By: Nevine Mosaad
Last week, I discussed three messages conveyed by the visit by a delegation of Egyptian civil-society representatives to Sudan on 10-12 May, with the aim of strengthening ties between the Egyptian and Sudanese people. I concluded with the question of what the Sudanese people want from Egypt and what the Egyptian government and civil society can do for Sudan.
Starting at the government level, when we arrived in Khartoum we noted the dozens of proposed initiatives and dialogue forums for managing the current interim phase and emerging from the political crisis in Sudan. During our meetings with Sudanese groups and officials, we also encountered a repeated affirmation of the need for a greater Egyptian role in promoting the success of the Sudanese National Dialogue that is part of the process of transition to democracy.
Egypt naturally welcomes any opportunity to help Sudan attain peace and stability. At the same time, it has no alternative but to follow the options that the Sudanese people choose for themselves through their own consensual processes. This is why Egypt is so keen to hear the views of all the major political, social, and religious forces in Sudan and admires the plethora of proposals that are a sign of the vibrancy that has characterised Sudanese society since the December Revolution.
That said, the initiatives need to move closer to each other and to focus on their overlapping points, however. There are quite a few of these, and they include calls for the formation of a new and credible government, amending the Constitutional Charter that governed the pre-October 25 interim period, and laying the groundwork for legislative elections.
Until the Sudanese stakeholders bridge their views on these and other matters and collectively resolve that politics is the art of the possible and the art of compromise, dialogue cannot move forward no matter how much regional and international support it receives, as is the case with the current Sudanese National Dialogue backed by the UN, the African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). All decisions affecting Sudan must start and finish with the Sudanese people themselves.
The economic and social role that Egypt can play in Sudan is no less important than the political one. As we heard in our meetings with Sudanese political leaders, Sudan needs a development model that achieves the interests of both the Sudanese and Egyptians. Some of our interlocutors went so far as to say that the crux of the problem in Sudan resides less in the struggle for democracy than in the conflict over resources. The implication is that Egyptian-Sudanese economic cooperation can have positive political repercussions for Sudan, as well as for bilateral relations. A functional approach to international relations would support this view.
Fostering economic cooperation is already a high priority for both Sudan and Egypt. Two weeks or so ago, the equipment for an electricity linkup between Egypt and Sudan arrived in Port Said. This is essential to an ambitious programme to gradually increase the amount of electricity delivered to Sudan from Egypt to 1,000 megawatts (MW). There are also constructive proposals for an overland road link between the two countries and for expanding the river transport link. Joint agricultural projects are another area that the two sides have been exploring, especially in the light of the impact of the war in Ukraine on agricultural commodities and energy markets.
As for academic cooperation, Sudanese university deans, in our meeting with them at Khartoum University, urged the creation of a cultural attache’s office at the Egyptian Embassy in Sudan and the reopening of Cairo University’s Khartoum branch, which has been closed for many years. Our delegation was heartened to hear such ideas echoed in subsequent meetings with other representatives of Sudanese civil society.
It is difficult for me to fully describe the great warmth with which we were received at the government and popular levels from the moment we arrived in Khartoum to the moment we left and the general enthusiasm we sensed among everyone we met in response to the boost our visit was giving to interactions between the two Nile Valley neighbours.
Of course, there are long-established educational, kinship, and commercial ties between our two countries. However, the diversity of the constitution of our delegation in terms of the ages and professional backgrounds of its members created scope for the discussion of a broad array of ideas for strengthening civil-society relations between them. Among the suggestions were a visiting-professor exchange programme, more joint research projects on issues of mutual concern, the establishment of an Egyptian-Sudanese research centre, and optimising shared potential in antiquities and antiquities studies.
Other ideas for bolstering mutual ties at the civil-society level included training programmes for Sudanese journalists at Egyptian press organisations and promoting cooperation between Sudanese and Egyptian professionals in the creative and performing arts. I will add parenthetically here that we had the opportunity to see a fantastic Egyptian-Sudanese musical show in Khartoum whose performers had just returned to Sudan after a performance in Cairo.
In the light of the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Sudan, some of our interlocutors in Khartoum proposed training programmes to help Sudanese political parties and civil-society organisations prepare and manage their election campaigns. Others encouraged closer cooperation between Egyptian and Sudanese youth associations. During one of our meetings, there was an enlightening discussion about the similarities and differences between the organisational and collaborative frameworks for Egyptian and Sudanese youth groups. On more than one occasion we were told that it would be good to promote Egyptian visits to Sudan because the Sudanese are more familiar with Egypt than vice versa.
Without a doubt, all the ideas we heard while we were visiting Sudan are feasible and desirable. What is needed now is the institutional frameworks for fleshing them out, organising their implementation, and ensuring their sustainability. Both sides fully agreed on this point during a visit that, though short, was extremely rewarding. Our series of heart-to-heart exchanges has thus opened horizons, laid foundations, and reaffirmed the “dominion of the Nile.”