News / Middle East

Sudan Referendum Has Implications for Egypt, Analyst Says

Pro-separation activists rallying outside Juba airport in southern Sudan where Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrives, 04 Jan 2011
Pro-separation activists rallying outside Juba airport in southern Sudan where Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrives, 04 Jan 2011

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Southern Sudan on Sunday will begin several days of voting in a referendum to decide whether to secede from the North-based government. Arab nations, particularly neighbors, Egypt and Libya, are uneasy. Neither participated in the Nairobi peace talks which led to the referendum.  Egypt would prefer a loose confederation and had hoped the referendum would be postponed. It blames the government of Omar Bashir for failing to keep the country together and present a more attractive portrait of unity.

Dr. Hamid Eltgani Ali is Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, American University in Cairo.  VOA’s Cecily Hilleary asked him for his assessment of a north-south divide in Sudan.

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Hamid Eltgani Ali:

Hilleary: What is Egypt’s concern if the South does secede from Sudan, as most analysts predict it will.

Hamid Eltgani Ali
Hamid Eltgani Ali

Ali: Because the Sudan is now in flames. Darfur is another hot place, where killing is still going on. It is possible that the Dafuris may ask for the same treatment. They might ask for self-determination - it is possible.  Eastern Sudan is possible. Nuba Mountains is possible. The Blue Nile is possible.  So these are all hot buttons in Sudan. It’s burning.  It is possible that [the country] could disintegrate. The country could run into chaos.

The solution is that, right now, we have a president that has been indicted by the [International Criminal Court]. He is working for his own interests. He is not looking [out] for the interests of Sudan, nor the neighboring countries of the region. So the only option is, they need to put pressure on Bashir to let it go. And he needs to resign not tomorrow, but today.


North Sudan

  • Leader: Omar al-Bashir
  • Capital: Khartoum
  • Economy: Oil (50% revenue); Agriculture
  • Land mass: 1,865,813 square kilometers
  • Population: 34.3 to 36.5 million
  • Religion: Muslim Majority


South Sudan

  • Leader: Salva Kiir
  • Capital: Juba
  • Economy: Oil (98% of revenue); Agriculture
  • Land mass: 640,000 square kilometers
  • Population: 7.5 to 9.7 million
  • Religion: Mainly Christian and Animist

Hilleary: And, if the region were to catch on fire, to continue your analogy, what then for Egypt? Egypt worries, for example, about a possible influx of migrants from Sudan.

Ali: That is also a concern because, today, the Sudanese people are migrants everywhere, and if the countries start disintegrating - and I’m sure there will be a lot of chaos - where the option is? They got to go to Egypt. It’s the closest place. The borders are easy for people to [cross].

The other thing is about the Nile water. It’s a big concern for Egypt. [The] more people there are in the Nile Basin, the less [is] the Egyptian share of the water.  Right now there is a lot of tension in the Nile Basin countries. That is not going to get better at all.

And the other thing is economic interests. That is, Sudan and Egypt could have a good common integration formula, because there is a good food processing industry in Egypt, while Sudan is a very fertile land and very good for the agriculture industry.

So now, those economic interests will be decimated. Now, we are going to see a lot of poverty and misery in Sudan. We have seen just yesterday, the government has already passed its budget and now they held an overnight session and passed a resolution that is undermining the whole macroeconomic of the country.

Now, we see a lot of inflation, a lot of poverty, and if there is poverty in Sudan why would I want to live there? I would just move to Egypt. So Egypt has the right to all these concerns.

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