Tuesday,22 January, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1424, (3 - 9 JANUARY 2019)
Tuesday,22 January, 2019
Issue 1424, (3 - 9 JANUARY 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Strengthening ties with Khartoum

Last year ended with another positive meeting between Egyptian and Sudanese officials, reports Doaa El-Bey

 

Shoukri and Kamel with Al-Bashir last week in Khartoum
Shoukri and Kamel with Al-Bashir last week in Khartoum

A meeting between Egypt’s foreign minister and head of intelligence together with their Sudanese counterparts took place last week in the Sudanese capital Khartoum in the last in a series of meetings between officials from the two countries in 2018.

During the meeting, attended by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, his Sudanese counterpart Al-Dardiri Mohamed Ahmed, head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Abbas Kamel, and his Sudanese counterpart Salah Abdallah Gosh, developments in bilateral relations since a meeting held in February 2018 were reviewed, according to a joint statement issued after the meeting.

“The meeting tackled progress in joint projects, including the electricity grid project, and talks on establishing a railway network between the two countries as well as a new industrial city in the south of Sudan,” the statement said.

It came against a background of nationwide demonstrations in Sudan against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir’s rule because of rising prices and shortages of basic commodities. The next Egyptian-Sudanese meeting will be held in Cairo on a date to be determined. 

Over the course of last year, a series of meetings was held to strengthen the relations between Egypt and Sudan, two states sharing the same borders, language, history and the River Nile. Perhaps the most important was the meeting of the Egyptian-Sudanese Higher Committee (ESHC) in October.

Headed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Al-Bashir, the ESHC meeting “topped efforts to improve relations between the two states last year that started with the two presidents’ meeting on the sidelines of the African Union summit in January followed by Al-Bashir’s visit to Cairo in March and Al-Sisi’s visit to Sudan in July. Al-Bashir then took part in the Youth Forum in November,” an end-of-year report by the Foreign Ministry read.

The report said Egypt’s efforts to strengthen its relations with Khartoum were one of the year’s most important foreign-policy achievements.

During the ESHC meeting, the two leaders reiterated their desire to set aside any differences and enhance bilateral relations. One outcome was Sudan’s agreement to lift a partial ban on some Egyptian exports and remove obstacles to the movement of goods and people between the two states.

In March 2017, Sudan banned the import of Egyptian agricultural goods amid disputes over land and accusations of political meddling.

The two presidents also discussed plans to establish electricity and railway links between the two countries. Egypt’s Ministry of Electricity is expected to finalise the first phase of the power connection with Sudan in the next few months. The grid will operate with a capacity of 300 Megawatts and is the prelude to connecting Egypt to the whole African continent via one power network. 

Besides the ESHC meeting, Al-Sisi and Al-Bashir also held other summits during the year, the first of which was in January in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on the sidelines of the African Summit meetings.

In the second summit, held in Cairo in March, Al-Sisi said the Egypt-Sudan relationship was “as eternal as the River Nile.”

The two presidents discussed bilateral ties and agreed to strengthen relations and work together to boost trade and military and energy cooperation.

The third meeting was in Sudan in July when the two countries agreed to coordinate efforts to enhance the security of the Red Sea and promote bilateral economic and trade cooperation.

The two presidents also met briefly in August on the sidelines of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum in Beijing, where they agreed to develop the implementation of joint projects to be approved in last week’s meeting in Khartoum.

In all these meetings, it was obvious, according to commentators, that both countries had agreed to set aside differences and focus on enhancing relations. The meetings were described by a diplomat as “genuine proof of the mutual will to improve relations”.

“However, the main issues of difference, namely the border dispute over Halayeb and Shalatin among other issues, are still unresolved. Sudan’s stand on the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam could also be a cause of difference in the ongoing negotiations,” he added.

Sudan has filed a number of complaints to the UN regarding the Halayeb issue, the last of which was in April 2017 when it accused Egypt of holding elections in the disputed triangle. Khartoum asked for the matter to be resolved either by negotiation or by international arbitration.

The differences between the two states reached a climax at the end of 2017 when Khartoum recalled its ambassador from Cairo in December. Sudan declared that the ambassador had been “recalled for consultation”, but the media ascribed the move to border conflicts in addition to differences over other issues. He returned to Cairo two months later.

Last year also saw several meetings on the ministerial level, in addition to a consular committee meeting in June, a business council meeting in Cairo and Khartoum in May and October, and a visit paid by a Sudanese popular diplomacy delegation to Egypt in May.

“This was in addition to organising a training course for 25 Sudanese diplomats in the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Diplomatic Studies. The course was organised by the Egyptian Agency for Partnership for Development,” the Foreign Ministry report added.

The volume of trade between Egypt and Sudan is now close to $1 billion, and the volume of direct and cumulative Egyptian investments in Sudan is $2.7 billion, distributed over industry, contracting, infrastructure, telecommunications, banks, pharmaceutical industry and other areas.

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