Egypt-Sudan strategic partnership

Developing an Egyptian-Sudanese “strategic partnership”, the tripartite talks between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), and the post-Bashir transition in Sudan were three of the issues addressed by Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok during his talk last Thursday at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS).

Hamdok would like to see cooperation with Egypt become a comprehensive process that includes economic, developmental, social, political and cultural affairs. He believes both countries should “think big in terms of our relationship and establish big projects” which could “push forward the turbulent Middle East region”.

The meeting with Hamdok was part of a series of events organised by Al-Ahram to allow senior Sudanese officials to present their vision of the future of relations between Cairo and Khartoum. The series began with a visit by Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Sadik Al-Mahdi on 4 March, followed last Thursday by Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok who was accompanied by several aides and cabinet ministers.

During the meeting some ACPSS scholars proposed that a joint Egyptian-Sudanese council be created to examine issues of interest to both countries. Hamdok agreed, saying it would provide an “institutional framework” for their conversations. “We [Egypt and Sudan] have so much in common. We are historically, culturally and geographically connected to each other. Most importantly, we share the same fate,” he stressed.

Hamdok told his audience that Egypt and Sudan are establishing a “different relationship amid a new environment”.

He urged Egypt to play a major role in Africa’s development. “We want a new vision that addresses Arab-African issues.” Recalling a time when every liberation movement in Africa had an office in Cairo, Hamdok said he wanted to see a return of Egypt’s leading role on the continent.

Hamdok said he had great faith in Egypt’s development agencies, arguing that they are as capable as those of “first world states”, and could lead development across Africa.  “Egypt could start with its neighbours, and then expand the model to the rest of the continent. It’s what Africa wants,” Hamdok said.

Homdok said he and President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi share a “complete consensus” about the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD). “Both Egypt and Sudan are downstream states, we have water security issues. Our suggestion to develop a quartet aims to help find a solution,” said Hamdok, a reference to the proposed mediating committee comprising the African Union, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States.

During the ACPSS event Hamdok argued that the economic development of Sudan was an essential component in solving the “issues of politics, transition and the need for an intra-Sudanese consensus on how to govern the country”.

He said that Sudan was undergoing a “deep and qualitative change” and, for the first time, the entire population was taking part. But the transition was a far from easy process, especially when compared to those that followed the revolutions of 1964 and 1985. “Sudan is now moving from war to peace, authoritarianism to democracy, tribal and ethnic polarisation to unity and hopefully from a collapsed to a welfare economy,” Hamdok argued.

The second, cabinet-formation process in February, was conducted in accordance with October’s Juba Peace Agreement between the Sudanese government and six groups of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front: according to Hamdok the new cabinet is prioritising solving the $60-billion external debt problem, achieving a second peace agreement with other armed groups, reforming security institutions, establishing a legislative council, holding a constitutional convention and preparing for free and fair elections.

“We will leave the choice of electing new leaders to the people of Sudan,” said Hamdok.

Hamdok said Sudan now “understands the conditions” that led to South Sudan becoming independent and “we are looking forward to having strategic relations with South Sudan on the basis of cooperation.”

Responding to a question on why the transitional phase will last for 39 months, Hamdok explained that though Sudan had only a seven-month transitional phase after the 1964 Revolution, following “30 years of damage and corruption” a lengthy transition period was essential.

“Definitely, this has its own risks. This is the first transition in the history of Sudan in which issues of peace and war are addressed, and this is strengthening the transitional process. If we manage to achieve peace within 39 months it will be a huge achievement and protect the transition,” Hamdok concluded.

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