Weeks after the Algeria and Egypt football game in Sudan, media talkshows and newspapers in Egypt continue to pose angry questions such as "why do they hate us?" In an attempt to study the situation we looked into the common history between Algeria and Egypt. Below we shed light on the history of Egyptian-Sudanese relations.
It is not unusual to hear of the special social and cultural relationship between Egypt and Sudan. After all, the two countries were governed as one for a long period of time. Indeed the mothers of both Mohamed Naguib – the first President of the Egyptian Republic – and Anwar el-Sadat were Sudanese, which emphasizes the fluidity of the border. Despite this however, the political relationship between the two countries has not always been amicable, particularly in the last thirty years.
The long relationship between Egypt and Sudan dates back to even before the Pharaonic period. In modern times however, it was the father of the modern Egyptian nation, Mohamed Ali, who re-established the connection. In 1820 Mohamed Ali ordered his son, Ibrahim, to invade Northern Sudan. This step had many aims, most notably the attempt to create a modern Egyptian army. 20,000 Sudanese men were captured and conscripted, and 17,000 died before the end of the year on the fatal trip to Northern Egypt. Sudan under Mohamed Ali’s ancestors was largely neglected, and a rebellion in Sudan led by Mohamed Ahmad Ibn Abdullah, also known as the Mahdi, secured the country independent rule for four years between 1885 and 1889.
Britain occupied Egypt in 1882 and became increasingly concerned with the interests of other imperial countries in the region. Fear of German, French and Belgian expansion throughout Africa resulted in British seizure of Sudan in 1899 when Lord Kitchner led the Battle of Omdurman. The country came to be known as ‘Anglo-Egyptian Sudan’ and would be ruled by a British Governor General who would be nominated by the Egyptians. In reality Sudan became little more than another one of Britain’s numerous colonies. On 22nd February 1922, a Treaty of Independence was signed between the Egyptians and the British leading to the 1923 Egyptian constitution. For Egypt the Treaty was in reality only semi-autonomy. Foreign Affairs, Egypt’s security (including the Suez Canal), the question of religious minorities and most importantly Sudan, would remain within the realm of the British. King Fuad was to become monarch of both Egypt and Sudan.
The coup d’état in Egypt in 1952 altered the union between the two countries. Both General Naguib, and later Gamal Abdel Nasser, agreed that Sudan would only gain full independence from Britain if the Anglo-Egyptian condominium was dissolved. On the 1st January 1956 Sudan gained its sovereignty as an independent nation.
Despite Sudan’s new-found independence, large divisions had long been established between the Northern Muslim regions of the country and the largely Christian and Animist South. Britain had during its rule enforced its tried and tested policy of "divide and rule." As in India and Egypt, amongst other countries, the British followed a two-pronged approach of encouraging separation amongst religious and ethnic communities; The largely Muslim North was divided from the Christian and Animist south. This was in contrast to the policy that had been enforced by Mohamed Ali, who had attempted to unify the regions – albeit for his own gains. The British justification of the division was the alleged spread of Malaria. Thus, from the 1920s, people south of the 8th parallel were unable to travel north, while those north of the 10th parallel were unable to travel south.
In 1955, just a few months before independence, the First Sudanese Civil War started. Southern Sudan feared domination by the Muslim and Egyptian-influenced north. The bloody fighting ensued for seventeen years, ending in 1972 when General Jafaar Nimeiri negotiated the Addis Abba Agreement (AAA).
During the ceasefire years Egyptian-Sudanese relations flourished. General Nimeiri and President Sadat became close friends, and Nimeiri was amongst the few regional leaders that supported Sadat signing the historic Camp David Peace accords in 1978. The relationship between the two was such that Nimeiri also acted as a peace broker in an attempt to rehabilitate Egypt into the Arab world. In 1983 the second Sudanese Civil War broke out after Nimeiri was coerced into renegotiating the conditions of the AAA, and implementing aspects of Shariah law, which incensed the Christian South. This resulted in the formation of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the south, a hugely important player in years to come.
The special relationship between Nimeiri and Egypt continued after he was overthrown in 1985, and he was granted political asylum by President Hosni Mubarak. Requests for extradition were denied, and by the time General Omar el-Bashir came to the fore in a bloodless coup d’état in 1989 Egyptian-Sudanese relations had soured. Opposition groups were allowed to operate from Egypt. Indeed Nimeiri continued to live in Heliopolis in Cairo until 1999. In 1990, the SPLA was invited for high profile talks in Cairo, which infuriated el-Bashir who in turn gave refuge to banned Egyptian Islamist groups that fled from prosecution. The turn of the decade proved to be wrought with sour relations, particularly when the Gulf war commenced and both countries aired strong contrary positions against one another.
In more recent years, political relations between Egypt and Sudan have improved, particularly following peace negotiations between divided North and South Sudan. In 2005 the Nairobi Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between the SPLA and the Sudanese government. Ironically, the atrocities in Darfur have also served to improve Egyptian and Arab-Sudanese relations. While the world became aware of the crisis in 2003, conflict in the western Sudanese region had been simmering since the 1970s. Both Egypt and the Arab League have been slow to condemn the heinous actions of the Janjaweed, a government-backed militia, urging more co-operation on all sides instead. The Janjaweed, as well as various other rebel groups, are accused of mass murder, rape and rampage.
To date, the death toll is estimated at upwards of 300,000. Despite the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, signed by the rebels and the government, the fighting continues. In 2008, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for el-Bashir. The Sudanese president is accused of sponsoring the Janjaweed. However, both the Arab league and the African Union have condemned the decision to indite el-Bashir. It seems that the special political relationship between Egypt and Sudan remains strong.