Disputed narratives: Cairo and Khartoum’s increasingly strained relationship
Doaa El-Bey , Thursday 11 Jan 2018
Sudan’s decision to recall its ambassador to Egypt and renew its complaint
to the UN Security Council over the Halayeb Triangle has compounded tensions
in the already strained relationship between Khartoum and Cairo.
Khartoum agreed last month to lease the Red Sea island of Suakin to Turkey,
bolstering the latter’s influence in the Red Sea. A meeting of the
chiefs-of-staff of Turkey and Qatar, two countries which Egypt accuses of
supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and the chief-of-staff of Sudan, was held
in Khartoum, bolstering Cairo’s concerns.
The moves, denounced in Egypt’s media as provocative, passed without any
official comment in Cairo.
On Monday, during a joint press conference with the Irish Minister for
Foreign Affairs and Trade George Noble Plunkett in Cairo, Foreign Minister
Sameh Shoukri said Egypt remained keen on maintaining its historic relations
“The direction in which relations are now heading requires avoiding negative
impacts on both peoples,” he said.
Shoukri explained that Cairo had been notified that the Sudanese ambassador’s
withdrawal had to do with the dispute over sovereignty of the Halayeb
Triangle and Egypt is assessing the situation and will take “appropriate
The Halayeb Triangle, on the Egyptian-Sudanese border bordering the Red Sea,
has been a point of difference between the two states since the demarcation
of borders carried out during the British occupation of Egypt in 1899.
Sudan has renewed a complaint to the UN Security Council demanding Cairo
hand over control of the region, according to a statement issued by Sudan’s
Foreign Ministry on Monday. Abdel-Mahmoud Abdel-Halim, Sudan’s ambassador to
Egypt, left Cairo last Thursday.
In the press conference Shoukri said the Halayeb issue is delicate and needs
to be addressed wisely, at the highest levels and outside the framework of
cooperation between the two countries.
Following the 2016 agreement delineating the maritime border between Egypt
and Saudi Arabia “Sudan is demanding Egypt either engages in direct
negotiations over the area or refers the issue to international
arbitration,” says Rakha Hassan, a former assistant to the foreign
Recalling its ambassador and the other measures taken are an attempt by the
Sudanese regime to distract its citizens from ongoing internal problems,
argues Hassan. “There has been a spate of bread riots and Sudan is still
suffering economically from the impact of the separation of South Sudan.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir is also the subject of media criticism
because of his policies.”
The move to lease Suakin to Turkey for 99 years was interpreted by local
news anchors and analysts as a sign that Turkey, Sudan and Qatar are
conspiring against Egypt.
“Egypt is not concerned with expanding ties as much as it is with Turkey’s
aspirations in the region and the impact of the deal on Egyptian interests,”
Suakin was for centuries an important trading port on the Red Sea and a
staging post for Muslim pilgrims travelling from Africa to Mecca and Medina.
During Ottoman times Turkey constructed a mosque on the island. Ankara has
been carrying restoration works on the island since 2011 and has already
restored the mosque.
After the leasing decree was signed Turkey said it would start restoring
other Ottoman ruins on the island. When the restoration project is complete
Turkish pilgrims travelling to Mecca will be able to fly to Sudan to visit
historical sites and then go to Jeddah by ship, reviving the old Ottoman
Turkey’s growing role in Sudan includes building a new airport in Khartoum,
a port, shipyards for military and civilian vessels on the Red Sea, a
hospital and power stations.
The meeting held between the Qatari, Sudanese and Turkish chiefs-of-staff
concluded with an agreement by the three states to develop military
Cairo’s perception that Khartoum remains supportive of the Muslim
Brotherhood, something the Sudanese regime denies, has also negatively
impacted relations, says Rakha.
Media reports in Sudan which falsely claimed Egypt had asked Ethiopia to
exclude Sudan from negotiations on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam complicated
an already febrile situation.
“The allegations do not make sense. The two states share a common history.
We share the same language and religion. We not only share the same river
but we are both downstream countries,” says Rakha.
Shoukri condemned the false information being purveyed by some Sudanese
media, cautioning that this undermines the joint interests of both
It is not the first time the media in both states have contributed to
Last year, Sudan’s media minister insisted in public statements that his
country’s civilisation is older than that of Egypt, triggering a media led
Tense relations between Cairo and Khartoum threaten to further derail the
already blocked tripartite negotiations between Egypt and both Ethiopia and
Sudan over the Renaissance Dam. Sudan had initially been supportive of
Egyptian concerns over the impact of the dam on the flow of the Nile but
changed its position in 2015.
Al-Bashir said in a TV interview in December 2015 that the dam has become a
reality and that it requires the cooperation of all parties to “ensure its
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly