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How pyramids photoshoot inflamed Egypt-Sudan media war

Cairo and Khartoum have signed an agreement to gain control of the media storm fed by tension between the two countries.

CAIRO — Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour and his visiting Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry agreed to work together April 20 to control the ongoing exchange of hostility in the news media caused by the mounting political tensions between the two neighbors.

Despite the important outcomes of the April 20 meeting, which included the drafting and signing of a media charter of honor and a commitment to continuing consultations on arising political issues between the two countries, the animosity continues. On April 25, the Sudanese Journalists Union called on the government to expel all representatives of the Egyptian media hours after Egyptian authorities deported a second Sudanese journalist at the Cairo airport.

Shoukry's visit to Khartoum aimed to de-escalate existing and renewed disputes between the two countries regarding ownership of the Halayeb triangle and Sudan's support of Ethiopia’s construction of the Renaissance Dam, which Cairo opposes. The two sides exchange accusations of supporting opposition groups in each other's countries. The meeting focused on the implementation of the Four Freedoms Agreement signed by the two countries in September 2004. The visit came following Sudan's April 7 decision to require Egyptian men ages 18 to 50 to obtain visas for travel to Sudan. In September 2016, Sudan banned imports of fruit, vegetables and fish from Egypt.

Recently, the Sudanese-Egyptian media war spread to the Meroe pyramids in Begrawiya in northern Sudan. On March 13, the mother of the emir of Qatar, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser, visited the pyramids. In the wake of her trip, Egyptian news outlets slammed Qatari coverage promoting the Sudanese pyramids while ignoring the Egyptian ones.

Things took a turn for the worse on March 19, when the Sudanese ambassador in Cairo, Abdel Mahmoud Abdel Hamid, accused the Egyptian media of ridiculing the history of his country. TV host Mohammed al-Ghaiti had said March 16 on his show “Sah el-Nom,” broadcast on the LTC TV channel, that the sheikha's visit to the Sudanese pyramids was just "women’s teasing" and that she had taken a photo near two “Nesto” triangles (a cheap processed Egyptian cheese sold in triangle-shaped pieces), mocking the Sudanese pyramids.

In a March 19 press conference, Sudanese Minister of Information Ahmed Bilal Othman falsely claimed that the Sudanese pyramids are 2,000 years older than the Egyptian ones.

According to an April 19 statement by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Egypt hopes the media charter of honor with Sudan will help deter irresponsible media coverage.

Sudanese journalist Mujahid Abdullah told Al-Monitor, “The current tense atmosphere caused by the media in both countries forced the two countries’ governments to urge the media institutions to reach a charter of honor, mainly aiming to stop mutual negative criticism and to come up with a plan to highlight positive issues and activities.”

He denounced the Egyptian authorities' ban on Sudanese journalists from entering Egypt, saying it dealt a blow to the good impression left by Shoukry's visit. He maintained his erroneous claim that the Meroe pyramids, discovered by Swiss archaeologist Charles Bonnet, are older than the Giza pyramids, adding that the Qatari sheikha's visit to Sudan’s pyramids stirred already existing tension, given the bad relationship between Cairo and Doha.

Egyptian parliamentarian Mustafa Bakri, who is also the chief editor of Egypt's Al-Osboua newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “The media charter of honor between Egypt and Sudan should stress the commitment by both countries to prevent media outlets from offending the other country and from interfering in each other’s internal affairs.”

Commenting on the ban on Sudanese media figures from entering Egypt, he said, “This is absolutely unacceptable,” while objecting to freedom of the press as a defense for coverage that damages relations between the people of the Nile Valley.

Ahmed al-Mufti, the director of the Khartoum International Center for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor that the Egyptian foreign minister’s visit to Sudan calmed Sudan’s fury toward Egypt at the popular and official levels. He stressed the importance of holding more ministerial visits to cool escalating political and media tensions over issues, including the disputed Halayeb triangle, the Four Freedoms Agreement, exports, antiquities and the Renaissance Dam.

“Negotiation, no matter how difficult, is the best way to resolve these disputes,” he said, adding that neither Sudan nor Egypt can falsify history for its own benefit and that the dispute over the pyramids must be managed objectively.

Mufti continued, "Every country has the right to promote its history and seek international support, whether from Qatar or elsewhere, and another country should not have any problem with this.”

Parliament member Tariq al-Kholi, who is also secretary of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told Al-Monitor, “Countries such as Qatar and Turkey are working to disrupt relations between Egypt and Sudan, given Sudan's importance to Egypt's national security."

Egyptian lawmakers and other political figures see Qatar and Turkey as hostile parties that seek to destabilize their country in order to reduce Egypt’s role on the international scene and in regional hot spots such as Libya, Syria and Palestine.

Some Egyptians accuse Turkey and Qatar of rapprochement with Nile countries, such as Sudan, to incite them against Egypt, which would threaten Egyptian national security and undermine its role in Africa.

He added, “A media charter of honor between Egypt and Sudan will not stop the Qatari and Turkish media circus from fueling strife between the two countries. This issue requires further vigilance and a deep awareness at all levels between the two countries.”

Kholi explained that it is in Egypt’s best interest to have good relations with Sudan, noting that tensions have been cynically stirred from time to time by the Sudanese regime since the June 30 Revolution and the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He added, “The Sudanese regime politically exploits the Halayeb triangle dispute from time to time, though it is fully aware that it is an Egyptian territory. Why would the Sudanese media talk about Egypt’s pyramids and compare them to the Meroe pyramids during Sheikha Mozah's visit, if not to politically spite Egypt?”

Egyptian media sources told Al-Monitor that the Egyptian authorities warned the Egyptian media to exercise caution in dealing with Egyptian-Sudanese relations so as to cool the media war.

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