Monday,19 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1381, (15 - 21 February 2018)
Monday,19 March, 2018
Issue 1381, (15 - 21 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A sudden defrost

Egyptian-Sudanese efforts to reboot their relations appear to be paying off, writes Doaa El-Bey


“We emphasise the importance of addressing the concerns of the two parties in a framework of brotherhood, consultation and constructive coordination on all political levels, with a view to finding sustainable solutions that meet the aspirations of the peoples of the two brotherly countries,” read the joint statement issued after a meeting between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and his Sudanese counterpart Ibrahim Al-Ghandour, and the heads of both countries’ intelligence agencies.

The meeting offered an opportunity to open channels for dialogue and narrow any outstanding differences, former assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister Rakha Hassan told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Shoukri and Al-Ghandour addressed the diplomatic aspects of relations while the intelligence chiefs discussed the security dimensions, said Hassan, adding that “regular meetings create moral commitment between the two countries and dialogue guarantees that they will find a way to bridge their differences.”

The joint statement listed 11 points agreed by the participants with the aim of establishing a framework for future cooperation. The two sides agreed to work towards enhancing security and military cooperation and establish a mechanism for political and security consultation which will include the foreign ministers and heads of the intelligence services of both countries.

The statement also outlined preparations for a meeting of a joint committee which will be chaired by the presidents of the two countries this year in Khartoum. The last time the committee met was in Cairo in 2016.

The statement underlined the importance of joint cooperation and coordination between the two countries over Nile water management within the framework of their commitment to agreements already signed between them including the 1959 Nile Water Agreement. The 1959 treaty enshrines Egypt’s right to 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water annually, and Sudan’s to 18.5 billion cubic metres, quotas Ethiopia refuses to recognise.

The quadrilateral meeting was scheduled last month after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi met Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir in Addis Ababa on the sidelines of the 30th AU summit. And it appears to have worked in terms of easing tensions between Cairo and Khartoum, with Al-Ghandour announcing in its wake that Sudan’s ambassador to Egypt, who had been recalled, will soon return to Cairo.

Tensions between the two countries had been exacerbated by disputes over the sovereignty of the Halayeb and Shalateen Triangle and Sudan’s recent decision to lease Suakin Island to Turkey.

Hassan says Khartoum has long used Halayeb and other controversial issues to distract the Sudanese public from the government’s internal failures, regularly bringing them up when domestic problems arise.

According to Hassan, Khartoum is facing economic problems following the secession of South Sudan and the loss of resources which accompanied it as well as political uncertainty over who will succeed Al-Bashir.

“Amid all these problems, raising external issues like Halayeb distracts the attention of the people,” he says.

In December Khartoum closed its border with Eritrea after deploying thousands of troops there. Khartoum said the deployment was in response to military threats from Eritrea and Egypt. Cairo and Asmara have yet to comment on the claim.

Sudan’s lease of the Red Sea island port of Suakin to Turkey exacerbated the tensions between Cairo and Khartoum. Egyptian media criticised the move, portraying it as a threat to national security amid widespread speculation Turkey wanted to establish a naval base on the island.

Following the quadrilateral meeting Al-Ghandour pointed out that the island town comprises just 400 houses inhabited by Sudanese nationals and that there had never been any discussion about a Turkish military base in Suakin or anywhere else in Sudan.

Commentators argue the media in both countries acted to fan tensions. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Shoukri called on the Egyptian and Sudanese media to be objective and not to offend the peoples or leaders of the two countries, while Al-Ghandour insisted both the Egyptian and Sudanese media must “observe the sanctity of relations between the two countries” in the future.

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