Improved ties with Ethiopia and Egypt ease pressure on Sudan

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

M.A. Shaikh

Sha'ban 23, 1420 1999-12-01


by M.A. Shaikh (World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 19, Sha'ban, 1420)

A new Nile-water deal between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia and a tripartite alliance between Jibouti, Ethiopia and Sudan directed against Eritrea ï a common adversary and neighbour ï have somewhat eased Khartoum’s embattled position, by complicating Washington’s declared effort to finance opposition-groups fighting to form a breakaway republic in the south of the country. The water deal also puts on hold Israeli plans to wreck existing water-sharing accords by the construction of dams on the Blue Nile tributaries in Ethiopia.

Evidence that relations between Ethiopia and Sudan are indeed on the mend came during president Omar al-Bashir’s recent state visit to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. In a joint statement on November 19, he and Meles Zenawi, his Ethiopian counterpart, declared their determination to avoid past mistakes and to establish close relations between their countries, based on mutual interests and on the need to apply the principles of the UN and OAU (Organisation of African Unity) Charters.

They said that they had reached an understanding on how to tackle any country infringing those principles putting the sovereignty of the region’s states at risk ï an indirect reference to Eritrea. Their Red Sea neighbour hosts armed Sudanese opposition groups, is at war with Ethiopia over a territorial dispute, and has severed diplomatic relations with Jibouti, whose dissident groups it also harbours and arms.

President Zenawi demonstrated his commitment to the rapprochement with Khartoum by announcing that Addis Ababa was withdrawing its demand that al-Bashir should extradite the ‘terrorists’ that tried to assassinate president Husni Mubarak at Addis Ababa airport in 1995.

The accusation that Sudan was harbouring them soured Khartoum’s relations with both Cairo and Addis Ababa. The withdrawal of the chargeï a significant climbdown ï is clearly supported by the Egyptian government, and indicates that Cairo is also prepared to put past mistakes and quarrels to rest.

But evidence that the three countries are committed to a new era of cooperation in the advancement of their mutual interests has come in the shape of a recent deal to share and exploit the Nile’s water resources. The agreement was reached at Khartoum on November 20, the last day of the first formal meeting between the water and irrigation ministers of the three countries. The ministers agreed to issue a ‘strategic charter’ for the economic development of the river’s water resources ï including joint hydraulic projects ï and to continue to abide by existing water agreements.

Cairo was clearly delighted with the deal as it means the suspension of Ethiopia’s plans to increase its share of the Nile’s water in accordance with projects devised by Israel, which has been eager to spoil relations between Ethiopia and its Muslim neighbours. The Egyptian minister of water resources, Dr Mahmoud Abu Zeid, said in newspaper interviews on November 21 that the ministers had reached a firm agreement to undertake joint projects for the exploitation of the river in diverse fields. The three will meet again in Cairo in January to approve plans for the implementation of approved projects.

In a separate development ï which also indicates Cairo’s readiness to patch up its quarrel with Khartoum ï the Egyptian-dominated Arab League has for the first time hailed the Sudanese government’s efforts to bring about ‘national reconciliation’.

Dr Ismat Abdul-Majid, the Arab League’s secretary-general and a former Egyptian prime minister, welcomed the release expropriated properties belonging to Sudanese dissidents and the relaxation of travel restrictions. “These measures represent a serious and important step towards the creation of the right atmosphere for Sudanese national conciliation,” he said on November 15.

Egyptian and Sudanese cooperation is vital if the American and Christian plans to de-stabilise Sudan are to be effectively countered ï particularly now that Washington has stepped up its efforts to hinder the Libyan-Egyptian mediation plan. According to Khartoum, the US has invited Sudanese opposition groups to a meeting in Washington, but not the government. Washington’s objective is clearly to unite the squabbling opposition groups and to force them to resist pressures to reach a political settlement with the present regime.

The Clinton administration has said it favours the mediation effort of the East African organisation EGAT, to that of Egypt and Libya. But it is clear now that Washington wants to impose a plan of its own on EGAT which will split up Sudan into two states ï a Muslim north and Christian south.

It is also clear that the Americans will stop at nothing to destroy Sudan. The pressure they are putting on western companies doing business with Sudan is incompatible with their declared belief in free trade. Talisman, a Canadian company engaged in oil production in Sudan, is presently coming under strong pressure to quit, which its shareholders and managers are resisting for the time being at least.

Muslimedia: December 1-15, 1999

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