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Post-coup politics raise tensions between Egypt and Sudan

04-17-2014, 08:43 PM
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Post-coup politics raise tensions between Egypt and Sudan

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    Alastair SloanRelations between Cairo and Khartoum are tense. Although many fleeing the coup have made it to Libya or London, hundreds if not thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members are thought to have fled to Khartoum. The run down to the border is punctuated by military checkpoints, but it is 2000 km long and Sisi's men have not been able to police it completely. However the recent capture of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, and his subsequent detention and alleged torture, shows that the trip is not for the faint-hearted.

    Sudan appears to be honouring its international obligations for the time being and, with the exception of two seemingly random cases, none of the Brotherhood exiles have faced extradition back to Egypt. Instead they are settling-in, buying houses, setting-up businesses and sending their children to local schools.

    While London is now a communications hub, and Libya's wilds have offered sanctuary, Khartoum is of special historical significance to Egyptian Islamists. Sudan played a major role in the expansion of Islamism from the 1950s until the 1990s, serving as the first country to which the Muslim Brotherhood was exported from its northern neighbour. For decades, Hassan Al-Turabi, arguably Sudan's most prominent and recognisable political figure, led a largely-successful process of state Islamisation.

    The National Islamic Front and Turabi were also implicated in the attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995. Backed by Al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian terrorist organisation Gamaa Islamiya planned the attack, which was to take place during the summit of the Organisation of African Unity in Addis Ababa. The group was able to send weapons to the Ethiopian capital from Khartoum on a Sudan Airways flight. When the assassination plan failed, some of the plotters fled to Sudan. Others were incarcerated in Egypt, to be released later during the Arab Spring.

    Two weeks ago, the visit to Sudan of Wagdy Ghoneim, a Qatari-Egyptian cleric with close ties to the Brotherhood in Egypt, also set tongues wagging in pro-Sisi circles in Cairo. The most malicious speculated that Khartoum may now be being used as a terror base, and that Ghoneim is helping to plot attacks on Egyptian soil. Sources within the Brotherhood, though, claim that Morsi took a special interest in de-radicalisation and there is nothing to suggest that Ghoneim's punchy rhetoric against the coup will amount to anything more than peaceful jihad.

    Although he renounced his formal membership some years ago, Ghoneim is still linked closely to the Brotherhood in Egypt. He is being tried in absentia alongside Morsi, and a senior official within the movement told Middle East Monitor that the cleric had played a close advisory role within Morsi's government, often warning of an imminent coup. While Ghoneim is criticised hotly in the Western press and often characterised as a violent agitator, the Brotherhood insists that his call for "jihad against Morsi's enemies" in July last year was peaceful, in line with the current strategy of non-violent civil disobedience.

    Mohammed Kairat, a Cairo-based political analyst and founder of the politics blog Egyptian Streets, is sceptical about any terror plans. "A move to Khartoum, and planning of 'attacks', would signal a clear deviation from its public policy and would set [the Brotherhood] up for public relations doom," he told MEMO. "The UK, the USA and the world would not hesitate to designate it as a terrorist organisation." Kairat added that the Muslim Brotherhood's members, particularly the youth, would in any case be unlikely to support such a move.

    The presence of Qatari money in Khartoum is also buffering any temptation towards violence, according to Eric Reeves, an expert in Sudanese politics. Qatar's Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, held talks with Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir shortly after Ghoneim's visit (which appears to have been coincidental), announcing $1 billion in aid for Sudan's economy.

    "The Qataris are ambitious," Reeves argues, citing the Doha peace mediation for the crisis in Darfur. "They would lose all Western support if they were to be implicated in any act of terrorism." He added that they are vulnerable on a variety of fronts: "Banking sanctions by the US alone, and certainly with the support of the EU, would cripple the country."

    Ties are complicated further by the growing issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia in which Sudan has effectively sided with its south-eastern neighbour, although it still claims to play a mediating role. The government in Khartoum angered Cairo by accepting the final findings of a consultation conducted largely by the Ethiopian government and offered to send engineers to help in the dam's construction. Ethiopia welcomed the move.

    Egyptian authorities worry that the project will strangle their water supply, as 85 per cent of the Nile's water comes from Ethiopia, mainly through rainfall in its highlands; over 90 per cent of Egyptians rely on water from the river.

    According to Eric Reeves, Sudan's division into two separate countries complicated the Nile issue for Egyptian diplomats. "Once the South became independent, Cairo had two Sudans to deal with; not something that they wanted." Sisi's comments about military action against the Renaissance Dam project is bound to complicate the regional situation for Khartoum, he pointed out. "The Sudanese seek allies while recognising that being friends with some neighbours is going to make difficulties with others."

    Critics in Sudan say that Cairo is abusing its strength to ensure that upstream countries are left thirsty while Egypt remains well watered. One presidential candidate in Egypt has even announced that he would declare war on Ethiopia immediately if he wins office.

    "However, the Blue Nile is roughly 75 per cent of the total Nile waters," says Reeves, "so Egyptian threats of military action are going to create ongoing problems for Khartoum in negotiating its way in the region."

    With these tensions as the backdrop, a begrudging military alliance has also been formed to police the Sinai. The joint border patrols appear to be extremely limited, suggesting that the agreement may exist only on paper.


                  

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