Reem Leila | 13 October, 2016 | Al-Ahram Weekly
Egypt boosts relations with Sudan and asserts that it respects Ethiopian sovereignty, reports Reem Leila
Along with a number of African presidents and heads of regional and international organisations, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on 10 October arrived in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to attend the closing session of the National Dialogue Conference. The session was attended by members of political parties, Sudanese members of parliament and officials who presented their views regarding the national conference’s aims.
Al-Sisi’s participation followed the Egyptian-Sudanese Joint Committee held in Cairo last week at the presidential level during which he and Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir signed a comprehensive partnership agreement to promote cooperation.
The National Dialogue Conference is aimed at drafting a new Sudanese national constitution. During Sunday’s session, headed by Al-Bashir, leaders of political parties and armed groups signed a national document setting the foundation for drafting the country’s permanent constitution. The document was signed after two years of negotiations. The conference was to have taken place in January.
In Khartoum, Al-Sisi held bilateral talks with Al-Bashir during which they emphasised the longstanding relations that bind the two countries and stressed the importance of following up on the results of the Egyptian-Sudanese Joint Committee, held at the presidential level for the first time in Cairo last week, to broaden horizons of bilateral cooperation. It was stated that such cooperation will fulfil the ambitions of the two peoples and realise the two countries’ shared interest in line with the strategic partnership document signed at the end of the Joint Committee meeting.
The presidents also tackled the outcome of Sudan’s National Dialogue Conference. Al-Sisi confirmed Egypt’s support for all efforts exerted by Al-Bashir to enhance unity, realise peace and enforce stability across Sudan.
Addressing the conference’s closing session, Al-Sisi expressed his appreciation for having witnessed “this significant juncture in the modern history of Sudan to engage different stakeholders from the Sudanese community in national dialogue so as to achieve a common goal, uphold Sudan’s interest and achieve peace and security”. He added that Egypt has always attached great significance to its relationship with Sudan, with which it shares borders as well as a long history of unique cultural bonds.
“In this context, Egypt is keen on enhancing cooperation with Sudan to reinforce common interests across all fields so as to enhance endeavours for development and prosperity and therefore realise security and stability for the countries and peoples in the Arab region and Africa.” Al-Sisi expressed his satisfaction with the successful outcomes of the Egyptian Sudanese Joint Committee that had convened at the presidential level in Egypt last week.
“Egypt has supported efforts to reinforce stability and peace across Sudan and was among the first countries to welcome holding an inclusive societal national dialogue that engages all political movements and entities so as to strengthen the foundation of the modern Sudanese state based on the principles of participation and democracy,” Al-Sisi said.
During the conference, Al-Bashir said that the national document reflects the will of the Sudanese people and serves as a foundation to govern the country. He stated that it also includes the views and aspirations of all political forces, including the opposition, adding that the “door will remain open for anyone who wishes to join it,” Sudanese local media reported.
During Al-Sisi’s stay in Khartoum, Ethiopian Minister of Communication Getachew Reda accused Egypt and Eritrea, along with other “foreign elements”, of being behind a wave of violent protests over land grabs and human rights that have prompted the government to declare a six-month state of emergency. The government is facing the biggest challenge of its 25 years in power, with anti-government protests spreading, foreign-owned companies targeted and a harsh security crackdown that has killed hundreds so far failing to quell the unrest.
“The kind of threats we are facing, the kind of attacks that are now targeting civilians, targeting civilian infrastructures, targeting investment cannot be handled through ordinary law enforcement procedures,” said Reda.
Protesters from the majority Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups say they are being marginalised by the minority Tigrayan-led government which they accuse of monopolising power and controlling the economy. Reda claimed Egypt was influencing the protests, and had allegedly trained and financed the rebel Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), regarded by Ethiopia as a terrorist group and is behind the protests.
Protesters damaged around a dozen factories mostly belonging to foreign firms, accused by the demonstrators of buying property leases on their seized land. The flare-up followed a stampede on 2 October, during which at least 55 people were killed after police fired teargas and shots into the air to disperse protesters during a crowded annual festival in the town of Bishoftu in Oromiya.
“We know for a fact that the terrorist group OLF has been receiving all kinds of support from Egypt,” Reda said. “Its leaders used to be in Asmara [Eritrea]; now they are in Cairo.” He said “elements in the Egyptian political establishment” were fomenting rebellion, seeking to promote “historical rights” over access to the River Nile.
In the past few years ties between Egypt and Ethiopia have been strained over sharing Nile waters. Ethiopia is building a hydroelectric dam close to its border with Sudan. Egypt has repeatedly expressed its fears that letting the water into the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) would reduce its flow.
Ethiopia has finished 70 per cent of construction works of its hydropower dam on the Nile close to its source in the Ethiopian highlands, raising fears in Egypt, which depends on controlling the flow of the Nile’s waters, over its survival.
Last week, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry summoned Egypt’s ambassador to discuss “the current situation”, according to Ethiopian state media. “The government has every responsibility to restore order,” Reda said, a day after the government announced the state of emergency.
Reda said the “extraordinary situation” demanded the state of emergency the government had imposed but insisted it did not amount to a “blanket ban on civilian life”. He raised the possibility of concessions to protesters such as a government reshuffle and a “broadening of political space”.
A panel of seven United Nations experts called on Monday for an international investigation into the violence in Ethiopia, which rights groups say has killed about 500 people, a figure the government says is exaggerated.
On the same day Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri reiterated Egypt’s total respect for Ethiopian sovereignty and non-interference in the country’s internal affairs following allegations of Egyptian support for anti-government demonstrations by the Oromo ethnic group.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said there were ongoing “high level” communications between the two countries to maintain the positive outcomes recently achieved in Egyptian-Ethiopian relations.
It was the second statement released by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry in less than 24 hours asserting that Egypt respects Ethiopian sovereignty after Ethiopia released official statements accusing Egypt of supporting Oromo rebels. Abu Zeid’s statements came a few hours after Ethiopia’s accusations.
Abu Zeid also urged vigilance against any attempts to harm the “brotherly relations” between Egypt and Ethiopia.
Abu Zeid also confirmed that its ambassador to Addis Ababa Abu Bakr Hefni met Ethiopia’s foreign minister to discuss the authenticity of a video reportedly showing a person speaking to Oromo Liberation Front in an Egyptian dialect.
According to an official statement issued by the Foreign Ministry, Hefni said the video “does not reflect reality” and that there might be elements seeking to “sow discord between Egypt and Ethiopia”. Abu Zeid confirmed that the meeting reflected a “mutual understanding of the importance of securing positive momentum in bilateral relations.”