For many observers, it may seem that the present Sudanese regime wants to free itself from a historical relationship with Egypt that is confusing to many. It may want to end what some have described as the “Egyptian guardianship” of the Sudan, in this way hitting two birds with one stone.
Following changes in the relationship between Egypt and Sudan, there has been a need to find a convincing explanation for the apparent deterioration. Once one crisis is resolved, another is sure to arise. There has been a state of tension between the two countries for some time, with some seeing this as a result of the Sudanese regime’s desire to achieve hidden goals.
The crises mostly arise without warning, as was the case with Khartoum’s accusations that Egypt was “interfering” in the internal affairs of Sudan and in the case of the disputed Halayeb and Shalateen region. In recent days, Sudan has accused Cairo of conspiring against it at the UN Security Council and at the African Union in Addis Ababa.
According to diplomatic sources in Cairo, the difficulties may be down to the continuing relationship between the Sudanese regime and the Muslim Brotherhood and the known rapprochement between Khartoum, Qatar and Turkey, the last two of which are known for their hostility to Cairo.
However, when Sudanese hostility reaches the point of hosting Egyptian Nubian leaders, as Khartoum has done recently, the issue seems to be on its way to a further and larger crisis. The issue of Nubia touches on Egypt’s national security and on the social and historical ties between Nubia in Upper Egypt and northern Sudan.
Egypt has decided to deal with the Nubian issue within the framework of its national security policies, even as there are those who seem determined to provoke hostile feelings in the area, perhaps by taking advantage of the turmoil that has called for the redrawing of the map of the region.
Last month, Sheikha Mozah, a relative of the emir of Qatar, visited northern Sudan, making a speech in which she referred to the area’s ancient civilisation and seemed to imply that it had been occupied by Egypt. On social networking sites there have been intimations that Sudan somehow outdoes Egypt in its level of civilisation, a notion that is not without political connotations as it may seek to deny the important historical relationship between the two countries.
The suggestion seems to be that Egypt has somehow “dominated” Sudan, and though this is simply propaganda it is propaganda that seems to be directed more at the Sudanese than at the Egyptians. The Sudanese regime seems to want to assert its ability to free itself from a historical relationship that it describes as Egypt’s “guardianship”.
The aim is to strengthen the Sudanese regime, give it a greater moral presence, help it to alleviate the pressures mounting upon it, and gain the support of the media against Egypt. There is also the message it seems to offer to regional forces opposed to Egypt and to those who want Cairo to remain busy with its own problems in terms of terrorism and border and water-related skirmishes.
However, Cairo’s position is characterised by self-restraint, and the Egyptian government has decided to deal with the issue in tactical terms, avoiding being dragged into conflict and dealing with the relationship between the two countries on the ground of common interests.
Nevertheless, there have been significant differences between the two countries, not least when Khartoum criticised Egypt’s position on the UN Security Council Resolution that extended the sanctions against Sudan on 8 February.
Khartoum has also criticised exercises carried out by the Egyptian army in the disputed territories of Halayeb and Shalateen, even though Egypt has been in control of this region for the last two decades and has taken actions to confirm that it is Egyptian territory.
In the midst of these problems, Egyptian television broadcast Friday prayers last week from the Gomaon Mosque in Shalateen, in this way confirming Egypt’s physical and moral presence in the region and reducing the Sudanese position to mere propaganda.
Egypt’s dealing with this matter can be interpreted in the context of self-restraint, because Cairo has documents that if used could be harmful to the Sudanese regime. Instead, it has chosen to follow a calmer policy because it does not want to engage in disputes that could harm both parties. The idea of Egypt’s “guardianship” or “patronage” of Sudan is absurd and can easily be refuted by reference to the political, economic and cultural capacities of Sudan.
The meeting of the Egyptian-Sudanese Joint Committee next Thursday in Khartoum will likely issue in positive developments, not least because Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs, Sameh Shoukri, will be attending the meeting in person and will surely demand clear answers to Egypt’s questions in order to prevent future conflicts.
The outcome of the meeting could reveal the two countries’ future relationship, with Egypt seeking a strategic dialogue that will outline each party’s future commitments in the interests of clarity and future good relations.
The writer is a political analyst.