Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 5 January 2006

Cairo Massacre: What has become of Egyptian-South Sudan relations?

By John G. Nyuot Yoh*

Jan 4, 2005 — The news of the Egyptian Security forces massacre of over fifty (some estimates put it at 200) Sudanese refugees and injuring over two hundred at one of the public parks at Al-Muahandiseen quarter in Cairo on the New Year eve (30 December 2005) was a sad moment that will definitely determine the next course that the relations between Egypt and the Southern part of Sudan and other marginalized areas of the country will take. It also will require critical evaluation of all the historical and strategic components of the relationships between Sudan and Egypt in general and between Egypt and Southern Sudan in particular. Egypt was a co-colonizer of Sudan with Britain. Egyptian forces occupied Southern Sudan between 1839 and 1881 and colonized the modern Sudan in collaboration with Britain between 1898 and 1956. Egypt was therefore part and parcel of the Sudanese political crisis and civil wars. Those who were killed in Cairo on Friday 30 December 2005 were victims of the latest two rounds of the Sudanese civil wars in the South, West and East that Egypt was historically responsible for.

On 8 April 1994 I wrote a commentary in a London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat in which among other things, I evaluated the Egyptian relations with Southern Sudan and the historical role of the Egyptian governments in the conflicts between the southern Sudan and successive central governments in Khartoum. In that commentary, entitled “Does the secession of Southern Sudan pose a real threat to Egypt?” I emphasized the need for the Egyptian government to stop relying on the intelligence reports and listening to Northern Sudanese various Governments’ disinformation about the situation in Southern Sudan. I was responding to the then Egyptian foreign minister Amr Mousa, who was at that time obsessed with the theory that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) was a secessionist liberation movement and must be treated as such. Minister Mousa made use of every public opportunity to urge that Egypt should do everything it could to keep Sudan united. In my commentary I urged Mousa that instead of dealing with SPLM by proxy, it was impetrative for the Egyptian authorities to invite the SPLM leaders to visit Cairo and discuss with them the fears the Egyptian leaders were expressing on the SPLM policies.

In May 1997, I had an opportunity to meet some Egyptian intellectuals in an international conference in Amman, Jordan, including Dr. Milad Hana, Nabil Abdel Fatah and few others. In that conference, I urged them to advise President Hosni Mubarak and his colleagues to open official contacts with the Southern Sudanese leadership, so as to see whether indeed the South as an entity has separate strategic goals and interests that would make it necessary for Egyptian government to identify separate national objectives for northern and southern Sudan. In November 1997, thanks to efforts of Sudanese nationalists such as Dr. Mansour Khalid, after a brief visit to Tripoli, Libya, the SPLM leader late Dr. John Garang and some of his colleagues visited Cairo upon invitation by President Hosni Mubarak.

Since then, it became incumbent upon the leaders of Egypt and Southern Sudan to work towards a clear understanding of whether Southern Sudanese leaders should aim at forging special relations with Egypt separate from the Northern Sudan led policy of ?historical and brotherly links’ between Egypt and Sudan; or the relationship between Egypt and Sudan should continue to be regulated as it always were by the ministries of foreign affairs in Khartoum and Cairo. Questions such as what Sudan should Egypt opt to support: a New Sudan or the old Sudan? To what extent was Egypt convinced that the New Sudan that the SPLM was calling for, the historical, ancient, biblical and Christian Sudan which included some important parts of Egypt was the best solution to the Sudanese conflict? Was Egypt ready to discuss the identity crisis (the question of whether Sudan was African or Arab) with the SPLM, and if so, did Egypt buy the idea that the identity crisis was at the heart of the conflict in the country? In fact, some Southern Sudanese observers since then raised some vital questions such as the viability of the re-launch of the Jonglei Canal Project which was stopped due to the civil war in early 1980s, considering that it was initiated and implemented without regard to its deadly environmental and economic side effects on the local population in the South? What are the Southern Sudan’s national interests in Egypt and why various Egyptian establishments have been repeatedly stating that Southern Sudan falls within its strategic national interests? Why did for example, Egypt opt to support its peace initiative with Libya to resolve the Sudanese conflict, and rejected the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace initiative, and had to relent only after the international community has endorsed the IGAD peace process?

It is within this historical context that one should understand why the Egyptian authorities took the action they did against the Sudanese refugees in Cairo, without the fear that the leaders in Khartoum, with rare exception of the Umma National Party, the Sudan Human Rights Organization and some leftist groups, will condemn their security agencies’ action.

Firstly, the massacre of over fifty innocent refugees and asylum seekers in Cairo has revealed that such an act cannot be authorized by the Egyptian authorities without implicit go head from National Congress Party (NCP) officials and from Sudan government. It means that the Egypt security authorities were aware of the danger of refugees refusing to leave the public park and that was why they had to send 5,000 security forces, with the mission to force the refugee by all means to leave the sit-in place. The consequences of that action were therefore studied by the Egyptian authorities before hand.

Secondly, with the exception of the statement by Ali Ahmed Kerti, Sudan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs in Cairo, in which he supported the Egyptian forces action, and condemned and blamed the UNHCR and the refugees for the outcome of the attack, the fact that the President and the majority ruling party in Khartoum did not condemn the massacre, suggests that President Omar Al-Beshir and his colleagues in NCP are not ready to anger Cairo, in return for Cairo’s support of the NCP in other issues such as the political implications of war in Darfur and the looming International Criminal Court case against some of the top NCP officials.

Thirdly, the statement that was issued by the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), in which it condemned the massacre, has to be viewed within the context of the relationship between the SPLM and the NCP on the one hand, and the relationship between the NCP and the Egyptian government on the other. The statement has revealed that the government of Southern Sudan has shouldered its responsibilities towards its citizens, wherever they happened to be. The statement has also revealed that the GOSS is the legitimate authority in Southern Sudan, recognized by the international community in accordance with the provisions of the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was witnessed and initialed on 9 January 2005 in Nairobi, Kenya by the representatives of the United Nations, European Union, the League of the Arab Nations, African Union, United States of America, United Kingdom and several other countries and regional and international organizations. It is therefore the task of the GOSS ministries of regional cooperation and ministry of internal security and police to take their responsibilities seriously by organizing a visit to Cairo, Egypt and to other countries, to follow up the situation of Southern Sudanese citizens closely, and learn from the Cairo massacre for future reaction, should similar situation arise.

Fourthly, the statement has also revealed that the GOSS holds the Government of National Unity (GNU) direct responsibility to safeguard the well-being of Sudan citizens, the failure of which renders the GNU illegitimate to claim the legitimacy over the land and the people of Sudan. Analysing the GOSS statement over the Cairo massacre also suggests that the failure of the GNU to condemn the massacre meant that it has implicitly supported the Egyptian government decision to force the refugees out of the sit-in public park, hence the GNU behaved in a discriminatory manner against its own citizens, where its silence suggested that it regarded those victims, who mostly come from the South, west and central Sudan as not part of its responsibility.

Fifthly, by condemning the action of the Egyptian military and police forces, the GOSS is sending a clear message to the Egyptian government that the people of Southern Sudan, in the light of the 30 December 2005 massacre, have the right to question the claims of various Egyptian governments over the past one hundred years that the people of Egypt and Sudan are one nation. By killing over fifty innocent people and injuring hundreds, the Egyptian government has sent a clear message to the people coming from other parts of Sudan other than the northern most of the country and from river Nile state, that they are not Sudanese whose lives worth sparing. Yes, various political and international organizations have tried since 29 September 2005, for three months to persuade the refugees to stop their strike and leave the compound peacefully, including Egyptian officials and some prominent Sudanese political leaders, the question however remains, have all options been exhausted?

