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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Egypt, an ally of Sudan’s military, scrambles to respond to the unrest

By Vivian Yee

Egypt was scrambling to respond on Sunday to the clashes breaking out across its southern neighbor, Sudan, where it has deep historical ties as well as modern political and military entanglements.

A former colonial ruler of Sudan, Egypt maintains close ties with the country’s military, and the fighting that began Saturday has shed light on the extent of the relationship. Reports emerged Saturday that dozens of Egyptian troops stationed at a military base in Sudan had been captured by the Rapid Support Forces, the paramilitary group battling the Sudanese army. The Egyptian military said its troops had been deployed there as part of periodic joint drills it conducts with Sudan.

The Rapid Support Forces also seized at least six Egyptian Sukhoi warplanes from the base in Meroe, in northern Sudan, Izzeldin Elsafi, a relative of the paramilitary force’s commander, said in a phone interview. The claim could not be independently confirmed.

Although the RSF now controls that base, Egyptian forces are operating from another air base in Sudan near the Red Sea, close to the Egyptian border, Elsafi said. He added that Egypt had used the Red Sea installation to carry out a bombing raid on a base of the paramilitary force in the city of Port Sudan on Sunday morning, forcing its fighters to evacuate.

That assertion, if true, would suggest that Egypt was intervening in the conflict on the side of the Sudanese military. Egypt has not publicly commented on the reports, but on Sunday, its representative to the Arab League, Mohamed Mostafa Orfy, called on all parties in the fighting to protect “the safety and security of all Egyptian interests in Sudan.”

Egypt has built a close relationship with Sudan’s army chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, who led the October 2021 coup that derailed Sudan’s democratic transition. For Egypt’s military leadership, which came to power after deposing a democratically elected president from the Muslim Brotherhood, Burhan’s rise was preferable to the possibility of a democracy developing on its southern doorstep.

The relationships Egypt has built with Sudan’s military could make it well placed to serve as a broker between Burhan and his former allies in the Rapid Support Forces. On Sunday, Egypt and South Sudan, which borders Sudan to the south, offered to mediate, calling on both sides to pursue “peaceful dialogue,” according to a statement from the Egyptian presidency describing a call between Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and South Sudan’s leader, Salva Kiir.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, another regional power broker, had called an emergency meeting of the Arab League’s permanent members to discuss the crisis. According to the statement, Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, held a phone call with his Sudanese counterpart in which he expressed “deep concern” over the conflict and “asserted that Egypt will always defend the unity and the security of Sudan and that it is important that no foreign parties intervene in any way that could aggravate the conflict.”

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