Egypt Enters Sudan-South Sudan Conflict

Reuters, yesterday:

Egypt is mounting a diplomatic offensive to defuse tensions between Sudan and South Sudan that have raised fears the two former civil war foes could return to a full-blown conflict.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr arrived at Khartoum airport on Sunday for talks after the two countries clashed during the past week for control of an oil field.

“Egypt will make every possible effort to try to bridge the gap in viewpoints between Sudan and South Sudan and contain the existing border tensions between them after the occupation of Heglig,” Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported.

Tensions have run high between Khartoum and Juba since South Sudan seized control of the disputed Heglig oilfield on Tuesday. Sudan has vowed to recapture the region, which produced about half of the country’s 115,000-barrel-a-day oil output.

The fighting, which has halted production at the field, has been the worst since South Sudan declared independence in July.

As Reuters writes, the seizure of Heglig (more on Heglig here) marks a tense moment in the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. The larger conflict stems from the history of violence between the two areas and from the issues left unresolved after South Sudan’s secession, namely oil revenue sharing, border demarcation, and the fate of various communities on the Sudanese side of the new border.

Egypt’s role in Sudan is complex. Egypt has been preoccupied with its own transitions during the last fifteen months, but historically Egypt has exercised tremendous influence in Sudan. Even if we just take the period post Napoleon, Egypt occupied Sudan from 1820 until the rise of the Mahdi in 1884/5, and acted as the UK’s partner in the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium from 1899 to 1955 (Sudan gained independence in 1956, having chosen not to remain part of Egypt). Since independence, strong cultural and political links have remained between the two countries – for example, Egypt and Sudan have presented a united front against the upstream Nile countries in arguing that the status quo for water-sharing (which the upstream countries say favors Egypt) should remain in place.

I bring up the Nile issue deliberately, because that conflict has often pitted Egypt against Ethiopia, the most outspoken of the upstream countries. Ethiopia has also been the site of African Union-mediated talks between Sudan and South Sudan in recent weeks. In light of that, will Egypt’s new diplomatic push be seen to imply Egypt’s lack of confidence in the diplomatic effectiveness of Ethiopia and the AU? Will Egypt be seen as pro-(north) Sudan? This is yet another illustration of how the break-up of Sudan is affecting relationships in the region: Egypt’s relationship with South Sudan remains to be fleshed out.

In any case, I think Egypt’s new level of involvement demonstrates how worrying the situation in the Sudans has become to their neighbors (and other countries with an interest in the Sudans, particularly China). It is not like Egypt has resolved all of its own internal uncertainties, so the fact that Egypt is making the Sudans such a high priority right now says that Egypt is quite concerned. We will see if Egypt can make headway where others, thus far, have failed.

3 thoughts on “Egypt Enters Sudan-South Sudan Conflict

  1. Pingback: UPDATE: Egypt Enters Sudan-South Sudan Conflict | Sahel Blog « Regional Wars!

  2. At the moment it’s not even clear who’s in charge of Egypt, but if they can manage to produce something with this mess I have no problem with that.

  3. Pingback: EPPF fighters Stopped “A convoy carrying the governor of Sudan’s eastern state of Al-Qadarif “ » EPPF

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