Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Tensions between Egypt and Sudan

Recent tensions in Egyptian-Sudanese relations have had an impact on bilateral relations as well as policies towards the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, writes Doaa El-Bey

eg
eg
Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week’s tensions between Egypt and Sudan, two neighbourly states who have had good relations for decades, were an indication of the lack of transparency in the relations between the two states as well as the absence of bodies that can predict and avoid differences before they happen and help to resolve them, said Maasoum Marzouk, a former assistant to the foreign minister.

“It is a clear case of a ‘comedy of errors’ that proves that both states’ bodies are aging and are incapable of resolving a simple problem that should have been resolved in 24 hours,” he added.

Marzouk explained that there were some five million Sudanese living in Egypt and that they had not experienced major problems. “One can partially blame the recent tensions to the immature performance of the media, which has magnified certain incidents, giving the impression of a crisis,” he said.

Abbas Sharaki, a professor at the Cairo University Institute for African Research and Studies, acknowledged that there was a crisis in Egyptian-Sudanese relations that was causing problems on the official as well as the popular levels.

“In this atmosphere, it is easy for internal and external parties to seize the opportunity to bring up issues like the Halayeb Triangle or the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,” he said.

These parties, Sharaki said, found times of tension an opportunity to heap blame on the Sudanese government for taking a more lenient stand than Cairo and not pressing enough to resolve the issues.

Sudan has moved from being a supporter and then a mediator to being a spectator of the issue, he said. “It has chosen to support Ethiopia on the issue because it sees the short-term benefits of building the dam. It has decided to ignore the potential dangers of the dam from erosion and other environmental problems, causing massive flooding should part or all of the dam collapse,” he added.

This explained why the 10th National Committee meeting on the dam scheduled to be held on 21 November in Khartoum had been postponed, he said, with no new date announced. 

A spokesperson on the dam issue, Alaa Yassin, said discussions were being held over the possibility of holding the meeting later this month, prior to or in parallel with the six-party meeting of foreign and irrigation ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, as well as the technical consultants.

The media had initially quoted Sudanese sources as saying that the 10th round of Renaissance Dam negotiations in Khartoum had been postponed due to “strained political relations” between Egypt and Sudan.

Sudanese Minister of Water Resources and Electricity Moatez Moussa was quoted as saying that the tripartite meeting on the dam had been postponed to a later date at the request of Cairo, according to the Sudan Tribune newspaper.

Moussa said that Egypt wanted to merge the meeting with the six-party meeting. He stressed that the delay had been due to scheduling issues and no other reason.

Tensions surfaced last week when Sudan protested against the arrest and killing of Sudanese nationals in Egypt over the past few weeks. In an attempt to contain tensions, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri met last Thursday with the Sudanese ambassador to Cairo Mahmoud Abdel-Aleem. During the meeting, Shoukri emphasised that the Sudanese are treated as Egyptian citizens and denied any systematic mistreatment of Sudanese nationals. On Monday, however, Egyptian border forces shot dead five Sudanese migrants who were trying to illegally infiltrate into Israel from Sinai. The incident was described by the Sudanese media as a “systematic campaign” against them. The Sudan submitted a complaint before the UN Security Council, accusing Egypt of killing and torturing Sudanese citizens. The complaint also accused Egypt of holding parliamentary elections in the “disputable area” of Halayeb. Shoukri said it was not officially informed about the complaint, stressing that the Halayeb triangle is 100 per cent Egyptian. UN Secretary-General Ban ki Moon expressed his deep concern regarding the escalating situation. The Sudanese embassy in Cairo had sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry on Friday opposing security campaigns targeting Sudanese nationals who were being increasingly subjected to searches and detention, it said.

The embassy accused the Egyptian security forces of mistreating its nationals and noted that the ministry had not responded to an earlier letter sent at the beginning of the month.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid denied that Sudanese nationals in Egypt were being systematically targeted and said that officials were looking into the embassy’s complaints.

He added that the Sudanese citizens who had been arrested were suspected of illegally trading in currency and had been arrested alongside people of several other nationalities, including Egyptian.

Yehia Zakareya, a Sudanese man who was arrested after bringing his son to Egypt for medical treatment, gave an account of his arrest on Facebook that circulated widely online and enraged the Sudanese public.

Zakareya claimed he had been arrested with another Sudanese man as they were leaving a currency exchange office in downtown Cairo and taken to Abdeen police station and tortured. Police also allegedly confiscated $500 he was carrying to pay for his son’s operation.

In pictures attached to his testimony, Zakareya appears to have bruised eyes and burn marks on his arms and legs. He said the prosecutor had ordered his release the next day, but he had been taken back to the police station pending national security checks.

He was eventually escorted to the airport to fly to Sudan after contacting family members to attend to his son in Cairo.

Social-media campaigns were then launched in Sudan calling for Egyptians to be expelled from the country and a general boycott of Egyptian products. A hash tag called “Egypt is not a sister state” was introduced on Twitter, calling for boycotting Egyptian products, an end to visits to Egypt, and for people to sell their property in Egypt.

Other tweets reminded the Sudanese that Egypt and Sudan had long enjoyed very good relations and called for the removal of the hash tag.

Egypt and Sudan share common bonds of history, religion, language and kinship, in addition to their geographical contiguity in the Nile Valley. Cooperation between the two countries will strengthen their position among the countries of the Nile Basin, while any failure to cooperate will harm them.

Egypt and Sudan were united until the July 1952 Revolution. In February 1953, Cairo and Sudan signed the Sudanese Autonomous Rule Agreement governing the future of Sudan, and this was shortly followed by the Anglo-Egyptian Evacuation Agreement of 1954.

After Sudan’s independence, civil conflict in the south of the country endangered political stability and caused foreign intervention into Sudanese affairs along with various third-party interventions and media campaigns souring relations between the Egyptian and Sudanese peoples.

However, relations have been strained for other reasons as well, prime among them being contention over the Halayeb Triangle. When Khartoum took measures to alter the status quo in the area defined by Halayeb, Shalatin and Abu Ramad in 1992, Egypt responded with measures that eventually led to the annexation of the region to Egyptian administration.

“The Halayeb Triangle is a settled issue today. But the Sudanese leadership brings the subject up whenever it is facing internal problems. It aims to distract people’s attention away from other pressing issues,” Marzouk commented.

Relations on water between the two countries have remained uninterrupted since these are beneficial to both sides, and Cairo and Khartoum are bound by a number of bilateral water agreements they both continue to recognise.

Perhaps the most important of these is the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement that gave Egypt and Sudan quotas of 55.5 billion cubic metres and 18.5 billion cubic metres of water, respectively. The 1959 Agreement also established the principle of cooperation in, and the sharing of the costs and benefits of, the utilisation of the waters of the Nile Basin.

However, this cooperation ended in December 2013 when the Sudanese president declared his support for the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which he said would benefit Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

The shift was closely connected to a range of domestic political issues in Sudan in which Addis Ababa is closely involved, most notably Sudan’s dispute with South Sudan over the oil-rich Abyei region.

In siding with Ethiopia, Sudan has overlooked the advantages of its strategic alliance with Egypt, especially in the face of schemes to further partition the African state.

There were external parties who would like to pour salt into the wounds, and the Egyptian government was taking steps to improve relations, remove any tensions, and maintain good relations with both Sudan and South Sudan, Sharaki said.

add comment

  
 
 
  • follow us on