Egypt, Sudan tensions stocked by border incident
Cairo - Tensions have increased between Egypt and Sudan since the killing of six Sudanese migrants who were trying to cross from Egypt into Israel. Egyptian and Sudanese analysts said those stresses are only the tip of the iceberg.
The Egyptian army said on November 23rd its troops killed six Sudanese nationals who were trying to enter Israel from the Sinai peninsula.
Sinai has served as a transit area into Israel for African migrants for years but the recent killings led to calls by Sudanese legislators to sever relations with Egypt. They are also demanding an official apology from Cairo.
A few days earlier, a Sudanese citizen was reported to have been tortured at an Egyptian jail. Footage broadcast by Qatari news channel Al Jazeera, which pursues an editorial policy critical of Egypt, showed marks of physical torture on the man.
Political observers in Cairo said the “sensational” reaction in Sudan’s media and at parliament to the killing of the six Sudanese nationals is a symptom of deeper tensions between Cairo and Khartoum.
“The new regime in Egypt views with scepticism the Islamist-led regime of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan,” said Amani el-Tawel, an expert on Egyptian-African relations from local think-tank Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “Both regimes follow two different and irreconcilable political ideologies.”
Since becoming president in 2013, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ferociously cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s biggest Islamist organisation, which received support from Qatar and Turkey.
Al-Bashir’s regime has especially strong ties with Qatar and Turkey.
However, the differences between Egypt and Sudan — countries bound together by the Nile river and shared history — seem to be more than just ideological differences between the two rulers.
Cairo has been looking with suspicion at the role played by Khartoum in Libya, which has descended from revolution to total lawlessness since the overthrow of long-standing leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Libya’s Egypt-backed legitimate government has accused Sudan of delivering arms to Islamist militias.
“Khartoum has been playing a very negative role in Libya by providing the country’s militias with arms,” Tawel said. “This has had negative effects on Egypt’s security as well.”
Egypt said the guns given to Libya’s militants often end up being used against troops and policemen in Sinai and on the western border with Libya. Turmoil in Libya forced Cairo to increase security along its border with Libya, further exhausting Egypt’s overstretched military.
A disputed border triangle also continues to strain relations between Egypt and Sudan. Sudan says the Halayeb triangle was occupied by Egypt but Cairo says the area is Egyptian territory and refuses to discuss the issue with Khartoum.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour recently said Sudan had filed a complaint with the UN Security Council against Egypt over the disputed region.
Ruqaya Abdel Kadir, a Sudanese dissident living in Cairo, said al-Bashir provokes tension with Egypt over the triangle every now and then to deflect attention from the economic and political failures of his regime.
“In this way, the disputed territory acts like a lifeboat for this man [al-Bashir],” Abdel Kadir said. “Al-Bashir’s government has failed at every level at home, while its international isolation increases day after day.”
In recent months, Cairo has grown more sceptical of Khartoum because of what Egyptians call the latter’s lack of cooperation on a multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dam built by Ethiopia on the Nile, virtually Egypt’s only source of water.
Egypt is concerned that the dam, which is about 40% complete, would significantly keep Nile water away from it, aggravating its water shortages.
Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have been involved in technical negotiations over the dam for four-and-a-half years but the talks have produced nothing. The feeling grows in Cairo that Khartoum is taking sides with Addis Ababa against Egypt’s demand that the dam be designed in a way that does not harm it.
Local newspapers recently quoted unnamed Arab sources who said that al-Bashir made his mediation between Egypt and Ethiopia over the dam conditional on Egypt ceding the Halayeb triangle to Sudan, giving credence to the Egyptian view that he is not an honest broker in the negotiations with Ethiopia.