Date: Saturday, 23 March 2019
CAIRO - The Egyptian government’s declaration of support for security and stability in Sudan comes amid fears that unrest in the neighbouring country could spill into Egypt, security analysts said.
“What happens in Sudan affects conditions in Egypt, whether we like it or not,” said Akram Badr Eddine, a political science professor at Cairo University. “If Sudan descends into chaos, this will have its toll on the border between the two countries.”
During a meeting March 12 in Cairo with Sudanese Vice-President Ahmed Awad bin Awf and Intelligence chief Salah Gosh, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi confirmed Egypt’s full support for Sudanese security and stability.
Sisi stated Cairo’s support for Khartoum despite protests against the Sudanese leadership. “Egypt is keen on continuing joint cooperation between the two countries at all levels in light of the deep-rooted historical ties and the distinguished relations between our two countries, governments and people,” Sisi said.
He described Sudanese security and stability as “inseparable” from Egypt’s security. The Sudanese officials thanked Sisi for his support.
The Egyptian declaration of support ends Egypt’s silence on developments in Sudan, which has seen protests because of deteriorating economic conditions and high commodity prices since December.
Thousands of demonstrators defied the heavy-handed treatment by Sudanese security personnel and demanded changes to reform the economy.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir reshuffled his cabinet in February and promised to take measures to reduce anger on the street. He earlier declared a state of emergency and resigned as head of the ruling National Congress Party.
These moves failed to end street protests, however, and Sudan seems to be bracing for addition demonstrations.
Egyptian officials said they fear unrest in Sudan might spill into Egypt, given that many Egyptians have also complained about economic conditions and high commodity prices. Even if the Egyptian street remains calm, there are fears of instability on the Egyptian-Sudanese border and Sudanese refugees crossing into Egypt.
“Egypt has enough refugees inside it already,” said African affairs specialist Heba al-Beshbeshi. “The problem is that the refugees who come to Egypt do not live in refugee camps, like in other countries, but inside the cities like any other citizen and this puts a lot of burden on the national economy.”
Egypt hosts millions of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Palestinian territories and Sudan.
Egypt’s border with Sudan has always been a hot spot for arms and people smuggling. Both countries have sought to strengthen border security but increasing unrest in Sudan could pose a problem.
Egypt has increased its military capabilities along its western border with Libya to address security concerns in the neighbouring country and the smuggling of arms and militants from Libya into Egypt.
The last thing Cairo wants is to be surrounded by restive states that export trouble.
“This is why Egyptian support to Sudan is necessary,” said Ahmed Abdel-Dayem, a professor of political science at the African Studies Institute in Cairo.
Relations between the leadership in both countries have been moving from strength to strength, especially after Sisi became president in 2014. Since then, Sisi and Bashir have met 25 times, an exceptional number of encounters between two heads of state.
Sudan is at the heart of Egypt’s foreign policy and its outreach to other African countries and Khartoum is an important intermediary in Egypt’s attempts to reach an agreement with Addis Ababa over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Egypt fears will significantly threaten its share of Nile water.
Sudan has also become an important part of Egypt’s efforts to secure the southern entrance to the Red Sea, especially with the Iran-aligned Houthi militia in Yemen threatening navigation in the area.
There are also areas of dispute, particularly over sovereignty of the Halayeb and Shalateen border triangle. On March 21, just days after Sisi’s declaration of support in Cairo, Sudan’s minister for Oil and Gas appeared to reopen the issue, dubbing Cairo’s plans to explore for oil in the disputed territory “illegal.”
Egypt’s support for Khartoum is not limitless, analysts said.
“Relations between the two countries are important and strategic,” Abdel-Dayem said. “However, Egypt has limits to the length it can go in expressing support to its neighbouring state.”