Sixthly, through its statement, the GOSS has also sent a clear message to the United Nations and its Secretary General that the manner in which the UNHCR staff in Cairo behaved and handled the Sudanese refugee problem in Cairo, a crisis which started since June 2004 when the UNHCR office in Cairo revoked and withdrew refugee status of over two thousand Sudanese refugees, has shown the lack of care and sense of responsibility from the part of the UNHCR officials in Cairo. The UN Secretary General should not consider what happened to the Sudanese refugees in Egypt as a mere security incident, because what happened to the Sudanese in Cairo on the New Year eve will have great impact on the future relationship between the UN system and the current and sub-sequent governments of Southern Sudan. In fact, the Cairo Massacre will require the GOSS to advise the UN Security Council to revisit the deployment of the UN peacekeeping forces in Southern Sudan and other marginalized areas, particularly the forces coming from countries such as Egypt and India. Indeed, if the Egyptian security forces are capable of committing massacres against innocent, unarmed Sudanese civilians in Cairo, what is the guarantee that its peacekeeping forces will not commit the same atrocities in Nuba Mountains in the name of self-defense?

No one would deny that the relationship between Sudan and Egypt whether under Ismail Al-Azhari, Abdalla Khalil, General Ibrahim Abboud, Sirr El-Khatim Khalifa, Mohamed Mahjoub, Sadig al-Mahdi, Jafar Numeiri, Suwar EL-Dahab or Omar El-Beshir, was informed by vital historical links and strategic interests between the two countries. While Egypt has every right to protect whatever interests it deems vital to its survival or those that fall within what its regards as its national and strategic interests, the Sudanese government also should protect the rights and interests of its citizens. It is therefore logical to conclude that the GNU has the right to protect its population, irrespective of their status in the country where they live. This is true of course of the Sudanese refugees who flew the country due to the brutality of the National Congress’ government during the 1990s. It would have been logical that following the signing of the CPA and the ongoing negotiations with the Darfurian liberation movements in Abuja, Nigeria that the NCP should have shown a change of the heart, acting as a partner in the GNU, by urging the UNHCR to handle the case with utmost care or by trying to persuade the refugees to return home. In fact, by not acting, directly or behind the scenes, to avoid the severe action that the Egypt security forces have taken, the Sudan government was in fact expressing the obvious: that it sides with Egypt.

The silence of the National Congress Party and its refusal to condemn the massacre in Cairo can also be explained within the NCP’s domestic policies. In fact, the massacre has brought into fore the debate which has been triggered in the Sudanese media following the leakage of the former Finance and National Economic Minister Abdel Rahim Hamdi’s famous economic policy paper that he presented to NCP economic workshop. In that controversial paper Hamdi recommended to his party that in terms of economic development policies during the interim period, his party should concentrate the economic and developmental projects in the so-called Dungula-Sennar-Kordufan triangle. These are the regions of Sudan where the so-called ?Arab’ Sudanese are living. The fact that the NCP refused to condemn the killings in Cairo seems to suggest that the NCP priorities, in terms of protecting and safeguarding the well-being of the Sudanese, are based on Hamdi’s paper which divided Sudan into two racial groups: Arabs and Africans. Those who died in Cairo massacre were, according to Hamdi’s classification, Africans.

It must be emphasized that the first country that Dr. John Garang visited soon after the peace agreement was signed in January 2005 was Egypt. Similarly, the first country that Lt. General Salva Kiir Mayardit visited soon after taking oath as a successor of late Dr. John Garang, was Egypt. The only explanation that one could give to the SPLM leadership’s interest in keeping Egypt informed about the peace agreement would be that the leaders of the South value Egypt as an important neighbor as well as an important potential spoiler. Now that Egypt has acted the way it did, and in order to send a clear message to the Egyptian government and to the NCP leadership in Khartoum, the GOSS should reconsider its position and reevaluate the historical relationship between Egypt and Southern Sudan and indeed the status of the following Egyptian projects in the South:

