Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry commenced his official visit to Sudan on Wednesday, following a delay to the trip amid ongoing tensions.
The visit was set to take place on July 22, but was delayed as a result of “emergency engagements” in Shoukry’s schedule, according to Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid.
The agenda is to include discussions around the issues that have led to heightened tensions between the two countries, including questions of sovereignty over the Halayeb Triangle, which Egypt currently controls, and official stances on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Egypt’s tensions with Sudan over Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam were evident recently when Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal expressed solidarity with Egyptian demands regarding its share of the Nile water share during an Arab information ministers’ meeting in Cairo on July 10.
Khartoum reprimanded Belal for his statements, which departed from Sudan’s official position on the matter and have been more congruent with the Ethiopian stance and that of other Nile Basin countries — who advocate for contracting Egypt’s historical share of the water. Attempts to censor Belal angered Egypt, according to a local Foreign Ministry source who spoke with Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.
The source adds that Shoukry’s visit is an attempt to distance Sudan from the spat between Cairo and Addis Ababa, and to relieve the former from the pressures being applied by Ethiopia and most other Nile Basin countries.
“Cairo can’t get over what happened during the Nile Basin countries’ last meeting in Uganda in June, when Sudan agreed with them to reject Egypt’s proposal to host the next meeting,” the source says.
“The issue culminated in Sudan leveling accusations Cairo does not want to achieve a technical resolution, and only wants to express its complete rejection of the dam,” he adds.
Commenting on Egypt’s reaction, a Sudanese diplomat working in Cairo, speaking on condition of anonymity, says: “Our brothers in Egypt accuse us of failing to support them and their water concerns, but they do not give much attention to the water, economic or strategic interests that tie Sudan to the Nile Basin countries.”
Shoukry intends to deliver a “decisive message” to his Sudanese counterpart regarding the Halayeb Triangle, asserting that Egypt will stand firmly against any efforts to internationalize the dispute over the area, which lies on Egypt’s southern border between the towns of Halayeb, Shalateen and Abu Ramad.
In July, the Egyptian government announced its intention to prove the triangle is Egyptian, either through developmental interventions to expand the population, or through increasing its security presence by deploying more patrols.
According to a second source in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, also speaking on condition of anonymity, Cairo needs to send a clear message to Khartoum regarding the need to stop “breaches of sovereignty” by Sudanese forces in the region. The source asserted that Egypt would actively respond to any diplomatic measures taken by Sudan, including recent attempts to take the issue to the United Nations and the African Union. “We will not stand as spectators and we are very aware about what Sudan is doing,” he says.
The Sudanese diplomat tells Mada Masr Sudan does not want to create problems with Egypt over the Halayeb triangle. “We have evidence that proves this area is Sudanese, and if you ask the residents themselves, they will say they are Sudanese. In any case, we are prepared to resort to international arbitration and accept the rulings, but Egypt is the one refusing this option in its efforts to enforce de facto control over the area.”
A third Egyptian Foreign Ministry source closely following the Sudan issue tells Mada Masr that Sudan is escalating the matter, citing a message sent by the Sudanese government to the United Nations asking Cairo to agree to initiating international arbitration procedures. This step by Sudan, he says, followed a slew of others, such as an official complaint lodged at the United Nations, and the deployment of Sudanese police forces to conduct searches inside the triangle.
The Sudanese diplomat believes that Sudan can achieve sovereignty over the triangle through international arbitration, even if it takes a long time. He says there is a wide consensus over the Halayeb issue in Sudan, even between the government and the opposition.
Meanwhile, the third Foreign Ministry source asserts that the issue will be discussed but not negotiated during Shoukry’s visit, in response to a request from Sudan.
This means Shoukry will hear comments from the Sudanese side on the matter, but not make any decisions regarding the triangle.
There is the possibility of bilateral cooperation through the framework of the unactivated Four Freedoms Agreement, signed by Egypt and Sudan in 2004. Sudan ultimately rejected the agreement, which would have permitted free movement, residence, work and ownership in both countries.
Shoukry is expected to raise other contentious issues, including better border control between Egypt, Sudan and Libya to prevent the inflow of Libyan militants to Egypt through Sudan, according to the first Egyptian Foreign Ministry source.
Shoukry was aware ahead of the visit that Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Ghandour would likely touch on several reasons why Sudan is displeased, according to the Sudanese diplomat, and is expecting to hear complaints about Egypt’s intervention in Sudan’s domestic affairs.
Sudan has repeatedly accused Egypt of meddling in its affairs, which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi disputed at the end of May. In early June, Ghandour met with Sisi in Cairo to discuss this and other points of contention.
Sudan has also highlighted the treatment of Sudanese diplomats within some Arab organizations in which Egypt plays a leading role, including the General Secretariat of the Arab League and the Arab Women Organization, according to an Egyptian diplomat working in the Arab League.
The Arab League diplomat adds that Sudanese officials know Egypt has used its presence at the United Nations Security Council against Sudan, and has always moved to block the lifting of sanctions on Sudan, and accused the country of harboring terrorists.
“Egypt doesn’t take into consideration the impact of its actions on public sentiment,” the Sudanese diplomat says. “Social media makes it obvious that Sudanese youth are angry at Egypt, an anger that should not be underestimated,” he adds. It is time, he says, to “reformulate the bases of the historical relationship between Egypt and Sudan, and to consider Sudanese views on bilateral and regional relationships more than before.”
Actions Sudan has taken against Cairo are not due to influence from Qatar and Turkey as Cairo believes, he says, highlighting that Sudan’s strongest ally is Saudi Arabia, which is also one of Cairo’s most important allies.
None of the sources Mada Masr spoke to expect any major changes to follow Shoukry’s visit to Sudan.