Egypt, Sudan edge closer as security interests converge

The political and security gains Sisi made during his October 25 visit to Khartoum far outweigh the economic gains.
Sunday 04/11/2018
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir (C-L) inspects an honour guard with his Egyptian counterpart  Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C-R) in Khartoum, on October 25. (AFP)
On the right track. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir (C-L) inspects an honour guard with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C-R) in Khartoum, on October 25. (AFP)

CAIRO - The removal of a year-old Sudanese ban on agricultural imports from Egypt and the signing of 12 agreements and memorandums of understanding were apparent plusses from a visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Sudan.

However, the political and security gains Sisi made during his October 25 visit to Khartoum and his talks with President Omar al-Bashir far outweigh the economic gains, analysts said.

“Egypt and Sudan work hard to put their relations on the right track,” said Mona Omar, a former Egyptian assistant foreign minister for African affairs. “The two countries are trying to formulate new strategic relations that go beyond their past differences.”

Sisi was accompanied by cabinet members and businessmen for his sixth visit to Khartoum since he became Egypt’s president in 2013. Overall, he has met with al-Bashir 24 times, an indication of the importance Cairo attaches to relations with its southern neighbour.

“We will work together to turn the aspirations of the peoples of our two countries into tangible realities,” Sisi said after the latest trip ended.

Al-Bashir said strengthening ties with Egypt was not an option for his country. “On the contrary, it is my country’s duty to strengthen its relations with Egypt,” he said. “The world is changing around us, which makes stronger relations between Cairo and Khartoum a necessity.”

Tensions between the two Arab and African capitals included a dispute over a border territory Sudan accuses Egypt of occupying decades ago. Egypt and Sudan were also on opposing sides regarding Libya, the row over Nile water-sharing and the alliances developing in the Middle East.

Sudan recalled its ambassador from Cairo in January to protest attacks on the Sudanese government in Egyptian media.

However, developments in the Horn of Africa and fears that Sudan would fall into the orbit of regional rivals pushed Sisi and al-Bashir to join forces, analysts said.

When relations between Egypt and Sudan deteriorated, Egypt’s regional rivals Turkey and Qatar made overtures to Khartoum. Doha and Istanbul opposed the 2013 overthrow of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in Egypt. Cairo accused both countries of pursuing policies that undermined Egyptian national security and abetted Morsi’s movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt is part of a four-country group boycotting Qatar because of Doha’s suspected meddling in their affairs.

Turkey also expressed concern as Egypt made natural gas discoveries off its Mediterranean Sea coast, only a few nautical miles from Turkish territorial waters.

Egypt closely watched as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Khartoum in December 2017 and signed agreements with the Sudanese government, including one ceding to Ankara administrative control of the island of Suakin near the southern entrance of the Red Sea, a national security red line for Egypt to secure navigation to and from the Suez Canal.

“This is why Egypt is taking a series of major steps to contain Sudan,” said Amany al-Taweel, an Africa specialist at the Egyptian think-tank Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “These policies will ensure that none of Egypt’s rivals would exploit Sudan to harm its national security or interests.”

A peace treaty signed by Eritrea and Ethiopia, with Saudi and Emirati mediation, also caused concern in Khartoum, analysts said. Eritrea has accused Sudan of backing the Eritrean opposition while Sudan has said Eritrea offered training and support to armed opposition against it.

The treaty with Ethiopia, analysts said, would empower Eritrea and, if the country’s tensions with Sudan persist, Asmara would offer more support to the Sudanese armed opposition.

“This is why the feeling in Khartoum is that there is no time for conflicts with Cairo,” said Sudanese political analyst Wayel Ali. “For Khartoum, shared security interests with Cairo are far more important than their traditional conflicts.”