Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Three corners for Morsi to paint

Controversy over the disputed Halayeb Triangle resurfaced in the wake of President Mohamed Morsi’s visit to Khartoum. Ahmed Eleiba looks at the background to the long running dispute

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Muslim Brotherhood’s dream of reviving the Islamic Caliphate has led many to question its attitudes towards the concept of the nation state and its commitment to territorial boundaries and national sovereignty. Under the Ottomans territorial boundaries were little more than administrative divisions between provinces directly subordinate to Istanbul, the last seat of the Caliphate. Some MB and other Islamist ideologues hark back further, to a time when the most meaningful boundary was that separating the Islamic state, “the house of peace”, from the rest of the world, “the house of war”, which was open to conquest.

Suspicions regarding the Muslim Brotherhood’s willingness to uphold Egyptian territorial sovereignty have fed accusations that it planned to sell off the Suez Canal to Qatar, was conspiring with Hamas to turn Sinai into an alternative homeland for the Palestinians, and intended to concede Libyan claims to Salloum on the grounds that it forms the natural northern extension of Libya’s eastern border. When General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi issued a decree prohibiting the sale of land in the Sinai to foreigners, the move seemed to substantiate concerns over the fate of the peninsula.

Most recently, the Halayeb Triangle, subject of a long running dispute between Egypt and Sudan, resurfaced against the backdrop of President Mohamed Morsi’s recent visit to Khartoum. Although there had been an agreement in advance that the controversial issue would not be raised during the president’s visit — an agreement confirmed to Al-Ahram Weekly by an informed Egyptian source and Walid Al-Sayed, director of the Cairo bureau of the Sudanese ruling National Congress Party — Moussa Ahmed, assistant to Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, brought it up. The Egyptian presidency immediately issued a statement denying any intention to hand Halayeb to Khartoum, though not before a video clip had emerged in which Mahdi Akef, a former Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide, stated that “it would not be a crisis if Halayeb remained Sudanese.” The short clip went viral on the Internet. It made little difference that the video recording dated from 1992, before Akef became supreme guide.

Al-Sayed argued that Ahmed had merely been voicing good will. He explained that Al-Bashir’s assistant had urged Morsi to resume good relations with Sudan and expressed the hope that the two countries would move closer than they had been before 1995.

It was the mention of the date that triggered problems for Morsi and the MB. In 1995, Egypt rejected a Sudanese request to discuss the Halayeb dispute at the OAU Foreign Minister’s Council in Addis Ababa. Later the same year there was an assassination attempt against Hosni Mubarak in the Ethiopian capital. Egypt accused Khartoum of complicity and responded by strengthening its hold on Halayeb and expelling all Sudanese police and other officials from the area.

Al-Sayed stressed that Ahmed had been speaking in an unofficial capacity.

Hani Raslan, an expert in Sudanese affairs at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, points out that Ahmed obtained his current position as assistant to the president as part of the political settlement between Khartoum and Eastern Sudan, from where Ahmed hails. Eastern Sudan borders on the Halayeb Triangle. Al-Bashir’s assistant used the Egyptian president’s visit as an opportunity to flex his political muscles, and did so by bringing up the thorny issue of Halayeb.

Images circulating in the Egyptian media of Presidents Morsi and Al-Bashir reciting the Al-Nabaa (The News) verse from the Quran together before Friday prayers and of the lengthy sermon that Morsi delivered to a large gathering of Sudanese Islamist leaders present at the mosque in Khartoum highlighted the ideological bonds between the two. In fact, some commentators took these images and the Morsi sermon as evidence that the purpose of the visit was to foreground the ideological closeness between the two governments rather than explore mutual political or strategic interests.

Official coverage of the visit, says Raslan, was an attempt to “sell an illusion to the Egyptian people”. Most reports and commentaries coming out of Sudan portrayed the visit as a new page in relations between Cairo and Khartoum, he said, though relations between the two had in fact been improving since 2001. Plans for the opening of transnational highways, given such fanfare during the course of Morsi’s visit, were already more or less complete apart from some outstanding details concerning the locations of border controls and the distribution of routine duties regarding the management of customs and immigration.

