Implications of Advocating for Arming “Civilians” in Sudan – The Arab Wall
Implications of Advocating for Arming “Civilians” in Sudan

Implications of Advocating for Arming “Civilians” in Sudan

Calls to arm civilians, both generally and specifically in East Sudan, raise concerns about the potential expansion of the conflict, potentially transforming it into a civil war. This is particularly alarming given the anticipated adverse outcomes associated with such a strategy, including the exacerbation of tribal rivalries that could escalate into a full-fledged civil war. Moreover, there is a looming risk of East Sudan becoming embroiled in a broader regional conflict, as eastern tribes may spill over porous borders into neighboring countries.

The conflict in Sudan, marked by a violent struggle between the army and the Rapid Support Forces for over eight months, has witnessed a southward advancement of the support forces. In this context, there has been a recent surge in calls to arm “civilians” in Sudan, with a specific focus on the eastern region. Entities identifying themselves as “Armed Popular Resistance” have propagated this call in areas controlled by the army, spanning the states of White Nile, Blue Nile, and the Eastern Sudan region.

Furthermore, it is important to highlight that the Council of Baja Eyeglasses in the East has convened meetings with local administrations to facilitate coordinated participation in what is termed “fighting alongside the army and providing support to it.” Conversely, the Rapid Support Forces have issued calls for individuals in the areas under their control to volunteer for arming, underscoring the objective as “protecting their regions.”

Negative Impacts

The adverse consequences of arming civilians, both in general and specifically in East Sudan, manifest on various fronts, with key aspects including:

1. Insecurity and the Risk of Civil War: The evident possibility of instability and the potential for civil war is clear in the precarious security situation in East Sudan. This is further amplified by the influx of substantial quantities of diverse weapons into the region, originating from neighboring geographic and regional countries during the tribal conflict that erupted two years ago. This scenario primes conflicting tribes to actively participate in the ongoing conflict that commenced on April 15th between the army and the Rapid Support Forces.

Sudan has a significant history of grappling with the consequences of arming civilians, as evidenced by the escalation of conflicts, notably in the Darfur region in 2003. This conflict resulted in more than 300,000 casualties and the displacement of 2.5 million people from their homes, according to United Nations estimates. An official statistical report from 2018 indicates the presence of 5 million weapons distributed across various Sudanese regions. However, the research group “Small Arms Survey” reports that only 6.6% of Sudanese individuals own firearms.

When factoring in the weapons accessible to armed militias—whether acquired under agreements or outside them—Sudan as a whole, not just the eastern region, assumes the character of a “volcano’s crater.”

2. Tribal Competition Issues: The deliberate politicization of tribes in Sudan, orchestrated by the Bashir regime in its efforts to enlist tribal support and create a loyal tribal bloc, has resulted in the increasing prominence of tribal identity at the expense of national unity. This shift has heightened social divisions, with tribes becoming the focal point for political and social conflicts, shaping the country’s conflicts along tribal lines in both social and economic spheres.

This phenomenon is particularly evident in East Sudan, not only in the ongoing endeavors to resolve developmental challenges and resource disputes among the region’s tribes but also in the aspirations for self-governance and self-determination. These demands periodically intensify within the region, leading to conflicts among the indigenous population and with migrants from other Sudanese regions, including groups from the Masalit, Fur, Hausa tribes, and the Zaghawa.

Due to the East region’s historical marginalization, some tribal groups have resorted to armed actions against the central authority in Khartoum, exemplified by entities like the Baja Conference Party and the East Black Front. The current calls for arming civilians raise concerns that the conflicts between the region’s components may escalate, heightening the risk of a civil war.

3. Ramifications of the Spread of Sudanese Tribes across Porous Borders: In the East, where the calls for arming are intensifying, the region, marked by its distinctive geopolitical features, not only becomes susceptible to the internal dynamics of neighboring countries, especially Ethiopia and Eritrea but also to the complexities of international power struggles along the shores of the Red Sea. Given the expansion and geographical tribal affiliations, along with the existing uncertainties regarding Sudan’s future, this could potentially result in a conflict whose repercussions might extend into the neighboring regions of Sudan.

Given that certain components of the East, particularly the tribal ones, extend into Eritrea and Ethiopia, this tribal expansion has transformed East Sudan into a breeding ground for numerous opposition movements against the ruling regimes in Ethiopia. Additionally, it has served as a sanctuary for Eritrean liberation movements engaged in their struggle against Ethiopia, facilitated by the continuous assimilation process of elements entering the Sudanese interior.

Furthermore, the provision of external support, both morally and materially, to specific tribal components, including funding and facilitating their access to weapons, has heightened tribal tensions in the East region. This has compelled other tribal elements to arm themselves in defense of their existence.

4. Impact on the Positions of Local Forces in the Ongoing Conflict: The eruption of the conflict between the army and support forces has introduced new political dynamics, prompting concerns about the future of East Sudan amid growing threats to the country’s unity and heightened risks. The calls for the indiscriminate arming of civilians and tribes, or the formation of armed militias in the East region to support the army against the support forces, expose Sudan to some of the most severe possibilities in its modern history of internal conflicts.

Consequently, East Sudan emerges as a focal point for polarization and political as well as military confrontations between the conflicting parties in Sudan. This is further complicated by alignments that will take shape along existing tension lines, primarily between tribal groups, whether they identify as indigenous to the region or are categorized as newcomers.

5. Transformation of the East Region into a Zone of Regional Conflict: While the crisis in the East Sudan region initially originated as a local issue, regional interventions from neighboring countries, notably Eritrea and Ethiopia, have become entwined with the societal differences within Sudan.

Moreover, the struggles for international and regional influence and dominance along the shores of the Red Sea are integral to the broader Sudanese crisis. The tribal interactions and drivers of conflict in East Sudan, specifically, are interconnected with the ambitions of Russia, Turkey, and Iran to establish a presence on the Red Sea. This is accomplished by exploiting tribal discord to activate previous agreements with the Bashir regime regarding the establishment of military bases in Port Sudan or the port of Suakin.

Future Scenarios

In this context, it can be asserted that advocating for arming civilians and its potential consequences will not contribute to the military resolution sought by the warring parties. Instead, it is likely to precipitate a widespread civil war, given the prevailing tribal biases that permeate the social fabric of the region. For instance, the supportive stance of the army, articulated by Mohamed Al-Amin Turek, the head of the High Council of Baja Eyeglasses, may compel other tribal forces, particularly those historically in conflict with Baja tribes like the Bani Amer and the Rashaayda, to align with the Rapid Support Forces. This alignment would be driven by shared interests with these forces.

As a result, the absence of a peaceful resolution through negotiation between the warring factions may propel the conflict in Sudan into various scenarios. Calls for war and racial inclinations, including the notion of reducing Sudan to a state of “Sea and River,” have the potential to reshape power dynamics and tribal alignments in East Sudan and other regions. If social forces in the East fail to overcome their historical differences, arming tribes in the region presents two scenarios: a recurrence of the “Darfur” scenario or a replication of the “South Sudan secession” scenario. This places the future of Sudan as a nation in jeopardy.