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Is Sudan’s foreign policy controlled by Saudi Arabia?

Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour [file photo]

Sudanese and Egyptian foreign ministers meet tomorrow for long-awaited talks to address major differences that have caused diplomatic tensions to rise. Last week’s proposed meeting was officially postponed due to “adverse weather conditions” at Khartoum International Airport, but commentators believe other mitigating factors would have delayed the discussions if the weather had not intervened.

Ahead of the meeting to discuss several contentious issues, there are accusations that Sudan’s new assertive foreign policy stance is being backed and controlled by Saudi Arabia.  Whatever the truth, Sudan has signalled an intention to adopt a more forceful diplomatic stance with its northern neighbour, departing from the usual silent diplomacy by publicly accusing Egypt, this week, of taking a hostile position against Sudanese interests.

Spokesperson from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Ahmed Abu Zaid [MFAEgypt/Twitter]

Spokesperson from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Ahmed Abu Zaid [MFAEgypt/Twitter]

Last Thursday, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour publically requested Cairo explain why an Egyptian diplomat, at an informal UN Security Council consultation meeting on 7 April, supported maintaining a UN arms embargo and other sanctions imposed on Sudan. In a statement, Ghandour expressed bewilderment: “Egypt has always been the most supportive to Sudan in the Security Council, for us, this is a strange situation.”

However, 24 hours later, a spokesperson from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Ahmed Abu Zaid, denied the claim saying the Sudanese had enquired through diplomatic channels and were told by the Egyptian embassy in Khartoum that “Egypt always adopts supportive attitudes in favour of the Sudanese people.”

Abu Zaid added that the Security Council’s sanctions committee did not discussed at its recent meetings the extension of sanctions against Sudan, because it had already been extended for one year on 8 February.

Another indication of Sudan’s intention to bolster its foreign policy to protect Sudanese interests came last week with the decision requiring Egyptian travellers to obtain entry visas. Sudanese sources at Cairo airport, quoted on Egypt Independent news service, said that Khartoum’s decision was based on the principle of reciprocity, because the Egyptian government imposed the same procedures on Sudanese travellers.

Egyptian intelligence services expressed the belief that Sudan’s more forthright foreign policy stance is being encouraged by Khartoum’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia. Sources speaking to Al-Hiwar satellite television channel on 12 April claimed that the increased economic and military cooperation between Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States encouraged the East African state to renew its determination to confront Egypt.

Dr Anwar Eshqee of the Middle East Centre for Political Studies in Jeddah, Saudi, speaking to Al-Hiwar said he did not believe that Saudi Arabia would intervene in the affairs of another sovereign state.

This would be against Saudi foreign policy because the Kingdom believes that any intervention favouring one side or another would only make the situation worse.

Last month, an Egyptian parliamentarian, Hatem Bashat, condemned Sudan for covert plans to eliminate the Egyptian presence in the disputed Halayeb and Shalateen area. He claimed that Egypt was being bullied by Sudan and repeated the suggestion that Khartoum was being influenced by Saudi Arabia.

His outburst followed an announcement by Sudanese foreign ministry of a “roadmap” to reclaim the territory. The head of Sudan’s Technical Committee for Border Demarcation (TCBD), Abdallah Al-Sadiq, told the media that officials from the foreign, justice and interior ministries, the National Records Office and the TCBD met to modify files prepared by previous committees.

Egyptian soldiers [file photo]

Egypt and Sudan have been embroiled in a protracted dispute over the ownership of the Halayeb and Shalateen triangle, which is a 20,580 kilometre area on the Red Sea between Egypt and Sudan. For the first time, last week Egyptian state television broadcast live Friday prayers from Jam’oun Mosque in Shalateen city. This has been seen as a provocative move. The prayers were attended by the leaders of the governorate, the leaders of the armed forces and a number of tribal sheikhs.

Sudanese journalist, Abdel Hamid Qutb, based in the UAE, says feelings are running high, but he put the renewed Sudanese stance down to Khartoum’s belief that the Egyptian government is arming the SPLM/N rebels in Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile area, a claim that Cairo emphatically denies.

Whatever the outcome of the foreign ministerial talks, it seems clear that Sudan is prepared to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy stance aimed at protecting its interest. The hope is some interim solution can be found to the issue of Halayeb. Last week, Sudan’s Defence Minister, Awad Ibn Ouf, said in a statement that Sudan’s armed forces were facing “provocation” from the Egyptian army in the disputed area. Tomorrow’s meeting will hope, at the very least, to ease tensions and pave the way for a presidential meeting between the two heads of state that will settle matters once and for all.

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