Burhan rose to prominence for the first time in 2019 when he and his top generals overthrew Omar al-Bashir. This was after massive protests against Omar al-Bashir's 30-year-old rule.
He was in control for many months until international pressure forced the military into a power-sharing agreement with the protesters. This created a joint civil-military Sovereign Council led by Burhan, which was to govern Sudan until 2023 elections.
Burhan's criminal record was clean, and he wasn't indicted by the International Criminal Court like al Bashir or others for crimes against humanity during Darfur conflict of 2000s. He was an uncommon non-Islamist among top generals under al-Bashir’s military-Islamist regime. This helped Sudan escape the international pariah status that it was under al-Bashir.
Burhan destroyed all vestiges of civilian government on Monday. Burhan disbanded the Sovereign Council, the transitional government and detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, as well as other officials. He declared a state emergency. Hamdok was released on Tuesday. However, others are still in custody.
This took place just weeks before Burhan (61), was due to be replaced as the head of the council by a civilian. Burhan has stated that the military would hand power over to civilians once a government is elected in 2023.
Civilian control could not only weaken the military's political power but also threaten its vast financial resources. It could also lead to prosecutions of rights violations over the past 30 years.
Burhan has been backed in recent years by Egypt, led by a general-turned-president, and Gulf countries, particularly the United Arab Emirates. Burhan was educated at Egypt's military college, and has visited Abu Dhabi's crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan multiple times since 2019.
As a sign of the crucial behind-the scenes role of Gulf countries Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary for State, spoke to the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday about Sudan. According to the State Department, both men strongly condemned the military coup.
Monday's statement by Egypt and other Gulf countries was not critical of the coup and called for calm and dialogue.
"There is a preference for strong military leaders who are very transactional. Cameron Hudson, an ex-state department official and Sudan expert at Atlantic Council's Africa Center, said that this suits Gulf interests better than a democratic state.
He said that they were afraid of the success stories of the Arab Spring, referring to 2011's uprisings that sparked the Sudanese protests.
RSF fighters played a key role in Monday's coup. They took part in the arrest of Hamdok and other high-ranking officials as well as in the clamping down on the streets. The force is essentially a "defacto parallel army of tens-of thousands of battle-tested combatants," Suliman Baldo said, senior adviser to The Sentry, an investigative, policy, and research group that focuses on war crimes in Africa.
Burhan is close to Dagalo, also known as Hemedti. Baldo stated that Burhan was a commander of Darfur where the military and RSF waged an aggressive campaign to end an insurgency. In a campaign to mass rape, abuse and kill, as many as 300,000.
He distanced himself from the atrocities and once told the BBC that he was not responsible for them.
Burhan and Dagalo coordinated in 2015 the deployment of Sudanese soldiers and RSF fighters into Yemen to support the Saudi-led coalition against the Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels. They received large payments from the Saudis as well as Emiratis for their forces, strengthening their connections with these countries.
Burhan and Dagalo refused to disperse protesters violently during the rebellion against al-Bashir and met with them at their camp. Behind the scenes, Egypt and Saudi Arabia encouraged them to expel al-Bashir.
Protests continued even after al-Bashir's death, with calls for the military's surrender. The protesters were attacked by security forces and RSF fighters on June 2, 2019. Over 100 people were killed and dozens of women were raped by soldiers. Paramilitary forces were blamed by the prosecution, but protestors saw bloodshed in Burhan and Dagalo.
Osman Mirgany (a Khartoum-based columnist, editor of al-Tayar) said that Burhan was responsible for the incident because he was the leader. "He had promised not to touch this sit-in, and then there was a massacre. People realized that he would not keep his promises.
This skepticism is a concern for military opponents who doubt Burhan's claims of civilian rule. Baldo of the Sentry group said that both Dagalo and the general are determined to remain free from civilian oversight.
He said that they were "concerned about being accountable for atrocity crime committed under their command" in Darfur as well as in the 2019 sit in killings and rapes.