Egypt-Sudan tensions rise as each side sticks to its guns
Cairo - Tensions between Cairo and Khartoum remained high following a meeting in Cairo between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Sudanese counterpart Ibrahim Ghandour. Although both officials highlighted bilateral ties between the countries and praised the “frank” and “transparent” talks, there was no indication of any solution to the sources of dispute.
Sovereignty of the disputed Halayeb Triangle remains a major sticking point between Khartoum and Cairo. Egypt has also expressed anger over recent comments by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
“There are deeply entrenched relations capable of overcoming whatever is inflicted upon them. We are working towards a frank dialogue capable of removing misunderstandings and confusions,” Shoukry said.
Cairo has reacted particularly angrily to Sudanese accusations that Egypt is backing armed opposition groups in its restive Darfur region. Al-Bashir accused Cairo of conspiring against Sudan and backing armed groups in Darfur after Sudanese troops foiled an opposition attack on May 21 and captured what he described as Egyptian armoured vehicles.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi vehemently refuted the claim and said Cairo followed an “honest” foreign policy and did not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. Sisi, however, later threatened to strike training camps of militants who attack Egypt, regardless of where they are. Egypt attacked suspected Islamic State (ISIS) targets in north-western Libya after the extreme jihadist group claimed responsibility for a massacre of Coptic Christians.
Analysts said Egypt could target terrorist camps in Sudan but such a unilateral move would exacerbate tensions between Cairo and Khartoum.
“Egypt is angry at unrelenting harassment by the Sudanese president who seeks to pick a verbal fight with his country’s northern neighbour whenever there is an internal problem in Sudan,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “Egypt has more than enough reasons to view Sudan and its leader with suspicion.”
Those reasons include Sudan’s support for a massive dam being constructed by Ethiopia on the Nile. Egyptian officials have expressed concern that Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam would lessen its Nile water supply and create dangerous water shortages in the country. In addition to Khartoum’s recent decision — citing health issues — to ban agricultural and animal products from Egypt, something that Cairo has denied and said was a political decision.
Another reason, Fahmi said, is al- Bashir’s claim that Egypt is illegally occupying a border territory known as the Halayeb Triangle. Khartoum said it would seek international arbitration to repatriate the 20,580 sq.km territory.
Although Sisi did not mention Sudan explicitly, Cairo’s expanded counterterrorist policy has fuelled tensions between Egypt and Sudan. Media reports in Cairo said Sudanese officials demanded clarification defining the new policy.
“We have information that Egyptian arms are in the hands of militants in Darfur,” said Abdul- Mahmoud Abdul-Halim, Sudan’s ambassador in Cairo. “We have seized some of these arms already and we will try to understand the matter from Egypt.”
He defended his country’s position on the Renaissance Dam, saying Sudan had the right to serve its national interests by backing projects that would benefit the country.
“Sudan was hoping to turn the Nile River into a source of cooperation among its basin member states, not a source of tension,” Abdul-Halim said.
Cairo, however, said accusations that it is backing the Sudanese opposition are false and that its foreign policy is based on non-interference and respect for the sovereignty of other countries.
“This is particularly so in our relations with countries with which we have special brotherly ties like Sudan,” said Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid.
Egypt is part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur and has peacekeeping troops in the western Sudanese region.
Cairo appears alarmed at the quick rise in animosity towards it in Sudan. Al-Bashir said Sudan would practise restraint towards Egypt’s occupation of the Halayeb Triangle.
The Sudanese government banned Egyptian imports on May 24 but Egyptian Agriculture Ministry spokesman Hamed Abdel Dayem said Egyptian agricultural products had been denied entry into Sudan for months.
These are all measures, Egyptian political analysts said, that reflected Khartoum’s insistence on escalation.
“The thing the Sudanese leadership does not want to understand is that Sudan’s stability is very important to Egypt’s national security,” said Hani Rasalan, an Egyptian writer on Egyptian-African relations. “This is why, if it acts to destabilise Sudan, Egypt will be harming its own security first and foremost.”