KHARTOUM, Sudan – The leaders of Egypt and Sudan have agreed to mend ties, frayed by repeated failures to reach a deal over an upstream Nile dam being built by Ethiopia, and the revival of a longstanding dispute over a border held by Cairo and claimed by Khartoum.
In a two-day visit to Sudan, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi met with President Omar al-Bashir as well as other Sudanese officials. They vowed to set differences aside and bolster relations, in what appears to be Egypt's latest bid to thaw the frosty relations with its southern neighbor. El-Sissi was accompanied by his spouse, an unusual occurrence especially during an official visit by the Egyptian president. Entisar Amer was seen in several photos beaming alongside al-Bashir's wife, Widad Babiker, at Khartoum's presidential palace.
The visit was concluded on Friday.
"Of all my foreign visits to neighboring and friendly countries, my visit to Sudan has a special status and a high priority," el-Sissi said in a press conference on Thursday. He also said recent talks between both sides had overcome several difficulties. Similarly, al-Bashir said both countries had "lost several years" in disagreements over various issues but they have now planned to "remove all the obstacles" hampering cooperation.
In recent years, Egypt has expressed increasing alarm over a soon-to-be-completed dam project in Ethiopia. Egypt fears the dam could reduce its share of the Nile which serves as a lifeline for the country's 100 million people. Previous attempts at resolving the lasting dispute have failed. Egypt has been further vexed by Sudan siding with Ethiopia in the dispute, perhaps in the hopes of securing cheap electricity from the new hydroelectric project.
During the conference, al-Bashir likened Egyptian-Sudanese relations to "one human body" as together they share 75 percent of the Nile waters. Neither leader made mention of the Ethiopian dam.
Another point of contention is Khartoum's renewed claim to the Egyptian-held border territory known as the Halayeb Triangle, a dispute that dates back to British colonial times. Likely to have stoked further tension is Sudan's courtship of Turkey and Qatar, both considered regional nemesis by Egypt.
"There is still a long way to go to advance relations to the desired level," el-Sissi said. He also urged the media, which he suggested was promoting divisiveness, to become a platform for "improving relations."
During the visit, the two leaders agreed to form a bi-national committee to deepen cooperation. El-Sissi also announced plans to visit Sudan again in October.