Hemedti manoeuvres to brand war against Sudan army as fight against former regime Islamists

RSF paramilitaries (File photo: SUNA)

KHARTOUM – April 17, 2023

As the fight between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continues, notorious RSF Commander Lt Gen Mohamed ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo aims to frame SAF Commander Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan as an anti-democratic radical Islamist whilst framing himself as a proponent of a democratic Sudan, sparking accusations of hypocrisy.

In a recent thread on Twitter this morning, Hemedti called on the international community to “take action now and intervene against the crimes of Sudanese General Abdelfattah El Burhan, a radical Islamist who is bombing civilians from the air”.

In his tweets, the commander of the paramilitary RSF presents a narrative in which El Burhan is a dictatorial Islamist whilst his RSF are fighting to restore democracy: “His army is waging a brutal campaign against innocent people, bombing them with MiGs.

“We are fighting against radical Islamists who hope to keep Sudan isolated and in the dark, and far removed from democracy. We will continue to pursue El Burhan and bring him to justice.

“The fight that we are waging now is the price of democracy. We did not attack anyone. Our actions are merely a response to the siege and assault against our forces. We are fighting for the people of Sudan to ensure the democratic progress, for which they have so long yearned.

‘The fight that we are waging now is the price of democracy’ – Hemedti

“We are taking every possible measure to ensure the safety and security of the people. We will not allow any harm to come to them, and we will do everything within our power to protect democracy and uphold rule of law in Sudan. We will prevail and achieve peace and stability.”

Hemedti also told Al Hadath Arabic news outlet yesterday that the RSF are fighting El Burhan and his Islamist gang within the SAF, not the army itself.”

This fits in a trend Hemedti has followed for the past months, calling the coup a mistake and warning of “elements of the defunct regime of seeking to drive a wedge between the Sudanese army and the RSF” in a speech.

In such recent speeches, the RSF and the SAF brushed up against each other, solidifying rumours of a split.


The comments are perhaps surprising from the commander of a militia that was set up by the ousted Al Bashir regime to repress a revolt over ethnic discrimination and they were deployed to commit genocide in Darfur.

The RSF is also widely believed to be responsible for atrocities in the Kordofan and Darfur regions in the past years and is also widely condemned for their role in the October 25 military coup and subsequent violence against pro-democracy protesters. 

The potential hypocrisy was not left unnoted by some Twitter users. Many responded with laughing emojis, GIFs, or ‘wanted’ posters featuring Hemedti, but some were more serious.

“The international community is not silly to believe that a disobedient militia with a long history of war crimes is fighting for democracy. A militia that steels [and] smuggles the Sudanese gold in support of the Russian counterpart,” one wrote.

“The international community must put you on trial, you are the El Burhan,” another user said.

A BBC journalist pointed out that an RSF legal advisor recently cited a bill passed by the Al Bashir regime to legitimise the existence of the RSF, highlighting its origins in the previous dictatorship.

There are also reports of current misbehaviour. Several journalists reported that there is looting and robbing in Nyala, South Darfur, since the RSF took over the airport and the city.

Selma Ahmed told The Guardian from Nyala that her neighbourhood has been deserted. “Nobody has remained here, the fight was heavy, people had to flee and reports of looting by armed forces – they love taking cars, even if the car can’t move they just [take it] with a bigger vehicle.”

NCP influence

Nevertheless, an array of Sudanese parties have pointed fingers at supporters of ousted dictator Omar Al Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) and accused them of being behind the recent rise and escalation of tensions between Sudan’s main armed forces.

Several sources told Radio Dabanga from Khartoum and Omdurman that “many people fear that when the army beats the RSF, the Islamists will seize power again”.

‘Many people fear that when the army beats the RSF, the Islamists will seize power again’

The high ranks of the army largely consist of a loyal clan of Islamist Al Bashir supporters, called kezan* by many Sudanese.

Journalist Mat Nashed explained that many Sudanese civilians say that this is a face-off between the ‘keizan’ and the RSF and that El Burhan is “under pressure from within”. “Indeed, a new political agreement would have hurt the Keizan the most and bestowed the legitimacy to its rival the RSF,” he wrote on social media.

In a statement to the leadership of the SAF and RSF yesterday, the mainstream Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC-Central Council) said it would continue “ringing the alarm bell about the plans of members of the (disbanded) National Congress Party (NCP) regime to drag the country into a devastating war with the aim of blocking the path to a civil democratic transition”.

“These plans surfaced clearly after the fuse of the battle was ignited and confirmed that they are the party that began this war, and they are the ones who hope to harvest its results,” the FFC-CC wrote.

The FFC-CC called on the Sudanese to confront these plans and “not to allow them to be passed under any cover whatsoever”. They further urged the people “to refrain from hate speech, incitement, and fuelling war”.

Fake news

Journalists have warned of the large amount of unverified and false information making the rounds on the internet as both sides claim victories.

After state media had to halt live broadcasts after clashes in Omdurman, or were shut down, the SAF and the RSF have turned to social media to make (competing) statements, including claims of control of strategic buildings and sites.

Press organisations are working hard to verify claims and footage. Beam Reports confirmed that footage circulating on the internet of a destroyed building of the General Command of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) is indeed true.

Social media users, however, also identified that footage from Syria in 2020 was used by the RSF to claim that they shot down a SAF plane.

* Kezan, or kizan, is a pejorative nickname used by many Sudanese to refer to Islamist loyalists to the regime of Omar Al Bashir (1989-2019) and who enjoyed far-fetching privileges during his rule. The word is the plural of koz which means ‘wooden or iron mug’. The nickname is based on a description the Muslim Brotherhood called themselves, when the founder of the group, the Egyptian Hasan El Banna, said “Religion is a sea, and we are the mugs that draw from it”.