Firstly, historically, Egypt has established since the turn of the twentieth century permanent offices along the Nile, particularly in Juba, Malakal and Wau. These offices, manned by senior security officials working for the Egyptian ministry of irrigation, are assigned the work to monitor the Nile water flow as well as the measurement of the Nile flood levels throughout the year. These irrigation offices have influenced the local authorities throughout the South by not allowing the local population to open up streams or small canals or use water for commercial purposes such as gardening etc, without permission from Egyptian irritation department officials based in Southern Sudan. Although the Egyptian officials deny that they prohibit the local population to open up streams or dig small canals or use water for commercial activities, the practice over the past many years, has shown that local population, especially in urban centers have chosen to be law abiding citizens when its comes to the use of the Nile water. Perhaps the GOSS should begin seriously to investigate the presence of the Egyptian irrigation department’s officials in Southern Sudan and the status of the irrigation department’s offices in the South in the light of the new Nile Basin Initiative. The GOSS should indeed ask the appropriate authorities for an observer status at the Nile Basin Initiative Secretariat.

Secondly, the Jonglei Canal Project was initiated by the Egyptians, and persuaded General Jafaar Numeiri to accept its implementation, without any serious scrutiny of the Canal’s environmental and economic effects on the population of the Jonglei province. All the efforts which were made by some Southern Sudanese politicians and students during the early 1970s to highlight the negative repercussions of the Canal were countered with violence by Abel Alier Government in the South, who decided unilaterally that the project was good for the people of the area. To the best of my knowledge, the SPLM did not clearly spell out yet its position regarding the resumption of the Jonglei Canal Project after the CPA was signed. It is time for the GOSS and the SPLM leadership to revisit the Jonglei Canal Project files and perhaps open discussion within the GNU and with the Egyptian government on its future of the Canal.

Thirdly, as part of the compromise embodied in the Nile Basin Initiative, Egypt has been trying to persuade countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo to jointly build a Hydro-electric project which, supposed to be built on the water falls of the Southern Sudan town of Numeli, to generate electricity for the whole region. This is an important project, which Southern Sudanese have been dreaming to implement since the 1970s, but thanks to Egyptian government objections, the central governments in Khartoum did not bother to seek financial support for the implementation of the project from the World Bank, since it knew that the Egyptian powerful officials working in the Bank will block the grant application. Perhaps it is time for the GOSS to investigate different aspects of the Numeli Hydro-electric project, and discuss with the Egyptian officials the merits of the project. The GOSS should also consider, after thorough feasibility studies, building small dams for hydro-electric purposes along the Nile.

Fourthly, for the purposes of bilateral relationship between Egypt and Southern Sudan, it is important that GOSS should start, through its ministry of regional cooperation, the process of discussing the status of the Egyptian consulate in Juba. The Egyptian consulate in Juba should have a status of independent diplomatic mission, to make sure that, during the interim period, issues pertaining to bilateral relations, whether economic interests such as investment or political issues, between the South and Egypt are discussed bilaterally and directly and not by proxy in Cairo and Khartoum. This is in line with the CPA, which granted the GOSS to establish bilateral relations with other nations, until the time of referendum, when new arrangements will have to be worked out as a result of the outcome of the referendum in July 2011.

Finally, there are plans to establish the Egypt-based Alexandria University branch in Juba. While some Southern Sudanese current leadership are proud to be graduates of several Egyptian universities including Alexandria University, the GOSS should reevaluate the value of opening Alexandria University branch at the time when the Southern Sudan’s three national universities are still in exile in Khartoum. It is therefore logical, policy-wise that, the GOSS appoint a team to reevaluate the need for foreign higher educational institutions to establish their branches in the South as well as evaluating the need for universities such as the Sudan’s University of Quran al-Karim to have branches in Juba and Malakal. This is a policy issue, which need from the part of GOSS a thorough study of its implications before a go ahead is issued by the ministry of higher education in Khartoum to allow the Alexandria University or any other foreign university to establish its branch in Juba or elsewhere in the South.

* The author is a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of South Africa in Pretoria.