Sudan's Burhan, from relative unknown to head of state

1 / 3

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's new civilian-majority sovereign council, was propelled into the limelight in April when he took the helm of the military junta that ousted longime president Omar al-Bashir

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's new civilian-majority sovereign council, was propelled into the limelight in April when he took the helm of the military junta that ousted longime president Omar al-Bashir (AFP Photo/ASHRAF SHAZLY)

Khartoum (AFP) - Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who was sworn in as the chairman of Sudan's ruling sovereign council Wednesday, was largely unknown before becoming de facto head of state four months ago.

He had played a key but behind-the-scenes role in Sudan's military involvement alongside Saudi Arabia in Yemen and was propelled into the limelight in April when he found himself at the helm of the transitional military council.

The body took charge after longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir was deposed on April 11 following a relentless wave of protests against his regime.

"Veteran soldier" Burhan was sworn in as Sudan's interim leader the following day, after consolidating his position as a player on the regional scene.

Wearing his usual green beret and camouflage uniform, Burhan took the oath Wednesday in a short ceremony, one hand on the Koran and the other holding a military baton over his shoulder.

The sovereign council replaces the transitional military council and will oversee the formation of a government and a legislative body.

After the repeated breakdown of talks between protesters and his military council last spring, Burhan visited Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

- Gulf connections -

The Gulf monarchies are crucial donors to Sudan, depositing an initial $500 million at the central bank since Bashir's ouster as part of a promised $3 billion assistance package to maintain their influence in the country.

On April 12, Burhan became chief of the military council that deposed Bashir, barely a day after the president's immediate successor and former defence minister General Awad Ibn Ouf stepped down.

Protesters, who were determined to see a civilian government after the end of Bashir's three decades of iron-fisted rule, saw Ibn Ouf as a regime insider.

His departure catapulted Burhan from the shadows to the status of de facto head of state.

"Burhan is a high ranking officer within the armed forces, but basically he's a veteran soldier," said an army officer, who did not want to be named.

"He's never been in the limelight like Ibn Ouf or General Kamal Abdelmarouf," the officer said, referring to the army's former chief of staff.

In recent months, he continued to maintain a relatively low profile, often letting other members of the military council talk in front of the cameras.

Burhan had a stint as Sudan's defence attache to Beijing.

- Paramilitary backing -

Hours before he was named as Sudan's new military ruler, he was seen talking to protesters camped outside the army headquarters in central Khartoum.

Born in 1960 in the village of Gandatu, north of Khartoum, Burhan studied at a Sudanese military academy and later in Egypt and Jordan.

The general is married and has three children.

He was commander of ground forces before Bashir made him inspector general of the army in February.

Sudanese media and analysts say Burhan coordinated sending Sudanese troops to Yemen as part of a Saudi-led coalition against Iran-aligned Huthi rebels.

Willow Berridge, author of Civil Uprisings in Modern Sudan and lecturer in history at Newcastle University, says the Yemen portfolio saw Burhan work closely with Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

It was with the RSF's support that Burhan took Sudan's top job, said Berridge.

"The role in this latest move of the Rapid Support Forces -- branded by many as a revamped version of the Janjaweed militias who committed mass atrocities in Darfur -- will make many cautious," he said.

Bashir deployed Sudanese troops to Yemen in 2015 as part of a major foreign policy shift that saw Khartoum break its longstanding ties with Tehran and join the Saudi-led coalition.

The Sudanese military has suffered significant casualties in Yemen.