Abdellatif El-Menawy | Published — Friday 12 January 2018
Egyptians and Sudanese people have always described the relations between their countries by saying that together they form one piece. This is an accurate description of their historical relations, which are characterized by affection, cohesion and good neighborliness.
Nevertheless, relations between Egypt and Sudan have suffered a lot, partly because one country believes it is more advanced than the other (this does not indicate any feeling of superiority over Sudan, as some unwise Egyptian journalists have unfortunately shown).
Then politics started to play a role. After Sudan gained its independence, the relationship was influenced by political tendencies in both countries. I was among the first group of people who visited Sudan the day after the 1989 coup led by Omar Al-Bashir. Many Egyptians thought at the time that the coming regime would be friendly to Egypt. However, the identity of the new regime soon turned out to be linked to political Islam, and this feature remained.
Despite the closeness, or what seemed to be closeness, there was always an overwhelming feeling of hostility on the part of the Sudanese regime towards Egypt.
The current Sudanese regime has survived on the fuel of crises for about 30 years now.
The problems, wars, blockades and regional and international pressures actually played an important role in its survival, with some observers thinking the regime itself creates crises in order to ensure popular mobilization or justify internal repression. The regime exploited the dispute with the South, which ultimately divided Sudan, as well as the crises of Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, the US attack on an alleged chemical weapons factory in Khartoum, and the issuance of an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court over alleged crimes of genocide.
The Sudanese regime also intermittently attacked Egypt, portraying it as a source of danger to distract the attention of its people away from deepening economic and political crises at home.
Many problems remained, and the positions of the Sudanese government were hostile regarding many Egyptian issues, such as the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and border demarcation.
Relations between the neighboring countries have generally been friendly despite their many differences, but recent political disputes have left them facing unprecedented strife.
Nevertheless, and despite understanding all these facts, Egypt maintained stable relations with Sudan. This was clearly manifested when the new Egyptian government ignored the unqualified support the Sudanese regime gave to the Muslim Brotherhood during its one-year rule. Moreover, Cairo was always keen to mend mutual relations, and no pessimist could have expected relations to worsen, especially after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi presented his counterpart with the “Star of Sinai” medal in recognition of his participation in a brigade of the Sudanese Army in the October War of 1973.
However, last week things took a different turn, with the media playing a major part in stoking the tensions, leading to Sudan recalling its ambassador for consultations.
I believe that the media should not have fallen into the trap of worsening relations, and it should have allowed diplomacy to handle this complicated issue. The media should have played an explanatory role in order to maintain relations between the two peoples, rather than fuel the dispute.
By taking a quick look at the chronology of the tensions, we realize it started with Al-Bashir’s official accusation last May that the Egyptian government was supporting militant Sudanese groups, which was denied by Cairo. The crisis intensified in November after Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said in a TV interview with Russia Today: “We and the Egyptians are good friends until we get to Halayeb… Sudan will not give up the Halayeb area.”
Last month, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry stated it had notified the UN of its rejection of the so-called border demarcation agreement between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, stressing that the border includes an integral part of the maritime boundary of the Sudanese Halayeb Triangle.
In response, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced Cairo’s “absolute rejection of the allegations regarding the Sudanese sovereignty over Halayeb and Shalateen and the allegation of the Egyptian occupation of these areas.”
Things then calmed down before another media interchange flared up when Sudan decided to lease Suakin island in the Red Sea to Turkey for it renovate and use for an unidentified period of time. This sparked a media battle, with Egyptian papers criticizing the decision by saying Khartoum “opened its ports for the movement of terror weapons and terrorists to Egypt,” while the Sudanese media responded with a counterattack.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian daily Addis Fortune published an allegation, attributed to unidentified Egyptian sources, that Egypt had asked Ethiopia to exclude Sudan from the Renaissance Dam talks. However, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry denied the allegation.
Another newspaper claimed that “Egypt objected to Sudan’s exploitation of its full share of water,” while another Sudanese official made matters worse by stating that “Egyptian aggression” on the Halayeb Triangle was aimed at dragging Sudan into direct clashes.
Therefore, wise people would say today: “The media should stay away from interfering in this strife, fueling war in the relations between Egypt and Sudan.”
Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide.
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