The war in Sudan entered its fifth month on 15 August, and the situation on the ground is growing worse by the day. The international media has shown horrific stories on bodies decaying in overcrowded morgues due to lack of electricity. Ordinary Sudanese people who suffer chronic diseases such as cancer or kidney failure have been forced to travel on risky roads for days to find a hospital where the medicine they require might be available at exorbitant costs.
Most people, including doctors and others providing vital services such as water and electricity, have been locked in their homes in fear for their lives because of continued fighting in the streets. The vast majority of hospitals are closed, so are all schools, and many facilities have been turned instead into fortified bases for the warring parties and previous partners, the Commander of the Sudanese Army Abdel-Fattah Burhan and the leader of the Rapid Support Forces, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti.
Refugees continue to flood to neighbouring countries, including South Sudan, which has its own refugee problem and can hardly handle the situation, particularly in terms of resources. Egypt, meanwhile, topped the list of countries receiving the Sudanese people, confirming further the close historic ties between the two countries.
Unfortunately, diplomatic efforts involving Saudi Arabia and the United States hosting representatives of the warring parties in Jeddah have stalled, and that is not to mention short-term truces that the mediating partners would periodically announce at the early period of the conflict, which were all always broken within hours of being declared.
To make matters worse, the recent military coup in Niger has obviously diverted attention away from the ongoing war and chaos in Sudan, and chances of renewed diplomacy to stop the fighting and reach a permanent ceasefire have clearly subsided.
While closely following developments in Niger and coordinating with African leaders on how best to restore stability, Egypt, as Sudan’s closest neighbour, could not afford to neglect the situation there, and continued to coordinate with concerned regional and international parties in order to stop the fighting, provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance to people inside Sudan, and support neighbouring countries in coping with the refugees flooding across their borders.
On 7 August, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri headed to N’Djamena, Chad, to attend the follow-up foreign ministers’ meeting of Sudan’s neighbouring countries, an initiative that Egypt launched a month ago in Cairo. The African ministers gave their endorsement to Egypt’s comprehensive plan aimed at bringing the five-month-long conflict to an end.
They also stressed the need to coordinate all ongoing efforts to end the war in Sudan, whether by Sudan’s neighbours, the African Union, IGAD or Arab and international partners such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and the European Union. Each initiative should take the other into account, considering that threats of outside intervention or imposing harsh measures against Sudan would only further harm the Sudanese people.
Egypt has been in a position to help end the fighting in Sudan. Since the outbreak of the war, Cairo has kept channels of communication open with both sides, all the while confirming the priority of maintaining Sudan’s unity and territorial integrity, as well as preserving the key institutions of the Sudanese state to prevent its collapse and possible fragmentation. After hosting the Cairo summit for leaders of countries neighbouring Sudan, Egypt also welcomed leaders of the Sudanese political parties that led the popular revolt there in 2019 for talks on how they can contribute to restoring peace.
The committee of ministers of foreign affairs in countries neighbouring Sudan who met in Chad said they would continue promoting their action plan to end the war when they meet again on the fringe of the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next month. This will be an opportunity to coordinate with other key players.
The action plan has been structured into three key components, namely the achievement of a conclusive ceasefire, the organisation of an all-encompassing intra-Sudanese dialogue, and the effective management of humanitarian concerns. The foreign ministers stressed the need to maintain open humanitarian corridors and called on the conflicting parties in Sudan to expedite the provision of aid to affected civilians. Furthermore, they advocated for the establishment of humanitarian storage facilities in neighbouring countries to enable swift transportation of relief materials and medical aid to victims.
They also underscored the significance of direct and continuous communication with the warring factions, aiming to identify the prerequisites for a sustainable ceasefire. This includes safeguarding civilians, halting the destruction of critical infrastructure, and ensuring the unhindered functioning of essential services such as water, food, electricity, and banking facilities.
Shoukri said the leaders of the neighbouring countries anticipate practical and actionable solutions and suggestions to bring an end to the Sudanese crisis. “They expect us to present a united front to achieve a single objective: convincing both sides of the conflict of the immediate necessity for a cessation of hostilities,” he said.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 17 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly