Fog of War Looms over Egyptian-Sudanese Relations

Tension in relations between Egypt and Sudan has been soaring on the backdrop of the two countries’ diverging foreign policy stands along with an unresolved territorial dispute over the Halaib triangle and disagreements concerning the distribution of the Nile water, in the wake of Ethiopia’s building of a mega dam over the river.

The long-brewing tension between the two neighbors has escalated to military build ups along their borders, notably after Egypt approached Sudan’s foe neighbor, Eritrea, where Cairo has deployed troops pushing Sudan to declare a state of emergency in the Kassala State on the borders with Eritrea and to strengthen border surveillance.

Sudan has also recalled its Ambassador in Cairo after Egypt sent troops to the disputed Halaib triangle. Sudan accuses Egypt and its Gulf allies of backing opposition forces based in Eritrea.

“Sudan doesn’t talk about a specific build-up by a specific country, but we are talking about a threat to our territories from the eastern border,” Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour told a joint news conference with his Ethiopian counterpart Workneh Gebeyehu in Khartoum.

“Sudan’s national army has sent part of its forces to this area to protect Sudan’s security as we have information that some parties are targeting us,” he said.

The Egyptian foreign ministry for its part said that Cairo was “comprehensively assessing the situation with a view to making the appropriate response”.

Tension between the two countries surged following a recent visit by Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan to Khartoum. During this visit, Sudan, which has switched sides from the Saudi-led coalition to the Turkish-Qatari alliance, signed multiple cooperation agreements with Turkey, chief among which is a deal to hand an island with a strategic port for development purposes to Turkey. This was seen by Egypt as an intrusion that will give Turkey a foothold in the Red sea.

Ankara has been active militarily in the region. From participating in anti-piracy patrolling to building a military base in neighboring Somalia in 2009. This overseas presence, coupled with the mistrust between Erdogan and Egypt’s Sisi, made Cairo pour its wrath on Sudan for daring to enter into an alliance with geopolitical foes.

Egypt and Sudan are also at loggerheads over negotiations concerning an agreement over Nile water distribution. As Ethiopia’s prepares to declare the completion of the dam, Egypt is afraid that Sudan may sideline with Ethiopia hence Cairo attempts to exclude it from future negotiations.

Analysts are already warning that Sudan might be the next Yemen as a field of another proxy war between the Saudi-led alliance and the pro-Muslim brotherhood countries (Turkey, Qatar and now Sudan).

Most military analysts expect de-escalation as neither Egypt nor Sudan are in a good economic position to sustain the war effort. However, limited war remains on the table as the two countries’ foreign policy positions continue to diverge.

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