President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi met with his Sudanese counterpart Omar Hassan Al-Bashir at the Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace on 18 October to discuss bilateral relations and the conflicts in Libya and Syria. Al-Bashir’s two day visit to Cairo was his first since the removal of Mohamed Morsi, a strong supporter of Al-Bashir and his party.
The first day of Al-Bashir’s visit included a closed-door meeting with Al-Sisi followed by one attended by ministerial delegations from both sides at which ways of boosting economic relations were discussed.
Regional conflicts were discussed, with special attention paid to the situation in Libya. Al-Sisi stressed Egypt’s commitment to support the free-will of the Libyan people and Libya’s legitimate institutions. Both Al-Sisi and Al-Bashir agreed to co-ordinate efforts to promote stability in Libya through the support of state institutions, the army in particular.
“We agreed there is an urgent need to support legitimate institutions, especially the Libyan national army,” said Al-Sisi.
Presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef said in a press release the meeting was a continuation of discussions started in Khartoum during Al-Sisi’s brief visit to Sudan in June. “Al-Bashir’s is an important visit that has dimensions and consequences in the totality of the matters that relate both countries,” said Youssef.
The talks also covered Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam. While both presidents underlined the Nile River’s importance in developing Nile Basin states, Sudan is not against the dam whereas Egypt has been lobbying to reduce any impact on its share of the river. Egypt believes the dam will reduce its share of Nile water, undermining the colonial-era agreement that allocates the lion’s share of Nile water to Egypt.
“Sudan will never agree on a project which will affect Egypt’s share of Nile waters. All Nile Basin countries, including Egypt, will benefit from the dam,” said Al-Bashir.
Following tripartite two-day talks on the dam between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia which ended on 17 October it was agreed that an international consulting firm should be appointed to examine the impact of the dam on Egypt’s share of Nile water, and legal consultants to follow financial procedures related to the project.
Al-Sisi and Bashir agreed to upgrade the joint ministerial cooperation between their two countries to a presidential committee which they will co-chair.
In a joint press conference held on the second day of the Sudanese president’s visit Al-Sisi said the time was ripe to promote “shared interests and economic growth for the benefit of the two peoples”.
Al-Bashir met with Egyptian businessmen to discuss investment opportunities in Sudan. He underscored Khartoum’s willingness to remove obstacles in the way of Egyptian investments in his country.
Ahead of his visit Al-Bashir had raised the thorny issue of the Halayeb and Shalateen border dispute. Al-Bashir was quoted in the Sudanese press saying Khartoum might resort to international arbitration to resolve the dispute.
“I assert now, after a second meeting with my brother President Al-Sisi, there is strong political will for the bilateral relations to move forward,” Al-Bashir said on the final day of his visit.
Al-Sisi said the talks were positive but pointed out that building relations with Sudan required diligence. He called on the media to take care about what it reported and not damge relations between the two countries.
In the weeks before Al-Bashir arrived in Cairo the Egyptian media had attacked Al-Bashir for statements about the disputed area of Halayeb and Shalateen.
Al-Bashir stressed that relations between Egypt and Sudan are strong. He agreed with Al-Sisi that “the media plays an important role that can be either constructive or destructive.”
Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Egypt signed the ICC treaty in 2000 but has not ratified it. Though the ICC issued an official request to Egypt to arrest Al-Bashir and hand him over to the court. Youssef pointed out that “there will be no difficulty for Al-Bashir on entering Egypt because it has not yet ratified the treaty.”
Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University, excludes the possibility of a strategic alliance between the Egyptian and Sudanese governments on the grounds of ideological difference.
“Sudan will not enter into a direct dispute or clash with Egypt, and Egypt’s political leadership is unwilling to enter into disputes with any regional state before domestic economic, political and security stability is achieved,” says Nafaa. As a consequence, he says, both the Ethiopian dam and the Halayeb and Shalateen border area will remain a bone of contention between Cairo and Khartoum.