Cairo-Egypt is steping up support to Sudan, with its southern neighbor facing unrelenting unrest and an uncertain political future. The Egyptian ambassador in Khartoum, Hossam Essa, revealed on April 3 that his country’s army had built a number of bread bakeries in some Sudanese cities. The army, he added, would build electrical power plants in Sudan as well. These moves, he said, come in response to requests by the Sudanese government.
Sudan has been surfing from a high wave of unrest since mid-December last year, with thousands of people taking to the streets to protest the deteriorating economic conditions. The demonstrators have also been protesting plans by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, in power since 1989, to seek a new five-year-term in the presidency and introduce amendments to the constitution to tighten his grip on power.
So far, several demonstrators have been killed, dozens wounded and hundreds of others thrown in jail, amid a heavy crackdown by Sudanese authorities. With his tough approach bearing little fruit, Bashir has had to soften his government’s tone by declaring a series of measures to convince the demonstrators to go home.
He has reshuffled the cabinet, appointed a new vice-president, and said he would not seek reelection in 2020. He also pledged to guide his country out of the current economic mess by issuing directives for government action to end commodity shortages and bring commodity prices down. However, all these measures are doing nothing to end the protests which brought life in most of the universities to a total halt and threaten to derail the Sudanese economy even more.
Bashir seems to be running out of solutions and is apparently waiting for outside help. This help is coming from Egypt, Sudan’s northern neighbor, which has its economic hardships too.
Apart from the bakeries and the electrical power plants, Egypt is also sending flour to Sudan and plans to send medical doctors to make up for an acute shortage in Sudanese hospitals. Sudan, according to Egyptian political analysts said, is a very important country for Egypt. “Strengthening relations between Egypt and Sudan always reflects positively on Egypt’s relations with other African states,” said Ramadan Qurani, an Egyptian African affairs specialist. In a way, improving Egypt’s relations with Sudan is a small detail in the larger picture of Egypt’s warming ties with fellow African states.
Since coming to power in mid-2014, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has put his country’s relations with other African countries back on track, following years of malevolence. Al-Sisi has met with Bashir 25 times, including six in Sudan, since coming to power, a reflection of the importance his administration attaches to relations with Khartoum.
Egypt has investeds around $10 billion in Sudan and has an annual trade exchange of $1 billion with the country. It has also made efforts to double this level of trade exchange in the coming few years.
Nevertheless, the ongoing unrest in Sudan means that these relations have acquired even greater importance, political analysts have stated . Egypt, which has problems along its border with neighboring Libya due to the ongoing unrest in the North African state, is also afraid that further deterioration of security conditions in Sudan will negatively affect it.
Millions of Sudanese citizens already live in Egypt and Cairo’s nightmare is that an out of control Sudan will send hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of additional refugees to its border, analysts added.
The new Egyptian charm offensive in Sudan comes following Sudanese anger at reports that Egypt had invited international oil companies to explore minerals in an Egyptian border territory Sudan claims to be its own. Ambassador Essa has stated that these reports are unfounded. Nonetheless, Egypt will face difficulty in convincing ordinary Sudanese citizens that its support has nothing to do with whether or not al-Bashir should stay in power, with some citizens accusing Cairo of throwing a lifeline to the Sudanese president.
“Egypt’s support has provoked the anger of Sudanese citizens,” Sudanese political activist Wayel Ali said. “We are apparently headed toward tough times.”