonial unity had become the preferred politics of many of Africa’s socialist parties, under the fear that separatism would: a) lead to the regular collapse of African states under internecine “tribal” conflicts; b) undermine the resource and labor base of the developmental state; and c) be a major in-road of imperialist infiltration, looking to undermine strong, coherent, and coordinated state opposition. 

  18. P. Roessler. .2016. Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa: The Logic of the Coup-Civil War Trap. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 116. 

  19. Roessler. Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa

  20. Roessler. Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa

  21. In later years, as an opposition figure, al-Turabi would come to occupy every feasible political stance. Viewed in some camps as a sign of his ingenuity – a law graduate that had produced a synthesis of Islamic jurisprudence, German Idealist philosophy, and discourses of alter-modernism – these ideas were arguably bred from the circumstances of isolation from the aisles of power he had once occupied. This ranged from a shocking reversal on the position of punishment for apostasy to the desperate manoeuvring that found him later forging an alliance with his once erstwhile enemy, the SPLA. 

  22. Roessler. Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa. pp. 147-77. 

  23. The bourgeoisie has laid claim to a range of productive activities – most notably, the railway industry of yesteryear, but also cotton, oil, and artisanal farming – but this economic activity has most typically fallen into “premature” decline or into subsumption by international capitalist classes. Much of its current bourgeoisie act as either intermediary brokers for foreign capital or as a professional strata (e.g. doctors, lawyers) that pursue their opportunities abroad. 

  24. Roessler. Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa. pp. 164-5. 

  25. In the lead-up to the conflict, the anonymously-published Black Book laid out the racialised structure of the Sudanese state, channelling the anxieties of the national state, while shaping the ideological field of Darfurian activists (A El Tom. 2009. “Darfur People: Too Black for the Arab-Islamic Project of Sudan.” in edited by M. S. Hasan and E. C. Ray. Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in Sudan, A Critical Reader. Cornell University Press. ). Exacerbating this drive was the NCP’s purging of the non-Arab (e.g. Zaghawa) activists of Al-Turabi’s Tanzim. While narratives often emphasize an exclusivist framework for understanding the causal direction racialisation took, this process was likely informed by a convergence of factors that hardened the “racial matrix” of Sudan: a) even among the NCP, the boundaries of Islamism and Arabism were rarely fixed, even enabled by the popular practice among riverine Sudanese and prominent non-riverine tribes to trace their heritage back to the Prophet, mitigating trust in the Zaghawa Islamists; b) the spread of the Tanzim by the now persona-non-grata, Hassan Al-Turabi, meant the NCP viewed its Darfurian outposts with political suspicion, particularly given an administration paranoid about the threat of an internal revolt, even among the Islamist camp (in B. Berman. 1998. “Ethnicity, Patronage and the African State: The Politics of Uncivil Nationalism”. African Affairs, 97(388), 305-341.) 

  26. Roessler. Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa. pp. 130-46. 

  27. Roessler. Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa. pp. 178-204. 

  28. United Nations Development Programme. 2020. The Potential of Sudanese Diaspora Remittances. United Nations Development Programme. 

  29. It should be clarified that Iran’s willingness to diplomatic engagement with the United States did not start with the Green Movement and, given ongoing discussions to this very day, will extend beyond it, but the convergence of factors in this moment were unique. 

  30. Preceding even the rise of Omar al-Bashir, “Islamic banking” – a structure that supposedly reconciled modern finance with the Islamic prohibition on usury – had flourished in Sudan, particularly during Nimeiri’s growing overtures to the Islamist movement. By the beginning of the 1980s, over 30% of Sudan’s commercial capital was concentrated in Faisal Islamic Bank, an outgrowth of the Saudi capital. The reconciliation between Islam and finance capital was neither novel nor entirely uncontroversial: the charismatic and eclectic Sufi “Republican” leader, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, had authorised a report condemning the “un-Islamic” practices of Faisal Islamic Bank in 1983, but to no avail among the wider Islamist movement. By Omar al-Bashir’s rise in 1989, the Islamists had brought together a winning coalition of bankers alongside army officers and militant cadre. 

  31. Under this framework, it’s helpful to reconsider Samuel Huntington’s classic text The Clash of Civilizations. Much has been made of its orientalist dogma, but perhaps the most interesting component of the text is its anxious undercurrent: neo-conservatism’s fusion of Christian millenarianism and just war doctrine was, in some fashion, being challenged by the double movement among segments of the political right, which began to posit a foundational irreconcilability between the civilisational poles of the world. It’s this latter spirit that began to animate the “isolationist” current underlying paleo-conservatism and can now find echoes in the celebration of “particularism” that range from Orban’s Hungary to Macron’s France. 

