Egypt-Sudan tensions rise as each side sticks to its guns

Sunday 11/06/2017
Deadlock. Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour (R) speaks with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry following a news conference in Khartoum, last April. (AFP)

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 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.”