The little-known general leading Sudan's transition

Despite his high rank, Lt Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan enjoyed relative obscurity before the uprising

epa07783657 Leader of Sudan's transitional council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan looks on after  being sworn in as the Head of the newly formed transitional Council at the presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan, 21 August 2019. The Sudanese opposition and military council signed on 17 August a power sharing agreement. The agreement sets up a sovereign council made of five generals and six civilians, to rule the country until general elections. Protests had erupted in Sudan at the end of 2018, culminating in a long sit-in outside the army headquarters which ended with more than one hundred people being killed and others injured. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stepped down on 11 April 2019  EPA/STRINGER
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Lt Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, the man who will oversee the initial phase of Sudan's transition to a full-fledged democracy after decades of authoritarian rule under Omar Al Bashir, was largely unknown before the military toppled the former president in April.

A veteran of the Sudanese armed forces, Gen Al Burhan, 59, passed largely under the radar even when he was assigned a new senior role in February as Mr Al Bashir sought to shore up his power in the face of months-long protests against his rule and declared a year-long state of emergency.

Beside dissolving the national and state governments and replacing state governors with military officials, Mr Al Bashir also appointed Gen Al Burhan, an infantry officer who was then commander of Sudan's land forces, as inspector general of the army.

When the armed forces removed Mr Al Bashir from office on April 11, Gen Al Burhan was just one of the faces on the transitional military council that assumed power. But he was catapulted into the spotlight a day later when he was chosen as council chairman after Gen Awad Ibn Auf stepped down from the post. Whereas his predecessor was rejected by Sudanese as being merely another face of the Al Bashir regime, Gen Al Burhan is seen as being free of any political ties.

"Burhan is a high ranking officer within the armed forces, but basically he's a veteran soldier," a Sudanese army officer, who did not want to be named, told The National at the time.

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

"Burhan doesn't have any political leanings, he is a professional soldier," the officer said.

Born in 1960 to a Sufi family in the village of Gandatu, north of Khartoum, Gen Al Burhan studied in a Sudanese army college and later in Egypt and Jordan. He is married and has three children.

Gen Al Burhan had a stint as Sudan's defence attache to Beijing, but it was Sudan's contribution to the Arab Coalition supporting Yemen's government that helped to raise his profile in the region. As commander of Sudanese land forces, Gen Al Burhan liaised with senior officials from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the leading coalition members, in the deployment of Sudanese troops in Yemen.

The two Gulf countries have already pledged a combined $3 billion to help revive Sudan's ailing economy and support the country through its transition, and Gen Al Burhan's stewardship of the sovereign council, the de facto executive body, in the first 21 months of the 39-month transition period will be crucial to ensuring continued global support.

Maisoun Badawi, a Sudanese American economist whose relatives served in the military with Gen Burhan, said she believed he did not have ambitions to hold on to power.

"Burhan is a pure military guy and he has no political affiliations. I'm confident in him," she told The National soon after he assumed leadership of the transitional military council. "Before he became a visible figure, he was walking over to soldiers that were protecting protesters and talking with them.

“His notions are good, and he is affirming to people that he is a nationalist who is concerned with the well-being of Sudan.”