Stuck on Sudan-Egypt highway: Voices of Egyptian truck drivers get louder

Zeinab El-Gundy , Tuesday 15 Feb 2022

Hundreds of Egyptian truck drivers with their empty trucks began to return to Egypt from Sudan on Friday after being stuck in a Sudanese northern highway between the two countries for more than two weeks.

Hundreds of Egyptian trucks lining up on the highway between Egypt and Sudan (Photos courtesy of General Union of Transport Workers and Services)

This came due to Sudanese farmers’ protest against a recent decision by the Sudanese government to raise the electricity prices.

According to Egyptian drivers and news agencies, at least 1,500 Egyptian truck drivers and their trucks were stopped and could not move forward or backward in Sheryan El-Shamal highway or the northern highway in Sudan’s Northern State since late January.

In total, the protesting farmers in the Northern State set up about more than 10 “Trus” or makeshift blocks throughout the main trade route between the two countries to object to the rise of the electricity price in their region late January. According to the Sudanese farmers, the decision threats their living, as they cannot handle more expenses in hard economic times.

It is unclear how many Egyptian truck drivers have returned and how many are still stuck in the neighbouring country as, according to Sudanese media and Sudanese activists, the blockade ended in certain areas while remained in other areas thought.

So far, only empty Egyptian trucks are allowed to return.

The protesters already allowed buses and cars carrying passengers to pass freely between the two countries.

Egyptian truck drivers in limbo

Egyptian truck driver and representative of the General Union of Transport Workers and Services (GUTWS) Zein El-Hawary said on Friday that he returned safely to Egypt after being stuck there. 

El-Hawary had been documenting in video clips on his Facebook page the saga of the Egyptian truck drivers and their trucks in the neighboring country for more than two weeks.

The videos showed the drivers complaining how blockade affected their work and their health, and their demand to return safely to Egypt as their trucks full of goods are standing in rows all over the highways.

Aside of the trucks parked on the highway, El-Haway and the drivers filmed and showed the different makeshift blockades, or Trus in Arabic, made by the angry protesters through Sheryan El-Shammal.

“A very important notice to our brothers from truck drivers heading with goods to Sudan, remember your colleagues who are still stuck in Sudan and going there can endanger your safety and life,” said the short statement or rather warning issued last week by the GUTWS.

The warning was echoed in Egyptian truck drivers Facebook pages and groups every day.

El-Hawary warned the drivers in a video on his 20th day in Sudan showing an Egyptian truck damaged after angry Sudanese protesters hurled rocks at.

“Warning! Your truck can meet the same fate, you will risk your life and your truck if you come to Sudan,” El-Hawary said in a video clip telling other truck drivers not to be greedy now for their safety.

There were fears on Thursday that things would escalate after an Egyptian truck driver ran over a Sudanese protester killing him, but things calmed down.

The northern highway is considered the main exports trade route in Sudan with the Egyptian truck drivers nearly dominating the highway between the two countries. 

According to early statements issued in January by the Egyptian embassy in Khartoum the size of the trade exchange between Egypt and Sudan reached $718 million in the first half of 2021.

The main exports from Egypt to Sudan are food commodities, industrial products, chemicals and machinery. Meanwhile, the main exports from Sudan to Egypt are livestock, Sesame, peanuts and cotton.

According to Egyptian officials from the Ministry of Supply in January 2021, Egypt imports are estimated at more than 20,000 livestock annually.

There have not been any official statements from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry on the blockade but according to online testimonies of the Egyptian drivers, the Egyptian consulate in the border city of Halfa between Egypt and Sudan has been helping the drivers whether with food or medicine.

According to reports, there are ongoing talks between the Egyptian and Sudanese authorities in addition to the protesters.

Meanwhile, Sudanese media has reported that there is divergence in demands by some protesters on the ground and others affiliated to the Northern Farmers Association, which is one of Sudan’s biggest farmers unions. The association warned protesters not to press for political demands and stick to their initial economic demands.

On the other hand, the blockade received the support of the Sudanese social media and activists as a pressure tool on the current Sudanese regime as the protest movement continues in the country.

The blockade also comes at the time that there is an increasing anti-Egyptian sentiment in the Sudanese social and mainstream media claiming that Egypt intervenes in Sudanese affairs and exploits its wealth.

In late January, Egyptian Ambassador Hossam Eissa complained of rumors spread in the Sudanese media targeting Egypt and the relations between the two close neighbouring countries.

Sudan entered a state of political instability when General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan declared a state of emergency, ousted the government and detained the civilian leadership before their release.

The military takeover upended a two-year transition to civilian rule, drew international condemnation and punitive measures, and provoked large protests.

Egypt has repeatedly urged all Sudanese parties to exercise restraint and to prioritize national interest and consensus.

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