CAIRO – 7 August 2017: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has visited the Sudanese capital Khartoum in the last week to take part in a meeting of the Joint Sudan-Egypt Committee for Political Consultation.
It was Shoukry’s second visit to Sudan this year. He met Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir in April to review the results of last meetings of the political consultation committee.
This visit was aimed at continuing bilateral efforts to restore strong longstanding ties in different fields as Khartoum-Cairo relations have suffered since July 2013, when former Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohammed Morsi was ousted.
The two Nile River neighbors have common bonds of history, language and religion. But diplomatic relations have been frosty over the past years due to various reasons.
Egypt Today will shed light on the main issues that stirred tension between the two countries.
Hala’ib and Shalateen or Hala’ib Triangle is an area of land measuring 20,580 square km, located at the Egyptian-Sudanese border on the Red Sea's African coast. The area belongs to Egypt politically and administratively but has been one of the major sticking points in Egyptian-Sudanese relations since the demarcation of borders between the two countries carried out during the British occupation of Egypt in 1899, at a time when Sudan was affiliated with the Egyptian Kingdom.
The issue was escalated when Sudan allegedly made military moves near the disputed territory on the Egypt-Sudan border in March. The move came weeks after a televised interview with Saudi satellite channel Al-Arabiya, in which Al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, threatened to resort to the United Nations Security Council to settle the Hala’ib dispute.
Then, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry asked Egypt to either engage in direct negotiations over the area or take the issue to international arbitration. Cairo rejected the proposal and stressed that the triangle is Egyptian territory and that it will not negotiate or resort to international arbitration on the matter.
According to Al Arabiya Studies Institute, the Sudanese administration of Hala'ib and Shalatin was temporary and neither grants Sudan the right to rule the area nor denies Egypt's sovereignty over any part of its territory.
Egypt affirms that it has never concluded any international treaties or agreements, whether with Britain or Sudan, to give international status to the demarcation of administrative borders.
The largest tribes that inhabit Hala'ib Trinagle, including Rashaida, Alababdeh and Bashaira rejected the Sudanese National Election Commission's decision which granted the people in Hala'ib the right to participate in Sudanese general elections. The three tribes asserted during their participation in 6 October war victory celebration in 2009 that the area is 100% Egyptian.
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project_Screenshot from Google Maps
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)
In 2011, Ethiopia started construction of the Renaissance Dam over the Blue Nile River, one of the major sources of the water that forms the Nile River downstream. Concerns have risen in Cairo and Khartoum over the negative impact the Ethiopian dam will have on their historic Nile water share, amounting to 55.5 billion cubic meters in Egypt only, in accordance with the historic 1959 agreement with Sudan.
Egypt and Sudan opposed the dam’s construction from the very beginning; however, Sudan changed its position on the dam in 2013, expressing support for its construction, claiming that it is going to serve the interest of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt.
President al-Bashir claimed that his country’s approval for the construction of the Ethiopian Dam was driven by economic not political reasons.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. He is alleged to have committed the ongoing atrocities in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have died since 2003 and millions remain displaced.
The situation in Darfur was referred to the Court by the United Nations Security Council through UNSC Resolution 1593 (2005), which urges all members of the United Nations to fully cooperate with the Court. As a member of the UN, Ethiopia falls within this exhortation and should act to bring Al-Bashir to justice.
Addis Ababa was pleased by Sudan’s support to the new dam project and welcomed Al-Bashir several times on its territory despite the ICC arrest warrant. The Sudanese president's remarks about the GERD seems to be a bargaining chip to secure Addis Ababa's support before the ICC.
In July 2017, Sudanese Media Minister, Ahmed Bilal, asserted that Egypt and Sudan share strong links and long history of unending relationship, adding that Khartoum will not harming Egypt's national security.
He pointed out, in a press conference at the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo, that the filling of GERD’s reservoir should be applied in cooperation with downstream countries to minimize potential negative impacts.
Sudanese President Omar Bashir
Sudan restricts free-visa entry and bans Egypt’s imports
In September 2016, Sudan announced a temporary suspension of some Egyptian imports, including fruit, vegetables, and fish —citing safety reasons—according to the Sudanese trade ministry. The Egyptian government did not respond to the decision which deepened the dispute.
In April 2017, Sudan issued a decision requiring Egyptian men from 18 to 49 years-old seeking to enter its territory to obtain entry visas.
Sudan’s foreign ministry said the new measure comes within the framework of the periodic review and evaluation to organize and control entry to Sudan.
In 2004, Egypt and Sudan signed the Fourth Freedoms Agreement, allowing citizens of both countries to freely move across their borders and have the rights to reside, work, and own property in either country without prior permission.
Egypt could not apply the agreement citing security reasons, and informed Sudanese authorities that in return it would guarantee entry facilitations to Sudanese citizens, to which Sudan agreed.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry -File photo
The Sudanese President has recently leveled accusations against Egyptian institutions, specifically its civilian intelligence services of supporting Sudanese opposition figures fighting his troops in Darfur.
In response, Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi said his country does not intervene in other countries’ internal affairs or conspire against anyone. He further continued that some factions want to destroy the Egyptian state.
The Egyptian media has also accused Khartoum of offering refuge to members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which was declared a terrorist group by Cairo following the ouster of Islamist president Mohammad Morsi.
Following conciliatory diplomatic efforts, Egyptian authorities prevented the opposition Sudanese Broad National Front (BNF) from holding its second general convention in Cairo under the title Unity of the opposition to overthrow the regime.
In response, media reports said that Khartoum has expelled tens of Muslim Brotherhood members to mend fences with Cairo at the request of Egyptian intelligence, and that some of these individuals have since relocated to Turkey and Qatar.
The two countries have been engaged in high-level diplomatic initiatives to improve their relations.
In April 2017, the Joint Sudan-Egypt Committee for Political Consultation convened in Cairo and signed a media charter of honor and a commitment to continuing consultations on arising political issues between the two countries.
In the same month, Shoukry visited Khartoum for talks with his Sudanese counterpart Ibrahim Ghandour. Both officials agreed to work together to control the ongoing exchange of hostility in the news media caused by the mounting political tensions between the two neighbors.
In June, Ghandour visited Cairo to continue political consultations with Egyptian counterpart. The meeting intent was to boost bilateral efforts to resolve the thorny issues between the two countries.
Shoukry’s current visit is expected to focus on bilateral relations between the two countries and the means of ending some economic problems, in addition to regional and international situations of common concern.