Egypt-Sudan relations are expanding in scope, as evidenced by the intense bilateral activities on multiple levels. The recent visit of the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi, to Egypt on 2 March and her meeting with Egyptian President, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, and gathering with her Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, clearly demonstrate the genuine and mutual willingness to foster bilateral relationships on issues and topics of mutual concern and to coordinate and promote a united political vision and stance. In tandem with this visit, discussions between the Egyptian and Sudanese armed forces were being held in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, culminating in the signing of a military cooperation agreement covering army drills, national security, and military cooperation on multiple levels.
The crowning moment of such growing rapprochement was the visit of President Al-Sisi, to Khartoum on 6 March. The visit, which is the first of the Egyptian president since the fall of Omar Al-Bashir’s regime in 2019, included important top-level meetings with the Chairman of the Transitional Military Council, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, Deputy Chairman of the Transitional Military Council, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok, all of whom reflect the depth of Egyptian-Sudanese relations, and the mutual desire to strengthen joint capacities to address common challenges and ensure security and stability in both countries.
This report reviews the general context associated with the Egyptian-Sudanese rapprochement and touches upon the various dimensions of this bilateral collaboration.
The Context of the Egyptian-Sudanese Rapprochement
The growing Egyptian-Sudanese rapprochement is governed by a number of regional and bilateral issues of common interest, including:
- The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) File: The Egyptian-Sudanese rapprochement on the GERD grew after negotiations with Ethiopia reached deadlock by Ethiopia declaring the filling of the reservoir behind the dam for the second year with 13.5 billion cubic meters next July without reaching a legally binding agreement with Egypt and Sudan.
Ethiopia’s unilateral decision prompted the coordination of efforts and position of the two downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan), that see the importance of reaching a legally binding agreement that regulates the operation and filling of the GERD in the interest of the three riparian countries without affecting Egypt and Sudan’s share of Nile water. In this context, Egypt and Sudan called on Ethiopia to show goodwill and to engage in effective African-Union sponsored negotiations by setting up an international quartet chaired by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, currently chairing the African Union, and comprising of the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States to mediate negotiations and reach a binding agreement.
- Sudan-Ethiopia Border Tensions: The tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan over the borders have steadily escalated. The borders have seen a great deal of unrest with the outbreak of fights between the Ethiopian and Sudanese forces late last year. Following these fights, on 31 December 2020, Sudan announced enhancing its military presence in the Fashqa border area and recovering it, adhering to its right in the land that has been taken over by Ethiopia a quarter-century ago. On the other side, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry accused Sudan of encroachment upon its borders. Notably, the two countries had previously agreed on settling this dispute through technical committees, but Sudan accuses Ethiopia of stalling the implementation of the High-level Sudanese-Ethiopia Borders Committee recommendations, let alone wide-scale mobilization on its borders.
- Internal Political Landscape in Sudan: The new Sudanese government – formed in February 2021, after a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the Revolutionary Front in Juba in October 2020 – faces a great deal of security and economic challenges, leaving Sudan suffering from difficult economic challenges which Egypt is willing and keen on supporting Sudan in overcoming them. Egypt’s approach has been stressed by President Al-Sisi during his meeting in Cairo with the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Mariam Al-Mahdi.
Dimensions of the Egyptian-Sudanese Partnership
- Military Cooperation: There is existing cooperation between Egypt and Sudan in the military field, evidenced by the bilateral joint military drills, including the recent Nile Eagles-1, which is a joint air exercise held on 20 November between the air forces of both countries. These military drills reflect a wider tendency to strengthen bilateral military relations and promote collaboration in fields of military rehabilitation, drills, exchange of expertise, border security, combating terrorism, technical security, and military industries. Moreover, on 2 March 2020 in Khartoum, Egypt and Sudan signed a military cooperation agreement in the presence of the chiefs of staff of both armed forces, a step that reflects the mutual willingness to collaborate on confronting common challenges and dangers.
- Promoting Development Projects: The Egyptian-Sudanese rapprochement resulted in strengthening cooperation in bilateral trade and investment as well as in different areas of strategic cooperation. The transportation field received its share of interest as the two countries are involved in building a railway network that connects the two neighboring countries together, aside from collaboration in the fields of air, land, river, and sea transportation, among others.
- Humanitarian Aid: Egypt providing humanitarian aid to Sudan reflects the depth of the strong historical ties and brotherly relations between the two countries. In May 2019, Egypt sent a shipment of medical aid to Sudan, delivered at the Khartoum Airport on military aircraft. The shipment comprised 25 tons of medications and medical supplies to ease the burden on the Sudanese people. Further, in October 2020, the Egyptian Armed Forces prepared and dispatched several semi-automatic bread production lines along with competent technicians to Sudan, transported, on three Egyptian military aircraft landed in the International Khartoum Airport.
- Confronting the Outbreak of COVID-19: In May 2020, Egypt sent a shipment of urgent medical supplies and medications to Sudan. In addition, the Egyptian Armed Forces General Command prepared and sent to Sudan four military aircraft loaded with a large quantity of urgent medical supplies and medications.
- Flood Relief: As part of Egypt’s solidarity with the Sudanese people affected by floods that struck Sudan in September 2020, large quantities of urgent aid were sent to Sudanese afflicted areas.
- Egypt and Sudan signed an agreement for collaborating on disease control, reviewing process of sending Egyptian medical convoys, supporting capacity-building in Sudan, and ensuring Sudan’s benefit from President Al-Sisi’s initiative aimed at providing treatment to one million HIV carriers in Africa.
- Providing 10 scholarships for the Sudanese physicians as part of the Egyptian Fellowship Program.
- Providing Sudan with virus C treatment guidelines.
- Activating bilateral epidemiological surveillance and control systems.
Evidently, the Egyptian-Sudanese rapprochement is in the interest of both countries, particularly given the coordination and the unified position on issues of common concern, especially the GERD crisis. The top-level bilateral meetings between Egyptian and Sudanese leaders are a direct message to Ethiopia that will get in its way of making a unilateral move, i.e. re-filling the dam for the second time without reaching an agreement with the two riparian countries, Egypt and Sudan.