The HMS Al Diriyah, a 102-metre-long Saudi warship, is typically used to escort oil tankers through the Red Sea and in training exercises with Western naval powers.

But this week the vessel carried out a different kind of mission: transporting shell-shocked civilians from conflict-hit Sudan to safety on Saudi soil.It was part of a broader evacuation effort that has given Saudi Arabia a central role in Sudan’s crisis, putting the Gulf kingdom’s regional clout on display for a global audience.

As of Monday, Saudi Arabia had welcomed more than 5,400 civilian evacuees, the vast majority of them foreigners representing 102 countries on six continents.

“I’ve been terribly impressed with all of their work to help evacuate people, to put their navy at the disposal of people fleeing,” said Cameron Hudson of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

“This is an opportunity to burnish their reputation a few hundred kilometres from Yemen, where some of their worst behaviour has played out,” Hudson added, referring to the war in which a Saudi-led military coalition has killed and injured thousands of civilians in air strikes since 2015.

Some analysts warn, though, that the evacuations risk overshadowing the complex role Saudi Arabia and other outside powers have played in Sudan’s turmoil, especially their support for the two generals at the heart of it.

The fighting — which has killed hundreds and wounded thousands so far — partly resulted from “gentle hand-holding” of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and paramilitary leader Mohamed Hamdan Daglo when the world should have insisted on real reform, said Kholood Khair, founder of the Khartoum-based think tank Confluence Advisory.

“This is a momentary reprieve for the international community to focus on evacuations as the main story, rather than how we got here,” Khair said.

“It’s as if the evacuation efforts are the only story.”

The Punch Newspaper


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