Why Sudan has more that a passing interest in Egypt's electionBy REEM ABBAS in Khartoum | Tuesday, May 22 2012 at 13:06
Egypt and Sudan share a long history, from shared ethnic groups such as the Nubians and Beja who inhabit both sides of their border to having been one country at different periods of time over the span of 5,000 years.
These similarities have also extended to their leaderships: Egypt had four presidents since its 1952 military revolution that overthrew the monarchy; all represented military dictatorships. Sudan witnessed politico-military turmoil since independence from Egypt and Britain in 1956, experiencing short periods of democracy and long ones of military rule.
The two nations were again brought together after Egypt's January 2011 revolution.
"I see many similarities between Egypt and Sudan," Al-Fadil Awadallah, a political commentator and writer based in Khartoum, said. "The Egyptian revolution is a reminder of the 1964 and the 1985 revolutions in Sudan and the armed forces becoming a transitional authority."
Egypt's 1952 revolution was carried out by military officers not the public, however, while Sudanese people revolted against military rule in 1964 in what came to be known as the October 21 revolution and once again in 1985, to overthrow President Gaafa al-Nimeri.
Awadallah says that the Egyptian revolution did not bring to parliament the people that took to the streets unlike in Sudan where the professional and student unions, the main instigators of the revolutions, had a strong presence in parliament.
During the Egyptian revolution, Edmund Blair, a journalist who witnessed the 1985 revolution in Sudan, wrote an article on Al-Jazeera called "Seeing Egypt through Sudan's Lens" where he compared the two revolutions and advised Egyptians to learn from the Sudanese example.
"A military officer defied the sceptics, Sudanese and Western alike, and kept his promise to establish civilian rule," wrote Blair, referring to Suwar Al-Dahab who lead the army forces for a year before handing it over to an elected government.
So who is Sudan rooting for in Egypt? As Egyptians head to the polls this month, a debate is raging in Sudan on who would best support Khartoum's interests.
Polls conducted by the Cairo-based Al-Shorouk newspaper have shown that Amr Moussa, the 75-year-old former minister who led the regional powerhouse, the Arab League, for 10 years and Dr Abdel Moniem Abul-Fotouh, an independent candidate viewed as a moderate Islamist , are leading in the race for presidency.
Mohamed El-Dahshan, an Egyptian political scientist and journalist believes that presidential candidates have expressed very little about their views on foreign policy.
"Amr Moussa is likely to maintain the existing policy of 'lukewarm interest when it suits us' towards Sudan that we've been surfing on," said El-Dahshan in an email interview.
On the other hand, El-Dahshan believes that Hamdeen Sabbahi, another candidate who has a Pan-Arab background as a Nasserist, a follower of the ideology of former Egyptian president and icon, Gamal Abdel-Nasser is likely to "advocate greater openness towards Sudan."
After the Arab Spring, government officials in Sudan expressed their joy that "Islamic" rule is sweeping the region as the Tunisian elections brought a government with an Islamist background to the presidency and the same happened in Libya and even in Egypt, where the Islamist parties won majority seats in the parliament.
"Even if the governments in Libya and Tunisia have Islamic leanings, they have openly expressed how they feel about the Sudanese example of Islamic rule," said Awadallah who added that the Tunisian president discussed that the Sudanese Islamist rule is problematic.
The Sudanese government is familiar with Moussa who tried during his Arab League tenure to deal with many Sudanese problems namely President Bashir's International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant and the Darfur conflict.
In 2001, Moussa became the recipient of the first class of the order of the "Two Niles" award in Sudan, the most prestigious award in the country.
Dr Abul-Fotouh is not very known in Sudan, but he is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the current Sudanese government represents the Sudanese version of the Muslim Brotherhood.
El-Dahshan believes that Dr Abul-Fotouh could be seen as too "liberal" for Sudan's taste. He states that his liberalism might come into play as "he is less likely to build this bond the Muslim Brother likes to build with its ideological partners."
By ideological partners, he refers to the Islamist authorities in Gaza and in Sudan, seen as the first member of the Arab league to be ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood.
This ideological division was evident in the Sudanese-Egyptian relations during the era of President Mubarak.
In 1995, Sudan was accused of supporting, funding and training Egyptian extremists to carry out an assassination attempt on President Mubarak.
The attempt failed, but President Mubarak's relation with Khartoum became even more sour.
Abdel-Rahman Mattar, the media advisor at Egypt's consulate in Khartoum told the Africa Review that all candidates have an equal chance of winning.
"The presidential elections are a new experience, there were elections before, but it wasn't transparent and carried out in the same atmosphere," said Mattar who added that he is always asked this question by the Sudanese media.
In a recent interview with Al-Sahafa, a Khartoum-based newspaper, Egypt's ambassador to Sudan, Abdel-Ghaffar Al-Deeb stated that Egypt's relations with Sudan has reached the point of no return.
"There is no going back, only going forward and more progress in their relations," said Al-Deeb in the interview.
When asked about lessons to be learned from the Sudanese experience, Mattar said that Egypt surely benefits from the Sudanese experience as all countries in the Arab bloc are an entity and their experiences flow into one direction and there is benefit to all citizens in that bloc.
El-Dahshan who worked in Sudan last year said that Egypt is not learning from its closest neighbour.
"Our ignorance of Sudan politics is befuddling, and our idiocy in not learning from the Sudanese Islamic experience is going to cost us dearly if we do end up with an Islamist president in Egypt," he stated to Africa Review.
Awadallah who writes about Egyptian and Sudanese politics online and in Al-Sahafa newspaper is optimistic about the lessons to be learned from Sudan.
He told this publication that because the problems of the Islamist example in Sudan have emerged, other countries are keen on looking to the Turkish example of Islamic-rule.
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Beyond the ballot