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Interview: Egypt's first ambassador to South Sudan says things there are under control

Ahram Online interviews Egypt's first ambassador to South Sudan, El-Dil’i, who paints a bright picture: assuring relations are good and that the South has everything under control

Mahmoud al-Nubi and Asmaa El-Husseini , Wednesday 17 Aug 2011

Egypt’s first ambassador to the newly formed country, South Sudan, Mu’ayid Fathallah El-Dil’i, discussed the prospects of Egyptian-South Sudanese cooperation in a meeting with Ahram Online in Juba.

El-Dil’i stressed that cooperation between the two countries goes back to 2005, where Egypt was the first to open a consulate in Juba. Since then, he says, cooperation has been multi-faceted in many fields such as electricity, health, education, water and administration.

El-Dil’i assured that Egypt respects the sovereignty of both North and South Sudan and that Egypt will try to close any communication gaps and mend disagreements between them, an area Egypt is experienced in, he added.

The ambassador spoke on the status of Egyptians in the south, assuring that the embassy is doing its best to register all Egyptians, mentioning that only 50 of the estimated 500 residents are currently registered.

When asked about security, El-Dil’i assured it is stable and that South Sudanese government is in complete control of the situation. When asked further about security, specifically of any aggressive feelings towards Arabs and Muslims in the south, El-Dil’i responded that in his year and half in Sudan he had not seen any negative sentiment towards Egyptians, Muslims nor Arabs.

El-Dil’i mentioned that the southerners’ negative experience with North Sudan’s President Omar El-Bashir’s government caused some of the feelings of opposition to a few symbols of Arabism and Islam. If analysed, however, the opposition is to the government and not to Arabism or Islam.

In the context of Egyptians and Egypt’s political approach to South Sudan in the past few years, El-Dil’i believes that the South Sudanese have very positive feelings towards Egypt, especially since a large number of southern officials and intellectuals got their education in Egypt.

As for the standing of the Arabic language after the secession, El-Dil’i said he doesn’t think it will vanish, since over 70 per cent speak Arabic or what is known as Juba Arabic. He also mentioned that South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir gives his speeches in Arabic on certain occasions. Adopting English as the official language in the south he attributes to the pursuit of an identity other than an Arab one, El-Dil’i said.

Egypt would welcome the admission of South Sudan to the Arab League, if it wants to join, El-Dil’i said.

El-Dil’i mentioned that six government ministers, the head of parliament and two advisors to the president studied in Egypt. El-Dil’i conceded that the events in the Mohandessin district of Cairo (where a Sudanese refugee sit-in was violently dispersed by Egyptian security) caused a temporary rift between Egypt and South Sudan, but he believes it has now passed.

On the important issue of the Nile Basin, now that South Sudan will be the 11th basin nation, El-Dil’i stated that the south’s independence will not affect water security. He insisted that President Salva Kiir himself said there are no problems with Egypt concerning Nile water, referring to Salva Kiir’s statements that even if only one water bottle remained, it would be split with Egypt.

Furthermore, South Sudan’s leadership will not take any steps concerning the Nile Basin that would undermine Egypt’s interest, El-Dil’i said. He recounted the promises South Sudan’s prime minister made in the last meeting. On the contrary, El-Dil’i said South Sudan is ready to talk to the countries wanting to sign the Entebbe agreement to convince them of Egypt’s stance.

When El-Dil’i was asked whether the new country would exert an extra burden on Egyptian diplomacy, being mindful of complicated north-south relations, he replied he doubted so. From the beginning, he says, Egypt made it clear to both sides that the security of all of Sudan is Egypt’s security. Egypt, he asserted, will pursue the common interest between them and itself, believing that both sides are appreciative of the Egyptian position.

In case of any disagreements, El-Dil’i reiterated Egypt’s determination to resolve any problems afflicting north-south relations, mentioning the time when the north decided to deport southern students and Egypt showed its willingness to host a number of them in Egyptian universities to help the South, which suffers a shortage in universities.

El-Dil’i said cooperation efforts are being intensified to boost relations, the latest of which was an invitation to South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Deng Alor Koul – which had promised to make it before the end of Ramadan – as well as the ministers of irrigation and health.

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