Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Egyptian Interest in South Sudanese referendum: A patriarchy or national interest?

It has emerged from the media recently that Egyptian government and prominent newspaper, Al-Ahram newspaper, had made disapprobation to the Sudanese government for wryly setting the country on the course of separation through a grant adoption of Islamic sharia'a laws, and for further maintaining a divisive crater between the citizens of the north and the south in the same country. 

The editor in chief, Osama Saraya, said that the government of Sudan alone bears the largest part of the tragedy that was lurking in the Sudan. Maintaining doubtfulness on the nature of the mistakes the Sudanese government made in the past which presently appear to warrant the desire for independence among South Sudanese; he believed there were series of blunders committed by the government since it assumed power through coup d'etat in 1989. It should be understood that the National Islamic Front snatched power militarily in 1989 to block the peace deal that was being negotiated by the government of Sadiq al-Mahdi and the Sudan People's Liberation Army. Saraya held strongly to his conscience by asserting that it was the government that emphasized more on the concept of self-determination than southerners.

His preferred modus operandi was for the government to have insisted on integration and included that concept in Northern ideological policies so as to achieve unity and coexistence in the end. Government's failure to pursue such a unionist plane of thinking had - in his thoughts - made the coexistence between the North and the South very difficult and impossible. He called this a sin committed by the government of Sudan. Saraya blamed Sudan too, for the blinding focus and failure to realize that the international powers were ready and lurking behind the Sudanese problem with a view to dismembering the country.

The Sudanese society is aware that Egypt had hopes to have closer relations with the Sudan since Nimeiri's administration. The fantasy behind it all, is to possibly unite with the Sudan under Egyptian hegemony. Earlier visit of president Mubarak to Juba, the first ever visit of an Arab head of state to Southern Sudan, confirmed Egyptian agony over the Sudan, and further highlighting why Egypt would not like to see a divided Sudan. Many scholars and regional strategists see the Sudanese circumstance as a matter of national interest to Egypt.  Egypt, therefore, sees her sphere of influence under threat if countries along the Nile go down the paths of instability and fragmentation. Also, a new country on the Nile means a new geostrategic wrangling over the waters of the Nile as well as a bugging threat to dominant influence bequeathed upon her by the British colonial agreement. The British granted Egypt the role of a shepherd on the Nile for her survival and as part of appreciation in helping Britain administered Sudan, thereby, opening the way to explore the source of the Nile into the interior of Africa.

It was clear that Saraya was right in his doubt because Mubarak's visit to Juba should have come in the wake of Omar Bashir, the country's president. President Bashir's reluctance to visit Juba even when the political atmosphere in the South was ominously laden with separation was an indication that he saw no solution to the situation. Saraya hinted that Egypt had offered advice to the Sudanese government before the 2002 Machakos Protocols and urged that it abandon sharia law for the sake of  maintaining the unity of the country. Even if that advice was heeded, international pressure on Khartoum in which Washington believes Khartoum was among the states responsible for sponsoring terrorism, and Southerners' zeal to wade over to the shore of freedom, would have made no radical change in the realities that were to follow.

Earlier comments in the UAE-based Al-Bayan newspaper by Abdel Rahman Shalgam, Libya’s permanent representative to the United Nation, coincided with the Egyptian fears over the breakup of the country.  Shalgam blamed Khartoum for the damaging Shari’a law embraced by the state. He particularly castigated Hasan al-Turabi for his civilization project which ushered in intensification of fighting in the country through ruthless declaration of Jihad on the southerners.

Southerners, at this historical breaking point, would simply wonder where these voices of reasons were during the two decades of war in which they suffered immensely. To many Southerners, voices emerging at the stage are voices of doom that are blaming themselves for the actions they have not completed right. Nobody will know what Southerners are thinking at this crucial moment. But as the referendum date looms, they will say it loud and clear to Sudan, Egypt and the world what they have been thinking.

Egyptian fears and concerns, more or less, seemed to form a wish of goodwill for a future of peacefulness, good neighborliness and regional stability. But the reality in the Egyptian concern is in the waters of the Nile.

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