Current violence in the Middle East, especially in the context of US efforts to marshal Arab support for a campaign against Iraq, augurs poorly for peace prospects in Sudan. For the most likely political beneficiary of US need for Arab support, both in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and in any action against Iraq, is Egypt. Since Egypt has made no secret of its ambitions to control the fate of Sudan, and since the Egyptians are adamantly opposed to the right of self-determination for the people of the south, it will require great US effort to fashion a meaningful peace process. For in present circumstances Egypt is likely to be even more obstreperously hegemonic in its attitudes toward Sudan. The US must be willing to tell the Egyptian government, with pointed resolve, that despite the key role Egypt plays in the region, the US will not tolerate an obstruction of a peace process for Sudan that clearly must include southern self-determination.
Eric Reeves [April 2, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
Egypt is the most significant external challenge the US and its allies face in creating a Sudan peace process that has a chance to succeed. Recent publications from the International Crisis Group (ICG) on Sudan provide an excellent roadmap for such a process, but there is no clear answer to the Egyptian problem—even were the Egyptians to be part of the “contact group” of nations that would provide primary backing to the technical committees envisaged in the process.
For the fundamental Egyptian ambition to date has been to deny the right of self-determination to the people of the south. This indeed was the very rationale for the so-called “Joint Egyptian-Libyan Initiative” (JELI) as an alternative to the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) process. Because the IGAD process remains the repository for the Declaration of Principles (DOP), including the right of self-determination—and because the Khartoum regime has nominally committed itself to negotiate under IGAD auspices and the DOP—Egypt is opposed to this process.
No matter that this opposition has helped sustain a war in which over 2 million have perished. No matter that more than 4 million have been uprooted, and that the status quo sees the Khartoum regime conducting massive scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions of the south, and acquiring huge quantities of new armaments with oil revenues. Egypt regards Sudan in essentially the same terms that defined condominium rule with Britain from 1898 to independence in 1956.
Convinced that it is the indispensable US ally in the Middle East, Egypt is willing to obstruct any peace process for Sudan that is not on its terms. But what is most striking about the Egyptian sense of a peace process for Sudan is that it does not countenance serious discussion of either southern self-determination OR the separation of religion and state. Since these are the two fundamental issues separating the warring parties, Egypt is effectively saying that it is content to allow the war to continue. Peace can come only when it meets self-interested Egyptian specifications.
This is an outrageous policy, both morally and politically. Indeed, it is morally intolerable to allow such an immensely destructive war to continue for narrowly conceived national interests. But even the interests that Egypt will acknowledge publicly—primarily riparian rights, access to the waters of the Nile—are not served by this policy. The agriculture of the south of Sudan does not threaten Egypt’s need for the waters of the Nile. Nor does a self-determined southern Sudan become more threatening on this score. Egypt would do much better to recognize that the Nile waters run through a great deal of the south that Khartoum simply cannot control, and accept the de facto geographical division that presently exists. Certainly there can be no meaningful negotiations over future water rights while the war rages.
Even so, Egypt thinks that a weakened and warring Sudan will be sufficiently pliant to accommodate all its needs, both for riparian rights and a dutiful southern neighbor. And Egypt’s peace “policy” reflects these transparently self-serving national interests.
If the US is to play a role in bringing peace to Sudan, it must recognize not simply the deep recalcitrance in Khartoum, but the willingness of Egypt to play its “Middle East card”—threatening a lack of cooperation in addressing the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and in the war on terrorism. The very willingness to engage in this cynical geopolitical deal-making reveals the deep lack of principle and compassion in Egyptian policy with respect to Sudan.
It is the task of the US to declare forcefully that the moral imperative to end the war in Sudan will not be held hostage to Egyptian threats, explicit or implied. And certainly the US is not without “cards” of its own to play, with over $2 billion in foreign aid going to Egypt annually, primarily to the armed forces.
The report of special envoy John Danforth will be submitted within two or three weeks. At that time the task of actually creating a peace process will presumably return to the Africa Bureau at the State Department. But it is time now to be thinking about the difficult task of moving Egypt from its present obstructionist posture into a genuine commitment to peace in Sudan. Certainly the Egyptian embassy in Washington should be put forcefully on notice that its role in preventing peace in Sudan is widely understood—and will not be tolerated.