  32. For a useful breakdown on the multiple goals of imperialism, which include but also supersede resource imperialism, see M. Krul, “No Blood for Oil? Some Thoughts on Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism”.

  33. M. Mamdani. 2005. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror. Three Leaves Press. 

  34. The intervention of Britain and later the United States was crucial for the rise of the House of Saud, but what has made the relationship so potent was the puppet status of the family, which would require active oversight and regulation from the metropole, but its regular commitment to a similar regional vision. The Oil Crisis of 1973 was perhaps the most striking 20th Century example of when interests diverged, but in their drive towards anti-communism, export of religious conservatism, and hostility to the Arabist projects of the region, the House of Saud found brotherhood with the West. 

  35. While typically discreet, the economic dimension of Western ties even spilled over into the cultural sphere with Libya’s 1981 cinematic production Lion of the Desert, which featured Hollywood’s Anthony Quinn as the Libyan revolutionary Omar Mukhtar. This episode recalled one from the year prior: Saddam Hussein’s 6-hour biopic epic The Long Days had been edited and co-directed by Terence Young of James Bond-fame. 

  36. H.Walia. 2020. Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism. Chicago: Haymarket Books. 

  37. In both the “New Right” movements of Europe and the United States, Jean Raspail’s 1973 dystopian “cautionary tale” The Camp of the Saints has been read with great vigour, warning of “looming threats” of mass migration, such as rape, miscegenation, civilizational decline, and “Great Replacement”. Its readership not only extends to the corner of far-right activists or its parliamentary complements, gaining praise from even “treasured” conservative commentators like William F. Buckley

  38. The percolations of the Libya decision extended even to the EU’s growing “continental threat”: Russia. President Medvedev chose to abstain from the vote on the Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorised the “No Fly Zone” that was to be secured above Libya, driving a growing schism between himself and his prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Both viewed the Arab Spring with scepticism, fearing them as a column of foreign intrusion and a source of destabilisation, but attitudes among the Russian cabinet suggested that Libya was an opportunity to secure an easy foreign policy rapprochement with the West. However, with the beginning the bombing campaign, Putin was motivated to take action: “Some observers have interpreted the disagreement between Putin and Medvedev as political theatrics, but that does little to explain what Russia was trying to achieve by permitting the intervention. By contrast, the Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar views the Libya vote as a sincere disagreement and places it as the starting point of a rift with personal, factional, and ideological dimensions that culminated in Putin’s September 2011 announcement that he would seek a third term”. A. Lund. 2019. Russia in the Middle East. Stockholm: Swedish Institute of International Affairs. 

  39. Despite nominal support for the U.N.-backed leadership of Libya, under the “Government of National Accord,” Western authorities – most notably, the US and France – have attempted to remain ambiguous vis-à-vis the powerplay of Khalifa Haftar, a former ally of Gaddafi, as well as an erstwhile CIA asset, now backed most fervently by a triple alliance of Egypt, the UAE, and Russia. 

  40. G. Arrighi. 1994. The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times. London: Verso. 

  41. This support, of course, was not universal: particularly in Lebanon, Palestinians faced incredible hostility, in large part driven by the confessional structure of the state, which encoded “sectarian” identity into parliamentary representation, a “balance” that the largely Sunni Palestinian population “threatened” to overthrow. 

  42. A. Norton. 2009. Hezbollah. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 

  43. What might escape a journalistic survey of the Iraq War was that in the few years following the American invasion, political violence – particularly in the apocalyptic strategy of car bombings – had become increasingly directed within the Iraqi population, rather than the US administration or its formal allies, particularly from Sunni militants targeting Shia shrines and populations. M. Davis. 2007. Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb. London: Verso. 

  44. M. Mamdani. 2020. Neither Settler Nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 

  45. Even the ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s was promised “severe consequences” by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett when it had retracted branches occupying in the settlements of the West Bank. 

  46. In the past year, just this dynamic has re-emerged along the Sudanese-Ethiopian border, as an outcome of military opportunism in the context of simmering tensions of Ethiopia’s plans to dam the Nile and against the backdrop of Abiy Ahmed’s apocalyptic counter-insurgency operation in Tigray, which has produced a new wave of refugees fleeing into Sudan. Crisis Group. 2021. Containing the Volatile Sudan-Ethiopia Border Dispute. Crisis Group Africa. 

  47. Walia. Border and Rule

  48. J. Tubiana. C. Warin., & G. M. Saeneen. 2018. Multilateral Damage: The Impact of EU Migration Policies on Central Saharan Routes. Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’. p. 53. 

  49. N. Turse. 2013. Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. New York: Metropolitan Books. 

  50. A. D. Moses. 2021. The Problems of Genocide: Permanent Security and the Language of Transgression. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 35-6. 

