Egypt and Sudan should close border loophole

by DR. ABDELLATIF EL-MENAWY

A woman called Nadira Nassif, speaking Levantine Arabic, this month appeared on a social media video to announce the creation of a new Arab nation, the “Kingdom of the Yellow Mountain,” between Egypt and Sudan. Nassif, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the new kingdom, said the announcement came after a meeting of ministers and the king of their state in Odessa, Ukraine. She said that the alleged kingdom would put an end to the crisis of Arab and Muslim immigrants and provide them with a decent living in an area of about 2,060 square kilometers.

The announcement of the creation of this kingdom and, before that, the claims of an American named Jeremy Heaton, who planted the flag of his own so-called kingdom in the same area and proclaimed his daughter as its princess, and Indian adventurer Suyash Dixit, who also declared himself king of the area, necessitates discussion of the issue with great interest. It may even require the intervention of decision-makers in both Egypt and Sudan to close a loophole that could grow one day, even if the form of the declaration of a new kingdom is funny.

The supposed Kingdom of the Yellow Mountain has benefited principally from the dispute between Egypt and Sudan, because each country has its own maps of its borders with the other. The result is that the area of Bir Tawil, also known as the “Bartazuga Triangle,” is located outside the maps adopted by each country because of a dispute over the sovereignty of the straight line 22 degrees north of the equator, which Egypt claims, and the winding administrative line that Sudan considers a sovereign line.

I believe that the biggest point of contention between Cairo and Khartoum is the Halayeb and Shalateen crisis. Egypt claims that the Halayeb Triangle is Egyptian and it possesses the documents and historical facts to support this, while in Sudan there is a conviction — turned for various reasons into a cause of national dignity — that Halayeb is Sudanese. This issue has been exploited by internal and external forces in order to ignite the fire of difference between the two countries and has become a permanent strain on their relationship. It has also become an excuse to circumvent internal crises.

The two countries must work together to stop this dispute from escalating into a crisis, which means they have to find a way to stop the exploitation of loopholes such as Bir Tawil emanating from the continuing problem of Halayeb and Shalateen. The issue of the Kingdom of the Yellow Mountain may be a “sign” for the need to engage these outstanding issues.

It is known that the main Sudanese demand is arbitration. What if the Egyptian side seriously thinks about accepting this demand in an attempt to close this file and end the current ambiguity in relations between the two countries? There is a great irony in the fact that there have been great efforts made — like building roads, border crossings, electricity linkages, railway projects and mutual economic interests — to link Egypt and Sudan, but these efforts have not been matched in the two countries’ diplomatic relations. Both Cairo and Khartoum face threats in a region ravaged by danger from all sides, and any harm to either country will have an impact on the other.

The peoples of the Nile Valley share a real bond, so why are the politicians of the two countries not taking advantage of these close relations?

The situation in Sudan changed after the December 2018 revolution and the overthrow of the Omar Al-Bashir regime. A new path should be opened in Egyptian-Sudanese relations by taking a strong initiative to put an end to the crisis of Halayeb and Shalateen. This should become the starting point for a new strategy and an integrated vision with clear goals.

The suggestion by the self-proclaimed prime minister of the Kingdom of the Yellow Mountain that it would be willing to accept large numbers of refugees may indicate the influence of international forces, whose aim is to solve the Palestinian problem and the problem of Muslim refugees in the region generally.

What I really do not understand is the silence of the two countries regarding this situation, both officially and in the media. It is as if what is happening on the borders of these two countries is taking place on a distant continent. Here, of course, I do not demand an official position or a response, but it is the right of the peoples of Egypt and Sudan to understand what is happening from reliable sources from within the state.

If Egypt really wants to establish strong relations with the rest of Africa, Sudan should be the gateway. The peoples of the Nile Valley share a real bond, so why are the politicians of the two countries not taking advantage of these close relations? Can we think outside the traditional framework, which can no longer cope with the tremendous changes sweeping the region as a whole, and the growing regional and international threats and interventions that have devastated Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen? Can we put an end to all these bilateral problems so that we can devote ourselves to facing external threats? That is, indeed, much more important and I hope it happens.

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