The independent | Sudan’s rising strongman has a fragile grip on the military – and a bloody civil war looms

Sudan remains locked in standoff that risks a third, and grislier, military coup. The conflict, on the face of it, is simple. The military and its associated paramilitary forces are resolved to thwart the people’s ambitions to establish civilian democratic rule. But there is more to it than that.

By the tens of thousands on Sunday, the people of Sudan indulged in the frankly courageous act of exerting their young and fragile freedom once again. The main protest site outside the military headquarters was cleared in early June by General Mohamed Hamdan’s paramilitary unit, the Rapid Support Forces: more than 100 protesters perished, and ever since the country has been caught between the military junta and the civilian revolutionaries.

Hamdan, known as Hemeti, fits into a region divided between authoritarian monarchs and military strongmen. As time passes, this uneducated former camel trader’s ambitions have grown into a broader regional gambit, where military generals are an insurance policy the oil-rich monarchies.

Hemeti sees himself as the legitimate successor to a dynasty of military rulers in the Middle East. As the former enforcer of the despot Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who he later helped dislodge from power, the upstart general would not contemplate any power sharing with the rival civilian Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition. The incarceration of its leaders is becoming increasingly likely.

Hemeti is the ultimate threat to the revolution and to any hopes for a democratic transformation in Sudan. He walks a thin line between different versions of himself. For the Gulf patrons, who pledged $3bn in April to prop up the new military regime, he is the guarantor of a sensitive and delicately maintained equilibrium between ideologies, battle-hardened militias and ethnic diversity. 

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