  51. N. Gordon & N. Perugini. 2020. Human Shields: A History of People in the Line of Fire. Oakland: University of California Press. 

  52. F. Fanon. [1961]. 2004. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press. 

  53. “Since the late 2000s, gold mining has developed a strong attraction for labour migration across sectors. Agricultural labour has been markedly diverted to the mining sector, with the latter becoming integrated into overall livelihood strategies; for example, as seasonal labour between agricultural activities and as a parallel activity in mines that are close to population settlements. Selling gold is now an economic anchor on all levels: During the current economic crisis, where incomes, liquidity and money value have all been under severe pressure, possession of gold has helped stabilise both low-income households in need of additional income, and large-scale companies in need of foreign currency.” E. Ille, M. Salah, & T. Birhanu. 2021. From Dust to Dollar: Gold Mining and Trade in the Sudan–Ethiopia Borderland. Rift Valley Institute. 

  54. R. Chevrillon-Guibert. 2016. The Gold Boom in Sudan: Challenges and Opportunities for National Players. International Development Policy, 7(1). 

  55. Even at the peak of Myanmar’s genocidal campaign against the Rohingya, Israeli arms manufacturers were openly embracing the military regime and its liberal face – Aung San Suu Kyi. 

  56. In anger at the unauthorized operations of the Black September group in Sudan and, more importantly, the growing weight of economic decline, Nimeiri sought American and Israeli cooperation, which culminated in the smuggling of the Ethiopian Falasha community through Sudan and into Israel. For more, see A. Karadawi. 1991. The Smuggling of the Ethiopian Falasha to Israel through Sudan. African Affairs, 90(358), pp. 23-49. 

  57. Nearing the end of 2018, Omar al-Bashir’s media arm – Sudania 24 – brought forth a roundtable to float the option of explicit normalisation, inviting speakers for and against (لماذا يجب على السودان رفض التطبيع مع إسرائيل ؟ - للنقاش - حال البلد (Why Should Sudan Reject Normalisation with Israel? Discussion - The State of the Country), 2018). 

  58. B. Beit-Hallahmi. 1987. The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why. Pantheon Books. 

  59. J. B. Gallopin. 2020. The Great Game of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in Sudan. Project on Middle East Political Science. 

  60. Perhaps one of the greatest transformations in the context of welfare provisioning has been the growth of direct cash transfers, a policy that not only carries favour among some segments of neoliberal ideologues, but also among the social democratic project of Lula’s Brazil or the incoherent right-wing enterprise of Trump’s America. Its potential consequences, unfortunately, have not been fully recognized, although important literature is now shedding light on the topic. For more on this, see Lavinas, Singer, & Weinstein’s “Party Politics and Social Policy”

  61. M. L. Bowen. 2000. The State against the Peasantry: Rural Struggles in Colonial and Postcolonial Mozambique. United States of America: University Press of Virginia. 

  62. M. Davis. 2006. Planet of Slums. London: Verso. 

  63. From the junta’s point-of-view, the danger that surrounds the kayzan is the legal charges against them, which opens up all of the armed forces to the possibility of prosecution, particularly in international courts. Under these circumstances, the TMC has turned to portraying its reign as a bulwark for “national sovereignty” against illicit foreign encroachment. 

  64. Americans across the political aisle have certainly come to perceive China as a core political and social threat, with vocal support for an anti-China campaign coming from the millenarian depths of the QAnon movement to circles of the self-styled “sensible” wing among left-leaning technocrats. What hasn’t happened, however, is any real convergence around a positive political program, like the one outlined in Biden’s seemingly dead-in-the-water “Build Back Better” campaign. In terms of domestic consequences, the US pursuit has only stoked Sinophobia. 

  65. T. P. Nagy & A. Fitz-Gerald. 2021. Ethiopia -ESAT Insight US/ West Policy Helpful or Harmful Dec 2021. Insight: People, Politics & Power. ESATtv Ethiopia. 

  66. After Israel was set to ethnically cleanse Palestinian residents from Sheikh Jarrah, Israel’s strategic division of the Palestinian people had been sharply rebuked by a new wave of resistance coming from Gaza, ’48 territory, East Jerusalem, and even the PA-held West Bank, counteracted by settler-led pogroms in Palestinian neighborhoods and a mass bombing campaign: Biden followed through with the typical set of diplomatic calls, before approving $735 million worth of arm sales to Israel

  67. One of the most impressive non-violent mobilisations (setting aside the relevant, though distinct, contribution of the communist insurgency) of the 20th century was the People’s Power Movement of the Philippines. It eventually unseated the Marcos dictatorship, but entirely failed to unseat the military apparatus that succeeded into Aquino’s administration. 

  68. Including those unspoken of here, like Russia, which came out immediately in support of Burhan’s rise to power. 


Hassan E.T.