Egypt-Sudan tension subsides but future uncertain

Sunday 30/04/2017
Different agendas. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (L) and his Sudanese counterpart Ibrahim Ghandour give a news conference in Khartoum, on April 20. (AFP)

Cairo- Despite assurances to the contrary by the Egyp­tian Foreign Ministry, relations between Egypt and Sudan are expected to deteriorate because of the coun­tries’ different regional agendas and contrasting national interests, political analysts said.

“Cairo and Khartoum do their best to sweep their differences un­der the carpet but how long these efforts will endure is a question nobody can answer,” said Hani Ra­slan, a researcher at the think-tank al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “The Sudanese government picks trouble with Egypt whenever it has an internal problem.”

The two neighbouring Arab-Af­rican countries were on the verge of a diplomatic crisis in April when Sudan accused Egypt of pressuring the UN Security Council to main­tain an arms embargo on Sudan against the background of what the international community described as atrocities committed in the west­ern Sudanese Darfur region.

On April 12th, Sudanese Defence Minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf told the Sudanese Parliament that the Egyptian Army was provok­ing Sudanese troops near Halayeb, disputed territory on the Egyptian- Sudanese border.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was to visit Khartoum in early April but the trip was called off because of what Cairo described as a “sand storm.” The cancellation was two days after Sudan imposed entry visas on Egyptians between 16 and 50 years of age.

By mid-month, however, Shouk­ry had arrived in Khartoum for talks with Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour. The diplomats signed an agreement to prevent the media from exacerbating their ten­sions.

“The agreement continues to be effective and makes success,” Egyp­tian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said by telephone. “Some people just want to fuel ani­mosity between the two states. He described relations between Egypt and Sudan as “profound” and “stra­tegic.”

This, political analysts said, is less about the countries’ controlled media and more about their diver­gent political agendas and national interests, which is why success in keeping the lid on differences is un­certain.

“Look at all regional files and you will find both states standing at op­posite ends,” said political analyst Said al-Lawindi. “This is true when it comes to Libya, Nile water-shar­ing and relations with the Gulf.”

Libya, which has suffered unrest since the downfall of the Muam­mar Qaddafi regime in 2011, has, in Egypt and Sudan, two neighbours with varying positions.

Egypt supports the National Lib­yan Army, which is commanded by Qaddafi-era officers and controls most of the eastern and northern parts of Libya. Sudan used to sup­port Islamist militia fighting against this army.

When the row over a multibil­lion-dollar dam built by Ethiopia over the Nile, Egypt’s only source of water, became vocal a few years ago, Sudan sided with Ethiopia. Khartoum has plans to benefit from electricity generated by the dam. Egypt considers the dam a catastrophe severely limiting its water supply.

In recent months, when Egypt’s relations with Saudi Arabia were strained because of differences on Syria and other regional issues, relations between Khartoum and Riyadh strengthened at a pace sur­prising to Egyptians.

“True, each country has the right to follow the policies that best serve its interests but the fact is that differences between Cairo and Khartoum are far larger in number than agreements,” Raslan said. “This does not augur well for rela­tions between the two capitals in the future.”

The fact that rulers in both Cairo and Khartoum follow different ideological lines can be one reason why the gap between the two will keep widening, experts said.

Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir has Islamist leanings and is probably sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, the same movement being fiercely fought by Egyptian authorities both inside Egypt and at the regional level.

Cairo also accuses al-Bashir of offering refuge to Muslim Brother­hood leaders and activists.

Sudan cannot be ignored or avoided by Egypt for several rea­sons, experts said.

“It is in Egypt’s backyard and the country the Nile crosses before it reaches Egypt,” Lawindi said. “This is why Egypt needs to man­age its differences with Sudan but even here success is far from certain.”