2 April 2017

Sudanese-Egyptian Diplomacies in a More Frank Engagement

Photo: Daily Monitor
The River Nile in Uganda (file photo).
analysis

Wednesday and Thursday's visit to Khartoum by Egypt's Foreign Minister Samih Shoukri has seen a departure from the usual diplomatic and largely evasive language that had characterized the two sides previous meetings for sometime now, observers have noted.

Usually after any encounter between officials from the two countries, expressions like "we have discussed the eternal relations between the two countries" and " the unity of the people of the Nile Valley is above everything else", would come through.

On Thursday and in a massive press conference following the talks, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour and his Egyptian counterpart Samih Shoukri revealed that they had discussed such sensitive issues as the question of the joint-border Halayib enclave Egypt had occupied in 1995 claiming the area was within its borders, among several other hot issues.

Minister Ghandour said the two sides had agreed to relegate Halayib problem for discussion by the Presidents Bashir and Seisi.

So little as it is, this new development signals a change of mind on the part of Egypt that previously refused to discuss the Halayib question at any level.

After it occupied Halayib, Egypt proceeded on Egyptianizing the district by naturalizing its inhabitants, all of whom are ethnic Sudanese hailing from the Bishariyyeen and other Eastern Sudanese tribes.

The two men had avoided any talk about the recent escalation in Halayib when Egyptian authorities reportedly shot and killed a Sudanese national and flew surveillance planes along the common border.

Egypt had also granted licenses to some foreign firms to build tourist facilities in the region.

Minister Shoukri has also broke the news that the equipment of Sudanese traditional miners Egypt seized at an earlier stage when the miners trespassed into Egyptian border territory was shipped six months ago to the border cross-point of Argeen, waiting for their owners to collect them. This news came as a surprise to the Sudanese Foreign Minister who seemed relieved to hear it.

Further, Ghandour has said the Egyptian side had handed them a proposal for tripartite economic, academic and investment cooperation among Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia; the three countries making the Eastern Basin of the River Nile. Ghandour said they will be waiting for a meeting of the three countries to discuss the Egyptian proposal.

Previously, Egypt was angry that Sudan could not back it enough in its endeavor to prevent Ethiopia's construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) Ethiopia is building near its Northern border with the Sudan. Egypt is fearful that the vast facility could reduce its share of the Blue Nile River water. The Egyptian media (probably with the consent of the Egyptian authorities) had used to accuse Sudan of not backing Egypt's effort to stop the project. To pacify its northern neighbor, Sudan had called the leaders of the three countries for a meeting that issued the Khartoum Declaration of Principles that called for tasking foreign firms to examine the pros and cons of the facility and advice on what can be done to prevent any harm from the project.

Sudan had often complained that the Egyptian media was taking a hostile course towards the Sudan and its citizens. Some sectors of the Sudanese media had used to reply sharply to what is written or broadcast in the Egyptian media against Sudan. Now the two ministers have called upon the media on both sides "to be careful and precise when tackling news about either country and to seek to spotlight points of agreement (and avoid points of disagreement) in a manner that serves the bonds of fraternity and common interests of the two countries, a matter that can benefit the two peoples, bound by strong ties and a one fate."

Ghandour said a joint information panel "will shortly convene to sign an information code of honor to safeguard the noble interests of the two sister peoples,"

Recently, Egypt had obliged Sudanese citizens living within its territories to pay for residence certificates. Now Minister Ghandour says Sudanese visiting Egypt will have an entry visa valid for six months and with an additional grace period of two months. Then when a visiting Sudanese citizen fails to renew his/her residence certificate, he/she would be fined. Ghandour said Egyptians visiting Sudan will be treated likewise.

Previously citizens from both countries were allowed entry, residence, work and ownership in either country in application of what was called the four freedoms pact the two countries had concluded at an earlier stage. But Egypt later on hesitated to apply the pact and imposed entry visas on Sudanese nationals, a measure which was further coupled with the said residence fee.

Minister Shoukri was particularly annoyed by the recent Sudanese decision banning fruit and vegetable imports from Egypt. "This decision is harmful to the economies of the two countries," he told the news conference, held towards the end of his visit to Sudan. For his part Minister Ghandour replied that the banning of these imports is a matter to be decided upon by technical bodies in the two countries. "It is for the technical bodies in the two countries to decide upon this matter," he said

When banning those imports, Sudan had said it was not sure about their freedom from contaminants. Similar measures were also taken by Saudi Arabia and the U.S .For its part, the U.S had said it had detected some contaminants in its fruit and vegetable imports from Egypt.

Minister Ghandour had also indicated that his Egyptian counterpart had assured him that Egypt would not allow Sudanese opposition elements living in Egypt "to undertake any activity that harms the security of Sudan."

Further, the two sides had agreed to consolidate joint security cooperation and to curtail the activity of opposition elements in the two countries."

They agreed to coordinate stances on regional and international forums." Thanks to the continuous contact between our two ministries, we have managed to convene the joint higher committee of cooperation, under the chairmanship of the two presidents for the first time in the history of the two countries," said Ghandour, adding that the said summit meetings "had reached important directives to be implemented by the two countries foreign ministries."

Shoukri has said the Khartoum meeting was meant to"remove differences, misunderstandings and misjudgments."

Shoukri's visit and talks in Khartoum had come on the heels of two incidents along the common border that alarmed the Sudanese and triggered a lot of comments in Khartoum press.

The Sudanese Interior Ministry has recently revealed that the Egyptian army had flown several sorties parallel to the common border strip along latitude 22 degrees north which separates the two countries.

According to Khartoum newspapers, including Aljareedah daily, of Thursday, Sudanese Acting Interior Minister Babikir Dignah, told the National Assembly (parliament) on Wednesday of an increased Egyptian army flights along the common borderline.

The Acting Interior Minister also confirmed a report that the Egyptian army has recently shot dead a Sudanese national in the disputed Halayib territory and that, in a further provocative act, the Egyptian National Television transmitted live last Friday prayers from a mosque in Shalateen, a part of the occupied Halayib territory.

The news about the Egyptian provocation along the border and within Halayib were greeted with public fury in Sudan. No comment has been received from the Egyptian side on these two developments.

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