The Impact of Hala'ib Dispute on the Sudanese-Egyptian Relations

By: Aisha Braima

KHARTOUM (Sudanow.info.sd)—Recent statements by Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir to the Arabiya satellite TV channel on the Sudan's relationship with Egypt have once again rekindled the dispute between the two countries over Hala'ib and Shalateen which Egypt has long claimed its ownership to the point that it has imposed its military occupation and administrative control over the territory since 1995 although no decision has been taken on a memorandum the Sudanese government filed with the United Nations and regional organizations about the dispute.

President Beshir has stated that Hala'ib triangle would remain Sudanese, explaining: "The first general elections held in Sudan under the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium covered Hala'ib as a Sudanese constituency," adding: "Elections constitute a genuine sovereign exercise."

The Sudan has called upon Egypt for directing negotiation over Hala'ib and Shalateen like what it did with Saudi Arabia about Sanafir and Tiran Red Sea islands last April or take the issue to an international arbitration. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry responded in an official statement by saying that Hala'ib and Shalateen are undisputed Egyptian territories under Egyptian sovereignty.

Awad Filisteeny, in an article carried by Alwan daily newspaper, believes that the recent provocation of Hala'ib issue was due to disagreements by the two countries over regional and international questions, including the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is supported by the Sudan and long opposed by Egypt believing that it would minimize its share of the Nile water, and the recent Saudi-Sudanese alliance. And amidst the accelerated developments and the conflicts of the economic interests, there erupted Egyptian fruits crisis which the Sudan has stopped importing, like several European and Asian states, inflicting an economic damage on Egypt. Tension and dissatisfaction have begun to envelope the bilateral relations between the Sudan and Egypt. Add to this, no official statement by the Egyptian government or a direct call has been made by Egypt's President Abdul Fatah Sisi with President Beshir for congratulations on the easing of the US economic sanctions on Sudan, as was done by many countries and organizations, creating a passive atmosphere among the Sudanese public opinion towards Egypt and its leading role in Arab and African spheres, as put by the writer.

Egyptian singer Oumkalthoum visits Khartoum in 1968
Egyptian singer Oumkalthoum visits Khartoum in 1968

In an article headlined "the President's Outrage" published by Alyoum Altaly daily newspaper, Amirah al-Ja'aly deduced that President Beshir's statements immediately on his return from the recent Addis Ababa African summit meeting where he met Egypt President Abdul Fatah Sisi indicate that a new crisis would surface. Those statements also imply that President Beshir has become fed up with the practices of the Egyptian intelligence in Sudan; and although the support by that intelligence to the Sudanese opposition is a public knowledge, the declaration of this support by the Head of State himself means expectoration of a hot breath from his chest, particularly bearing in mind an anti-Sudanese media campaign, likely prompted by the Egyptian intelligence, in connection with Hala'ib issue, in an attempt to portray President as if he is against Egypt's right to the territory. Add to this the allegation that the Sudan harbors the Egyptian opposition.

Ja'aly wrote, in conclusion, that Hala'ib constitutes to both presidents an issue of destiny about which President Sisi cannot compromise under the weak Egyptian political and economic situation, something which could cost him his presidency and his domestic popularity. The same applies to President Beshir who equally cannot compromise on the territory as it is a truly national issue and he has to defend his homeland, its rights and its territories.

Professor Abdul Latif al-Boony, the political science lecturer in the Sudanese universities, has additional reasons for the strain in the relations between the two countries, such as appearance in the region of alliance Boony describes as bizarre, including a recent visit by President Sisi to Uganda, a visit to Cairo by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, a strain in the relationship between Ethiopia and South Sudan, a visit by a senior Saudi Arabian official to the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, an accusation by the South Sudanese opposition to the Egyptian forces for shelling its positions and postponement of a declared meeting of presidents Beshir and Kiir.

Professor Boony goes on saying that all this has crystalized in the minds formation of a coalition of Uganda, South Sudan and Egypt against another coalition of Sudan, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia (beyond the Red Sea). However, the political scientist believes that if such coalitions have actually materialized, they would be fragile and would not last long, citing as an example the Nile water issue as it was the Renaissance Dam that has distanced Egypt from the Sudan as the former believes that the Sudan sides with Ethiopia. Whereas both Egypt and Sudan are strongly opposed to Entebbe Agreement which was masterminded by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and which has provided for abrogation of all previous Nile water deals and therefore rescinding the gained rights to the Nile water. The Entebbe agreement also stipulates that the source countries should take their needs before letting the Nile water flow northwards, a principle on which the Renaissance Dam was based. The Political Science Professor wonders whether Egypt has discussed this issue with President Museveni before establishing a coalition with him.

Egyptian President Abdul Nasser visits Khartoum after the 1967 defeat by Israel
Egyptian President Abdul Nasser visits Khartoum after the 1967 defeat by Israel

Professor Boony, who began his article with fears that the relations between Sudan and Egypt might be further roughened by a stimulant factor or exploited by an exploiter who might inflame a war which has not erupted since the raid by Mohamed Ali Pasha of the Fong Kingdom in 1821.

He advised the two countries to emancipate their inter-relations from other parties because the relationship between Sudan and Egypt is one of a common destiny even if there was no amity between them.

"Let Egypt encourage the American sanctions and let the Sudan encourage Cameroon in the final African nations football championship match, but all should bear the common interest in mind and nobody, a man or a woman, has to weep for the lost love," Professor Boony said.

Mustafa Abul Azaim has a similar position. He wrote in his column on Akhir Lahzah daily newspaper:-

"The intensive campaign against the formal and informal Sudan by a number of private satellite TV channels and newspapers which are issued in Cairo has tremendously impacted the bilateral relations between the two countries and has left an unsatisfactory impression on numerous Sudanese of all positions and ideological and political affiliations. This has made many Sudanese who used to enjoy gleefully to Oumkalthoum, Abdul Wahab, Abdul Halim and other stars of the fantastic Egyptian music and the Sudanese who used to memorize by heart the ancient and modern Egyptian literature and go through the intellectual heritage of the Egyptian symbols of literature and culture have begun to turn a blind eye and mind away from any modern cultural and intellectual Egyptian production. Not only that but also impacts of the former ties between the peoples of the Nile Valley which were for the interest of the Egyptian people began to subside during the past decades. Many of our youths unfortunately began to support African countries which have no direct popular relations with our country like Cameroon just to take a position against Egypt like the recent final match of the African nations' cup.

Mutual love: Egyptian poet al-Abanoudi and Sudanese
Mutual love: Egyptian poet al-Abanoudi and Sudanese

"The short-sighted people may not be bothered much about this but the future and the coming generations calls upon us to contemplate much on those developments which have incurred grave changes at the popular level of the two sisterly nations. The reasons for this situation have to be explored.

"We believe there is a party that seeks to separate the twin nations from each other and even seeks to undermine their interests. Holders with a strategic outlook feel that there is someone who plans to sabotage the eternal and historic ties between the two peoples of the Nile Valley for the interest of a power we are all aware of and targets our two countries- that is, Israel."

Unlike these reconciliatory positions, Dr. Osama Babikir, another political science lecturer in the Islamic University of Omdurman, laments the way the Egyptians treat the Sudanese and advocates escalation of Hala'ib issue by following up the issue politically at a bilateral level and address it diplomatically at the levels of the United Nations and regional organizations as President Sisi, according to Professor Babikir, cannot reach a solution to this question and other issues facing his country in the Arab and African forums due to the policies of a deep state of the Egyptian intelligence which makes decisions on the Egyptian affairs.




Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...


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