Egypt-Sudan tensions rise as each side sticks to its guns

Cairo’s expanded counterterrorist policy has fuelled tensions between Egypt and Sudan.

Deadlock. Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour (R) speaks with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry following a news conference in Khartoum, last April. (AFP)

2017/06/11 Issue: 110 Page: 13

The Arab Weekly
Ahmed Megahid

Cairo - Tensions between Cairo and Khartoum remained high following a meeting in Cairo between Egyp­tian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Sudanese counterpart Ibrahim Ghandour. Al­though both officials highlighted bilateral ties between the countries and praised the “frank” and “trans­parent” talks, there was no indica­tion of any solution to the sources of dispute.

Sovereignty of the disputed Ha­layeb Triangle remains a major sticking point between Khartoum and Cairo. Egypt has also expressed anger over recent comments by Su­danese President Omar al-Bashir.

“There are deeply entrenched relations capable of overcoming whatever is inflicted upon them. We are working towards a frank dialogue capable of removing mis­understandings and confusions,” Shoukry said.

Cairo has reacted particularly an­grily to Sudanese accusations that Egypt is backing armed opposition groups in its restive Darfur region. Al-Bashir accused Cairo of con­spiring against Sudan and backing armed groups in Darfur after Suda­nese troops foiled an opposition at­tack on May 21 and captured what he described as Egyptian armoured vehicles.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi vehemently refuted the claim and said Cairo followed an “honest” foreign policy and did not interfere in the internal affairs of other coun­tries. Sisi, however, later threatened to strike training camps of militants who attack Egypt, regardless of where they are. Egypt attacked sus­pected Islamic State (ISIS) targets in north-western Libya after the extreme jihadist group claimed re­sponsibility for a massacre of Coptic Christians.

Analysts said Egypt could target terrorist camps in Sudan but such a unilateral move would exacerbate tensions between Cairo and Khar­toum.

“Egypt is angry at unrelent­ing harassment by the Sudanese president who seeks to pick a ver­bal fight with his country’s north­ern neighbour whenever there is an internal problem in Sudan,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political sci­ence professor at Cairo University. “Egypt has more than enough rea­sons to view Sudan and its leader with suspicion.”

Those reasons include Sudan’s support for a massive dam being constructed by Ethiopia on the Nile. Egyptian officials have ex­pressed concern that Ethiopia’s Re­naissance Dam would lessen its Nile water supply and create dangerous water shortages in the country. In addition to Khartoum’s recent deci­sion — citing health issues — to ban agricultural and animal products from Egypt, something that Cairo has denied and said was a political decision.

Another reason, Fahmi said, is al- Bashir’s claim that Egypt is illegally occupying a border territory known as the Halayeb Triangle. Khartoum said it would seek international ar­bitration to repatriate the 20,580 territory.

Although Sisi did not mention Sudan explicitly, Cairo’s expanded counterterrorist policy has fuelled tensions between Egypt and Sudan. Media reports in Cairo said Suda­nese officials demanded clarifica­tion defining the new policy.

“We have information that Egyptian arms are in the hands of militants in Darfur,” said Abdul- Mahmoud Abdul-Halim, Sudan’s ambassador in Cairo. “We have seized some of these arms already and we will try to understand the matter from Egypt.”

He defended his country’s posi­tion on the Renaissance Dam, say­ing Sudan had the right to serve its national interests by backing pro­jects that would benefit the country.

“Sudan was hoping to turn the Nile River into a source of coop­eration among its basin member states, not a source of tension,” Abdul-Halim said.

Cairo, however, said accusations that it is backing the Sudanese opposition are false and that its foreign policy is based on non-in­terference and respect for the sov­ereignty of other countries.

“This is particularly so in our re­lations with countries with which we have special brotherly ties like Sudan,” said Egyptian Foreign Min­istry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid.

Egypt is part of the UN peace­keeping mission in Darfur and has peacekeeping troops in the western Sudanese region.

Cairo appears alarmed at the quick rise in animosity towards it in Sudan. Al-Bashir said Sudan would practise restraint towards Egypt’s occupation of the Halayeb Triangle.

The Sudanese government banned Egyptian imports on May 24 but Egyptian Agriculture Min­istry spokesman Hamed Abdel Dayem said Egyptian agricultural products had been denied entry into Sudan for months.

These are all measures, Egyptian political analysts said, that reflect­ed Khartoum’s insistence on escala­tion.

“The thing the Sudanese leader­ship does not want to understand is that Sudan’s stability is very im­portant to Egypt’s national secu­rity,” said Hani Rasalan, an Egyp­tian writer on Egyptian-African relations. “This is why, if it acts to destabilise Sudan, Egypt will be harming its own security first and foremost.”

Ahmed Meghid is an Egyptian reporter based in Cairo.

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