by DR. ABDELLATIF EL-MENAWY
Egypt and Sudan have been one country since ancient times; both peoples are bonded by brotherhood, love and cordiality. But, on the political level, we often find what disturbs this good relationship.
These disturbances increased almost a quarter of a century ago for many reasons, but what was most important was the frequent changes in the Sudanese political scene and the rise of strict movements to the highest levels, which made agreements among politicians of the two countries a difficult matter.
Egypt is extremely important for Sudan and, similarly, Khartoum is important for Cairo, with Egypt being the most important and biggest country in the region (it is the heart of developments and the main driving force for all policies and orientations) and given Sudan’s strategic importance. Egypt’s southern neighbor has, however, also been a cause of concern with regard to terrorism.
Egypt was not influential — either by action or by opinion — in relation to what has happened in the Sudanese political scene this year. In the wake of protests all over Sudan, there were visits and statements by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and public support was offered to former President Omar Al-Bashir and his regime.
After the Sudanese people insisted on completing their journey, Bashir was overthrown and Egypt disappeared from Sudan’s political scene. It then called for neighboring countries to extend the time given to the transitional military council to hand over power to civilians from two weeks to two months. As a result, protests twice headed to the Egyptian Embassy in Khartoum to condemn that move and state that Egypt was standing against the revolution.
After the political equation in Sudan saw an agreement between the military and the forces of change, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly appeared at the “Joy of Sudan” celebrations, where the political and constitutional declaration was signed by the two sides. He also gave a speech clarifying Egypt’s support for what had happened.
The Sudanese reception for Madbouly’s speech was not on a level befitting a country as big and important on the international and regional level as Egypt, and was not in line with Egypt being the head of the African Union this year. The reasons for the half-hearted reception were understandable, but what was most incredible was how Egypt completely cleared the scene for the Ethiopian presence. Addis Ababa had presented a mediation that met with the acceptance of the Sudanese people, and this was clear in the warm reception granted to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s speech during the signing of the agreement.
On the other hand, some Sudanese brothers acted inappropriately by protesting in front of Egyptian embassies in many cities around the world. Similarly, it was not appropriate for Sudan — or some of its forces more precisely — to attempt to transfer the tension and terrorism to Egypt, as well as side with Ethiopia in the negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
The media should take a significant amount of the blame on both sides. The Egyptian media completely ignored what was happening in Sudan, as if it was a country in the Arctic or Latin America. As for the Sudanese media, it also contributed to spreading unfounded rumors, with some members of anti-Egypt Islamist movements trying to exaggerate the disagreements, which contributed to broadening the gap between the two sides.
Egypt was not influential — either by action or by opinion — in relation to what has happened in the Sudanese political scene this year.
There are also historical mistakes on the Egyptian side that could have easily been avoided, such as the treatment of former Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi last year. He was detained for many hours at Cairo’s international airport and refused entry to the country as a result of the Bashir regime’s demands. There was also the case of Mohammed Hasan Al-Boshi, a prominent opposition figure who faced up to the leaders of the former Sudanese regime for their corruption and the devastation they caused, who was reportedly arrested in Egypt and handed over to the Khartoum authorities.
On the other hand, Sudan always falls prey to external stoking regarding protests over the Halayeb Triangle dispute. This file was again reopened in 2017 after an agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia about the maritime border demarcation between the two countries in the Red Sea. Sudan has claimed sovereignty over the Halayeb Triangle since its independence in 1956, but Cairo says it belongs to Egypt. In 2016, Egypt denied Khartoum’s request to start negotiations or resort to international arbitration.
I understand that the positions of Egypt’s leadership and people have sometimes contradicted those of Sudan, but it would have been more useful if Cairo were an effective factor in the equation. The Sudanese brothers should have listened to the Egyptian voice, especially when it came to drawing up the road map for the future.
I had imagined that, due to Egypt’s significant presence in the region, its presidency of the African Union, and the power, decisiveness, depth and experience it has in complex files, it would play many roles in the rapprochement between the conflicting currents in Sudan, especially during the revolution and in the understandings relating to a road map for the future, but that did not happen.
But it is not too late. The issue has to be raised in discussions among the decision-makers of both countries, which are joined by one Nile, one fate and one Arab and African blood.