Egypt’s late appearance in Sudanese politics has baffled observers and activists alike. Sixteen months after the Sudan Army staged a widely condemned coup d’état on 25 October 2021, which removed the transitional Prime Minister, Abdullah Hamdok, from power, Sudan’s northern neighbour, Egypt has proposed an initiative to reach a ‘quick political settlement”.
The announcement by the Egyptian ambassador comes after a conspicuous absence and follows a decision not to be included in the diplomatic coalition led by the US, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the UAE. In fact, since the overthrow of the former Sudanese President, Omar El-Bashir on 11 April 2019, Cairo’s unexplained absence has called into question Egypt’s commitment to democratic reforms or even to the removal of the Sudanese Army in politics, which remains a widespread demand from overwhelming sections of the Sudanese public.
Given Sudan’s historically close ties with Egypt, some observers seem to believe that Cairo has always had a better, more nuanced understanding of Sudanese politics than any other nation. For example, Egypt has always regarded the attempt to remove the Islamic movement in Sudan as premature. Indeed, Egypt has well been aware of Sudan’s historic entanglements to Islamic heroism that stretches back to the defeat of colonial British invaders, epitomised by the killing of General Gordon in 1885. That includes the revolt led by a Muslim religious leader and self-proclaimed Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad.
The move to hail the Forces of Freedom and Change Movement as the new leaders of Sudan was deemed by Egypt and others as a short-sighted attempt. It appears Cairo does not seem to accept the view purported by Western nations, that in such a short space of time it would have been possible to eclipse the long-established influence of the Islamic Movement.
On the other hand, there is a view that Egypt had been especially told by the West to distance itself from Khartoum in an attempt to implement a historical scheme aimed at disconnecting the two countries and driving out Sudan from the Arab world. Whatever the truth, the Sudan’s non-interventionist stance adoption in the 2013 Egyptian purge of the Muslim Brotherhood was reciprocated by Egyptian President, El-Sisi, who avoided any criticisms of Sudan during the Sudan’s army violent crackdowns during the past four years that has caused the loss of hundreds of lives. Such was the Sudan’s mutually coordinated ‘turning the blind eye’ policy, that Egypt dissidents were not able to move in large measure to Khartoum, preferring to move to European capitals and Turkiye.
Many see the statement of the Egyptian initiative presented by the Ambassador to Sudan, Hani Salah, as an acknowledgement that attempts to marginalise the Islamic Movement was not successful. “The Egyptian initiative comes within the framework of a usual Egyptian role aimed at preserving Sudanese interests, the unity and stability of Sudan and facilitating all that would advance an intra-Sudanese dialogue that leads to a real, lasting and comprehensive settlement,” said Salah, after the meeting.
His statement is also an indirect disapproval of attempts to continually exclude the traditional parties from participating in the reconstruction of a new Sudan. The idea of inclusion appeared to have driven the Cairo initiative which encouraged the infirmed Chief of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Mohamed Osman Al-Mirhgani to return to Sudan, with the hope that their historical ally participates in the transition and post-transitional period.
Egyptian expert on Sudan, Amani Al-Taweel, Director of the African Program at the Centre for Al-Ahram Political and Strategic Studies, told news outlets the Egyptian initiative aims to ensure the divided Democrat Unionist plays a role after the post-transition government. Egypt’s intervention also included a visit on 2 January by Intelligence Chief, Abbass Kamal, Egypt, inviting all parties to meet the Sudanese stakeholders to hold a meeting in Cairo, gathering the signatories and non-signatories of the political framework agreement.
However, the invitation to Cairo was rejected, particular the non-signatories of the agreement who preferred that Egypt apply pressure to encourage all sides to include the signatory of the Juba Peace agreement to be included, under favourable conditions. Given the close relationship of the two leaders of State, it seems more likely that Egypt’s intervention is not solely designed to benefit the political parties in the negotiations, but it would also satisfy the interest of the two nation leaders.
Observers suspect that Egypt wants to set up a smooth path for Sudan’s President, Lt. General Al- Burhan, to continue at the helm of the government with the support of the Cairo administration. However, commentators say that Egypt has little chance of influencing the Sudanese political arena until it revises its stance on the controversy over the Halaib and Shalateen region, Commentator and Economist, Dr. Alsamani Hanoon, speaking on a weekly programme on Sudan TV, “My message to my neighbour and our friend in the North, you have to revise your strategy, so you need to develop a new tactic. There are new leaders and new generations.”
It is clear, whatever motives have driven Egypt to put forward this new initiative, the old links have been revised and, in some respects, no longer matter. Therefore, they will have to make headway with a new set of leaders and a new set of revolutionary thinkers.