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Egypt makes long-awaited attempt to broker peace in Sudan

A man walks while smoke rises during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum. (Reuters)
A man walks while smoke rises during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum. (Reuters)
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12 Jul 2023 02:07:06 GMT9
12 Jul 2023 02:07:06 GMT9

It took Egypt more than three months to finally launch a significant initiative in a bid to find a workable framework to end the crisis in neighboring Sudan. On Sunday, the Egyptian presidency announced that Cairo would this week host a summit of Sudan’s neighbors to discuss ways to end the conflict between the rival Sudanese military factions.

The summit on Thursday will aim to “develop effective mechanisms” with neighboring states to settle the conflict peacefully, in coordination with other regional or international efforts, Egypt’s presidency said. The gathering will see the participation of heads of state and government from Egypt, Libya, Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

This announcement coincided with a warning by the UN that Sudan was on the brink of a “full-scale civil war” — something that should come as no surprise to regional leaders or the international community.

The outbreak of violence between the Sudanese national army and the Rapid Support Forces militia has resulted in a dire humanitarian crisis, millions of people being displaced, hundreds of deaths and the destruction of key civic installations, including hospitals, in the capital Khartoum and Omdurman, while cutting off electricity and water supplies throughout much of the twin cities.

Moreover, the failure by either side to score a decisive military victory has prolonged the conflict and derailed attempts to reach a long-term truce or launch a political process. For the army’s head, Gen.

Abdul Fattah Al-Burhan, the RSF is an insurgent group with a questionable agenda and foreign links. Once a tentative ally, the head of the RSF, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, is now seen by Al-Burhan, who is the head of the Sovereignty Council, as someone who is seeking to maintain control of his own militia outside the rule of law.

Sudan’s neighbors and other intermediaries, including the eight-member Intergovernmental Authority on Development, have not taken sides, at least publicly, and treated the two warring entities as equals. The US has certainly done so and threatened to impose sanctions on the army as well as the RSF. But behind the scenes, there are claims — including by Al-Burhan himself — that some intermediaries are biased and that foreign parties are actually aiding Dagalo.

On Monday, the IGAD Quartet, composed of regional leaders, held an inaugural meeting in Addis Ababa, chaired by Kenyan President William Ruto and attended by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. However, the presidents of Djibouti and South Sudan were absent from the meeting. And while a delegation from the military-led Sudanese government arrived at the Ethiopian capital, it refused to participate in the meeting due to objections to the Kenyan leader’s chairmanship. It is doubtful that the group will succeed in arranging a meeting between the two rivals.

Only Saudi Arabia, with support from the US, has so far succeeded in bringing representatives from the two warring sides together, with them meeting in Jeddah a few times. While there was no breakthrough in terms of launching a political process, the two sides did agree to a short-lived lull in the fighting to allow for humanitarian convoys to pass.

A stable Sudan ensures better security cooperation, which is crucial for Egypt’s own stability.

Osama Al-Sharif

The fear is that, unless Sudan’s immediate neighbors find a way to force both sides to end the conflict and revert to the framework agreement that was adopted earlier this year, the outbreak of a civil war that spreads all over the vast country will only be a matter of time. Already, there is plenty of evidence that atrocities have been committed in Darfur, while ethnic and tribal tensions are also rising in the Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces. Rebel groups that were involved in past civil wars and had signed the 2020 Juba Peace Agreement are threatening to pick up their arms and resume fighting. Some have secessionist agendas.

This is why it is important for Egypt, in particular, to step in.

For Egypt, the war in Sudan is already a destabilizing factor. Tens of thousands of Sudanese have taken refuge in Egypt, forcing the authorities to impose visa restrictions to stem the tide. But more importantly, Egypt has strategic, historical, cultural and economic links to Sudan, which has long been seen as a cornerstone of Egyptian stability and national security.

Any breakdown of authority in Khartoum threatens to drive millions into Egypt because both countries have huge populations living along the Nile Basin. Egypt’s long border with Sudan makes security a top concern. Instability in Sudan could potentially lead to a rise in cross-border crime, the smuggling of arms and goods, and even the infiltration of extremist groups. A stable Sudan ensures better security cooperation, which is crucial for Egypt’s own stability.

Historically, the two countries have strong economic ties, particularly related to trade, investment and energy. Sudan’s Nile waters are vital for both nations, as the river serves as a crucial water link and source of energy. Egypt relies almost completely on the Nile for its water resources, with nearly 90 percent of its water needs coming from the river. Conflicts in Sudan can potentially disrupt the flow of the Nile waters, posing a threat to Egypt’s water security and agricultural sector. This should be another worrying factor for Cairo as it seeks to resolve its dispute with Addis Ababa over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project.

Geopolitically, instability in Sudan can create a power vacuum, allowing other regional actors to gain influence and potentially challenge Egypt’s interests. It is inconceivable to imagine that Egypt will not be concerned that Israel, which is focusing on restoring its ties in Africa, might benefit from the chaos in Sudan.

While the Egyptian initiative may have been slow to pick up traction, it is today the best possible hope of finding a way to push both sides to negotiate and save their country from disintegrating.

• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.
Twitter: @plato010

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