“Claims made during the course of the visit that Egypt will be able to cultivate 100 million acres of Sudanese land are pure fantasy,” Raslan continued. “Sudan lacks the capacities to undertake such a project. Sudan has become materially poor since the secession. It has lost three-fourths of its petroleum wealth to South Sudan. And that’s not to mention the greatest problem — water. Irrigating an area that size would require at least sic billion cubic metres of water. Yet both Sudan and Egypt are fully consuming their quotas of Nile water, and Egypt is already suffering a shortage.”

In Raslan’s opinion the visit was all about marketing. “For Al-Bashir it strengthened his position with respect to the International Criminal Court and for Morsi it promoted his foreign policy.”

Al-Sayed told the Weekly that images of Morsi praying and reciting Quranic verses in a mosque in Khartoum had been used to “fabricate an incident”.

“We have to move beyond the exploitation of such images in this manner,” he said. “When Al-Bashir came to Egypt he visited Al-Sayed Al-Badawi Mosque in Tanta, Al-Morsi Abul-Abbas Mosque in Alexandria, and Al-Hussein Mosque in Cairo. Is there a problem with that? I don’t think so.”

The director of the National Congress Party’s Cairo bureau went on to criticise commentators who argue that the visit was a flop despite agreements being reached on food security and other political and economic issues.

“We have grown used to critics’ fabricating crises when Egypt and Sudan move apart. This time they are doing it when Egypt and Sudan are drawing closer.”

The Muslim Brotherhood has chosen to sideline the Halayeb issue in spite of documents, studies and maps — some dating from the colonial period — confirming that it belongs to Egypt. A military source told the Weekly that no civilian regime in Egypt, whatever its political complexion, could sacrifice a square inch of the border region since it falls under the control of the Egyptian military which regulates activities and prohibits private ownership of any land in that area.

Ahmed Sabie, a Muslim Brotherhood official who has visited Sudan several times as well as the Halayeb triangle, told the Weekly that the area leaned, demographically and culturally, towards Sudan. In addition, he said, “neither Egypt nor Sudan has shown any interest it.”

“It is not included in elections or on any other political occasion. The people do not operate in accordance with this policy. In fact, some would prefer self-determination.” 

When questioned about an image of a map of the area that had appeared on the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party website and that depicted Halayeb as being located inside Sudan rather than Egypt, Sabie responded: “There was no ulterior motive. [The map] was posted by mistake. It was friendly fire.”

While many are well-informed on Egyptian-Sudanese relations few are aware of the history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan. In the mid-1960s Hassan Al-Turabi broke away from the Brotherhood’s Sudanese chapter to form the Islamic Movement which he hoped to turn into an umbrella organisation that would include the Muslim Brotherhood.

According to a Muslim Brotherhood leader connected with the Guidance Bureau, Al-Turabi had refused to declare his allegiance to supreme guide Mohamed Hamed Abul-Nasr during a convention of the International Muslim Brotherhood organisation in Jordan in 1986. But not only did Al-Turabi’s plans to create a new umbrella organisation fail, he bowed to the pressures of many members of the Sudanese Islamic Movement to offer an apology to the Guidance Bureau. Meanwhile, his colleagues Omar Al-Bashir, Nafie Ali Nafie and Ali Othman Taha and other officials of the National Congress government in Khartoum remained true to their original Muslim Brotherhood calling. When the Muslim Brothers came to power in Egypt they sent a message declaring their moral allegiance.

The source stressed that while these National Congress members were no longer members of the International Muslim Brotherhood and had no organisational relationship with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, they nevertheless grew from the same ideological root. He added that a Muslim Brotherhood chapter still existed in Sudan in the strict organisational sense.

He also pointed to the existence of the MB Bureau of Central and North Africa, an entity created by Muslim Brotherhood leaders who fled Egypt during the Mubarak era. Its founder, Mohamed Al-Beheiri, was an Egyptian who founded the Libyan chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood and then fled to Sudan.

“There is no problem with political relations and ideological affiliations between political groups,” added the military source. “But when these relations turn into courtesies at the expense of national sovereignty, this is where we draw a red line.”


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