Crisis in Sudan: Border Alert in Egypt

Ahmed Eleiba , Friday 5 May 2023

Cairo is increasingly concerned about the ways the Sudan crisis will impact border security.

Border alert
Border alert


Egypt’s border with Sudan is 150km longer than its border with Libya. While Cairo has stepped up precautions along its southern border since the outbreak of the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the situation is fuelling growing concern.

One major problem Cairo faces is that the conflict could pave the way for a resurgence of figures from the deposed Omar Al-Bashir regime. Its primary support base was the Muslim Brotherhood, which many Sudanese believe is the third main player in the current conflict.

Egypt struggled for years following the 25 January Revolution in 2011 to restore security and stability to Sinai, which had fallen prey to the worst wave of terrorism and violence in its history.

Only relatively recently did the Egyptian Armed Forces succeed in quelling the onslaught which was fed by regional conflict, instability and the chaos on which transnational terrorist groups thrive.

Egypt’s eastern border, once riddled with tunnels, had been instrumental in nourishing the problem in Sinai. Egypt’s western border was also difficult given the security breakdown in Libya, which facilitated attempts to export violence into Egypt.

According to a military expert, the RSF has been releasing prominent old regime figures from prison, though it has accused the SAF of responsibility in an attempt to tarnish the reputation of its adversary.

While RSF Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dalago (Hemedti) has repeatedly claimed that Muslim Brotherhood figures had links with the SAF, it is important to bear in mind that Hemedti was himself associated with the Brotherhood. It was, after all, the Al-Bashir regime that brought Hemedti from Darfour to Khartoum and supported the creation of his paramilitary outfit.

Tit-for-tat charges of old regime and Muslim Brotherhood connections hold little water in the current facedown between the commanders of the RSF and SAF.

Egyptian-Sudanese relations were rife with tensions during the Al-Bashir era. Yet Cairo had managed to work out a modus vivendi with the Sudanese regime despite that fact that it was reliant on Muslim Brotherhood figures hostile to Egypt. That said, it will be difficult to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood if they were given the opportunity to reassert their influence in Sudan in any significant way.

Like its counterpart in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan has splintered. It has split into eight organisations.

The two most important are the group headed by Seif Al-Din Arbab, which still maintains a presence in Egypt’s southern neighbour, and the group led by Adel Ala Allah which is currently based abroad. Both are closely connected with the mother organisation in Egypt, although the latter is also related to the London-based international Muslim Brotherhood.

Observers believe that the current conflict is bringing the two together, under a nascent umbrella framework the Broad Islamic Current. While its chances of returning to the fore in the Sudanese political scene are weak, and its agenda is currently focused on the home front, it is doubtful that the organisation poses a significant threat to Egypt.

Following the collapse of the Al-Bashir regime, Egypt took in some Sudanese political forces, including those that had espoused an anti-Egyptian stance during the Sudanese revolution.

Sources in Cairo point out that many of these anti-Egyptian political forces have not changed their outlook, so it is important to bear in mind not just how the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates might have had a hand in triggering the current conflict, but how they could disrupt Egyptian-Sudanese relations in the future should they regain influence in Khartoum. The same sources also say it is important to remember how the RSF provoked Cairo at the outset of the conflict by detaining Egyptian air force personnel in Meroe.

Perhaps more important, in the opinion of Egyptian sources, is that all Sudanese stakeholders, regardless of their position towards Cairo, understand that Egypt is committed to dealing with Sudan as a brother. Egypt has always opened its arms to Sudanese refugees. It has never intervened militarily in Sudan and has always offered its mediating services to all parties.

The Egyptian record of diplomacy in the Libyan crisis, despite its opposition to the militia factions in western Libya, is proof of Cairo’s even-handed approach to its neighbours. Cairo understands that, whether in Libya or in Sudan, the interests of the various factions pale in comparison to the interests of the vast majority of people who look to Egypt as a safe haven and supportive neighbour in times of crisis. Just as Egypt has prioritised resolving the conflict in neighbouring Libya, so too its focus is to stop the war in Sudan.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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