Links between Sudan and Egypt are on the mend, a development Sudanese opposition groups and their western backers are not celebrating. And while US president Bill Clinton’s visit to Uganda, part of a flying tour to five African countries, might revive their spirits, the damage to their infamous cause by the improvement in relations between the two Nile countries seems irreversible.
The recent turn-around in ties is reflected in Cairo’s current efforts to carve for itself a role as mediator in the Sudanese conflict, with Khartoum’s blessing. Only a few months earlier, Egypt was a vocal supporter of Sudanese opposition factions and neighbouring States plotting a US-financed invasion of the country.
Vanished also is the charged atmosphere in which the Egyptian and Sudanese governments traded daily diplomatic and media insults, following the attempt on the life of Egyptian president Husni Mubarak at Addis Ababa airport in Ethiopia in June 1995. Both Egypt and Ethiopia accused the Sudanese government of involvement in the attempt.
The Sudanese foreign minister, Dr Mustafa Othman, confirmed in a newspaper report on March 20 that Cairo has embarked on a mediation initiative. ‘We have learnt from our Egyptian brothers that Egypt has a plan for mediation in the context of its desire to reinforce the security, stability and unity of Sudan,’ he told the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat. ‘The initiative covers both northern and southern opposition groups, and there are contacts between us and the brothers in Egypt on this issue.’
President Omar al-Bashir’s visit to Cairo earlier this month was preceded by his interior minister’s visit to Egypt. Sudanese and Egyptian officials resolved a number of outstanding issues and considerable progress was made, much to the chagrin of the Sudanese opposition and their western backers, both in government and the church.
Among the ‘outstanding issues’ resolved, according to Othman, are the suspended river communications, now resumed; the renewal of the rescinded trade protocol and the resumption of trade contacts; and the re-activation of the joint ministerial committee on the Nile waters, hitherto in abeyance, which has already achieved a consensus of views on this vital matter.
Moreover, serious inroads have already been made into the two most intractable and divisive issues: the closure of ‘Egyptian institutions’ in Sudan by the authorities in 1993, and the dispute over the border area of Halaib. The Sudanese foreign minister confirmed in his Al-Hayat interview that the two countries had reached partial agreement in the Halaib dispute, and cited an order by president al-Bashir to Sudanese officials to ‘make arrangements’ for the revision of the closure order.
The Egyptian institutions in question include the Cairo University branch in Khartoum, schools belonging to the education mission in the country, cultural and sports clubs, and irrigation centres. President Bashir’s decree, issued on March 15 to educational and irrigation officials, has been welcomed by Cairo as a prelude to the restoration of the institutions to Egyptian control.
This gradual improvement in ties has thrown the Sudanese opposition groups based in Asmara, Eritrea, into disarray. These groups, mostly northern Muslims, include the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by the Christian warlord John Garang. They enjoy the military, financial and diplomatic support of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and the US, and plan to invade the country from the south and the east.
Egypt’s previous blessings for the invasion tended to blunt the impact of their sinister ploy on Sudanese public opinion and to camouflage the Christian strategy behind the plot. With Egypt distancing itself from the conspirators, the northern opposition politicians are seen for what they are: pawns in the hands of Christian powers determined to break up Africa’s largest country and claim the south (predominantly animist) for Christendom.
A recent meeting of opposition leaders convened in Asmara failed to muster a quorum. Garang and the Ummah Party leader and former prime minister Sadeq al- Mahdi failed to turn up. And Al-Mahdi sent in proposals for the radical revision of the structure of the opposition coalition, a move expected to undo the already shaky organisation. It took the disparate groups long enough to agree a coalition in the first place.
As if to add insult to injury, popular and student rallies were held in front of the Parliamentary buildings on March 18, demanding that the ban on political parties not be lifted in finalising the new constitution. ‘Loyalty to martyrs and death of political parties,’ the demonstrators shouted.
But while the improved Sudanese-Egyptian relations and the resulting set-back to the Sudanese opposition groups are welcome developments, it must also be said that more is needed to prevent Uncle Sam’s dogs of war from breaking Sudan up. It is not sufficient for Cairo to act as an honest broker between Khartoum and the opposition, even assuming that that is its intention. It must side strongly and openly with the Sudanese people and government to defeat the Christian strategy of taking control of the sources of the Nile.
Clinton’s two-day visit to Uganda on March 24-25 was surely not about aid, trade and democracy as advertised. He conferred with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and Eritrean and Ethiopian leaders who had been specifically invited to Kampala to discuss the Sudanese conflict. Missing from the meeting’s agenda was an item seeking peace with Sudan and asking president al-Bashir for forgiveness.
Muslimedia: April 16-30, 1998