In the course of their long history, Sudan and Egypt have never been very close as far as political consultation and joint cooperation are concerned. It is true that the deposed Islamist former president of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, was a stumbling block to any progress in the relations between the two nations. It was the Islamist regime of Al-Bashir and his supreme guide Hassan Al-Turabi that dealt a powerful blow to Egypt, calling it a bad neighbour and disorienting the Sudanese public.
With Al-Bashir’s fall from power in 2019 thanks to a popular and army-backed revolution similar to the two revolutions in Egypt that ushered in the demise of former president Hosni Mubarak and former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, a new chapter opened in Egypt-Sudan relations.
For the first time in their history, Egypt and Sudan have conducted quality military exercises, codenamed Eagles of the Nile, to ensure that both armies remain well-prepared in the face of any regional dangers threatening their countries existence or jeopardising their national security. The exercises included tasks such as reconnaissance training, interception and air and land assistance in defence of vital objectives, plus the training of special forces on both sides.
Egypt has also reiterated its full support for Sudan’s national security in the face of any regional threats to Sudan’s territorial integrity and stability. This is a language spoken by both Sudan and Egypt. The two nations are attached by inextricable people-to-people bonds that should never be allowed to break or to fall victim to any “whimsical” inclinations.
The media in both countries are tasked with a major role, as both need to engage in a different discourse and make a clean sweep of any misperceptions that may regrettably have been instilled in the minds of average Sudanese and Egyptian people over the decades.
Egypt was never, even in the darkest moments of its relations with Sudan, the kind of bad neighbour that Al-Bashir’s media pretended. During the harsh US sanctions on Sudan, Egypt was almost the sole provider of life-saving commodities to the Sudanese people, starting from the most basic and including industrial spare parts. Under President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, a project that has been waiting in the wings for years has now finally come online, namely Egypt’s electrical linkage with Sudan.
Sudan will remain Egypt’s strategic ally thanks to the shared cultural values and common heritage binding the two countries together. Here, we need to put efforts into promoting Sudan to Egyptian public opinion in order better to reflect the current level of continued coordination and political consultation between the leaders of the two countries.
The media on both sides should work on enforcing the code of ethics that was signed between the two countries some two years ago and refrain from the use of any “profanities” when they handle different issues between them. This entails engaging in more serious exchanges of more media professionals on both sides. Agreements between the two countries should not be allowed to remain simply ink on paper, as the environment is now conducive to more constructive engagement between the two sides.
Users of social media on both sides need to be fully acquainted with the recent unprecedented progress in relations between the two countries so that their interactions on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will reflect that positive environment in the political, economic and trade spheres.
Here is a reminder that the lone wolves of the Muslim Brotherhood may still be active in the virtual world on both sides and that different pages on Facebook in particular serve as launching pads for venomous content directed especially at young people.
Public diplomacy is also important for building relations. A recent effort by a Sudanese and an Egyptian think-tank to further relations between the two countries was a move in the right direction. Such unofficial initiatives could play a more significant role in promoting people-to-people relations, particularly in the media and culture.
Economic benefits remain, however, the core of relations between peoples and countries. Egypt’s goal to establish an industrial park in Sudan must, therefore, be given top priority, and all the Egyptian bodies concerned should not spare any efforts to realise this goal in the near future.
Now that the US sanctions on Sudan have been lifted and the country’s name is no longer on the US List of State Sponsors of Terrorism, prospects of a new and more economically powerful Sudan are looming, and Egyptian businesspeople have to grasp this moment. Thanks to connections between the two countries in terms of land and maritime transportation, it is now much easier to do business than it was, and there are more opportunities to further economic and trade relations between the two peoples.
The economic hardships facing Sudan today should not derail Egyptian entrepreneurs from starting joint projects in favour of the two peoples. These difficulties will surely be overcome as they walk hand-in-hand together within the framework of a transformation process. The Egyptian people experienced something like this when their economy was being transformed five years ago, and economically speaking Egypt is now better than it was before it started to implement its economic-reform programme.
Things will surely continue to advance. This is also true in the Sudanese case, where things will get back to normal once an ambitious economic-reform programme is in motion.
Now, and as the two countries are back on track, nothing, literally nothing, should be allowed to derail them in furthering their relations and elevating these to the full strategic partnership to which their two peoples have long aspired.
The time is ripe for action to be taken towards a stronger alliance between Sudan and Egypt, and the opportunity should not be missed.
*The writer is a former press and information officer in Ethiopia and an expert on African affairs.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 February , 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly