Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Sudan Set to Split despite Egyptian Moves

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Sudan Set to Split despite Egyptian Moves

Article excerpt

The U.S. has rejected an Egyptian proposal for a "confederation" between northern and southern Sudan, insisting that a Jan. 9 referendum-which will determine the fate of the south-go ahead as scheduled. According to Egyptian analysts, the move proves Washington's determination to see Africa's largest country split in two.

"The U.S. is dead set on seeing the emergence of an independent state of Southern Sudan to achieve political aims on the African continent," Hani Raslan, an expert in Sudanese affairs at the semi-official Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told the Inter Press Service (IPS).

A peace agreement was signed in 2005 between Sudan's ruling National Congress Party and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in the Kenyan city of Naivasha. The agreement aimed at halting the longstanding civil war between north and south that had flared up intermittently since the 1950s.

Contentiously, the agreement-backed by the U.S. and the African Union-stipulated that a referendum eventually be held in the south on proposed independence from the Sudanese government in Khartoum. The agreement also called for a referendum in central Sudan's oil-rich Abyei region to decide whether it would join the north or the south.

Both referenda are slated for Jan. 9. As it now stands, the majority of southern Sudanese are widely expected to vote in favor of independence.

Hardly relishing the notion of a brand new country to its south-with whom it would presumably have to share coveted Nile water-Egypt has, since 2005, consistently worked toward maintaining Sudan's political unity.

"Egypt has stepped up investment in southern Sudan, where it has launched several major infrastructure projects," said Raslan. "It has also been dispatching frequent high-level diplomatic missions to the provisional southern government in Juba."

On Nov. 3, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit noted that within the last five years Egypt had pumped more than 500 million Egyptian pounds ($87 million) into projects in southern Sudan-including hospitals, schools and power stations-"in hope of convincing the people of southern Sudan to choose unity over secession."

The minister also stressed Egypt's concern over the fact that, with the referendum right around the corner, serious issues-which could eventually lead to conflict-remained unresolved between the two sides. These, he said, included border demarcation, distribution of natural resources, especially petroleum, migration issues, and the fate of the Abyei region.

Aboul-Gheit went on to suggest that, rather than choosing outright independence, southern Sudan should opt for a "confederation" with the north. "This means they would be two independent countries, but would share a single currency and have a single foreign policy," he explained.

In light of the several outstanding issues between north and south, secession, he warned, "could lead to violence. …

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