CAIRO — The protests against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir’s rule erupted on Dec. 19, 2018. The power-sharing agreement was signed Aug. 17 between Sudan’s transitional military council and the opposition representatives. Cairo, however, has not been distant from what has been happening in neighboring Sudan and has acted as a catalyst in advancing understandings between the parties to the conflict.
The power-sharing agreement was signed in the presence of Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly, which provided for establishing a civilian-majority and military transitional ruling council to pave the way for the election of a civilian government. During the signing, Madbouly confirmed Egypt’s support for the agreement and the choices of the Sudanese people, and that the upcoming period, under the rule of the ruling council, would witness “an unprecedented shift” in bilateral relations between the two countries.
“Egypt contributed in bringing together the different points of view, whether through telephone conversations or meetings with the different [Sudanese parties]. This support will hopefully continue until Sudan recovers politically and economically,” Yasser al-Atta, chairman of the Political Committee of the Sudanese Military Transitional Council, said Aug. 18 during a phone interview on TeN satellite channel.
On Aug. 10, Cairo also hosted a meeting between Sudan’s Forces of Freedom and Change alliance and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) for two days of negotiations on the SRF demands that the peace agreement, which was concluded with the alliance in Addis Ababa July 20, be included in the Constitutional Declaration. The negotiations led to nowhere and both sides agreed to continue the dialogue, either in Khartoum or in another country.
The declaration provided for speeding up efforts to form a transitional civil authority and achieving comprehensive peace through the appropriate preliminary measures.
In a press statement Aug. 13, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that Egypt continues to get in contact with “the brothers in Sudan and neighboring countries in order to achieve peace and stability there and support the new Sudanese government in its efforts to rise up to the aspirations of the Sudanese people.”
Sudan has been plagued by a political crisis since Dec. 19, 2018, when the protests broke out over the high price of bread. The protesters’ demands soon escalated to call for the ousting of Bashir, who had ruled the country for three decades. The protests continued after Bashir was ousted April 11, as people refused the rule of the military junta.
“Egypt supported Sudan’s political choices since the Bashir regime ended,” Tarek Fahmy, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor.
He said, “Egypt has also played several roles to end the Sudanese crisis, acting as a direct mediator to gather all the parties to the conflict and helping to pave the way for the transitional period with the participation of other regional powers such as Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and the African Union. Cairo also worked on the converging of point of views.”
Fahmy added, “The Egyptian prime minister was present during the signing of the power-sharing agreement between the military council and the Forces of Freedom and Change alliance, and Cairo hosted the meeting of the different Sudanese powers. Egypt has indeed been strongly present on the ground in the Sudanese scene."
He noted, “What matters now is that the Egyptian support for Sudan continues in the coming period because transitional periods are always fraught with problems.”
Fahmy said he expects that “Egypt would intensify its presence in Sudan based on its historical role in the country, and would transfer its expertise with regard to the transitional period as well as offer support to the military council and host consultations in Cairo, which is the most realistic scenario. Egypt’s role could also regress in Sudan, which is unlikely given the security considerations.”
Egypt and Sudan have enjoyed strong bilateral relations. At the political level, the two countries have been involved in the Nile water issue, the security and stability in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, as well as the fight against terrorism and extremism.
In economic terms, Egyptian investments in the Sudanese market are estimated at $10.1 billion according to 2017 statistics. Egypt has 325 Sudanese companies in the domains of industry, trade, agriculture and financial services according to the website of the Egyptian State Information Service.
Ammani El-Tawil, an African affairs expert at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor that Egypt's role in Sudan was mainly influential before the December revolution. She said, “Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was keen on attending the celebration session at the end of the Sudanese National Dialogue on Oct. 10, 2016, and recommended to achieve what was agreed upon at the National Dialogue sessions so that Sudan enjoys stability.”
She added, “By analyzing the content of the Egyptian discourse — echoed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since the beginning of the crisis in Sudan — we find that Egypt has always stressed its confidence in the choices of the Sudanese people.”
During a meeting in Cairo July 29 with Sudanese vice president of the Sudanese Military Transitional Council, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, Sisi affirmed Egypt's support for the will of the Sudanese people and their choices in shaping the future of their country and preserving state institutions. Sisi expressed Egypt’s readiness to offer all means of support to the Sudanese people to overcome this stage in line with their aspirations and away from foreign interference.
Tawil criticized the lack of a declared role for Egypt regarding the events in Sudan, which would cause Egypt political losses, saying, "The only declared role of Egypt was during the April 22 African mini-summit hosted by Cairo on Libya and Sudan, which resulted in granting the Sudanese Military Transitional Council a three-month time limit to establish a democratic regime.”
She noted, “Although the Egyptian role is not public, we cannot ignore the impact of this role, especially in terms of power distribution between civilians and the military council. This distribution meets the regional vision of the need for the presence of the Sudanese armed forces in power in light of geopolitical considerations linked to Sudan in terms of its impact on the Red Sea and the African Sahel security, as well as the internal Sudanese situation.”
Regarding the future of relations between the two countries, Tawil pointed to the need to adopt new mechanisms in the Egyptian-Sudanese relations, namely the need to send an Egyptian envoy to Sudan to move from the stage of official relations to closer relations at the level of civil society organizations, parties and universities.
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