Sudan's Al Burhan visits Egypt for talks with El Sisi

Sudanese military leader discusses bilateral ties, his country's political crisis with Egyptian president

Sudan's Sovereign Council Chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan walks with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, during a welcome ceremony in Khartoum, Sudan March 6, 2021. Sudan Sovereign Council/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Sudanese military leader Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan arrived in Egypt on Wednesday for talks with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, about Sudan's economic and political situation.

Mr El Sisi received Gen Al Burhan at Cairo International Airport and the Sudanese leader was later welcomed by a guard of honour at the Egyptian presidential palace, before the two leaders sat down for talks, the president's office said.

It is his first visit to Egypt since he seized power in a military coup last October, and follows talks between Gen Al Burhan and the leaders of the UAE and Saudi Arabia earlier this month in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.

The October military takeover upended Sudan’s democratic transition, which began after the 2019 ouster of dictator Omar Al Bashir.

It also set off a downward spiral for Sudan's fragile economy, which had shown signs of slow recovery under the civilian-led government before it was toppled.

Sudan's economic woes have been deepened by the sharp rise in fuel, food and shipping costs caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"Egypt fully appreciates the delicate circumstances Sudan is currently going through and the need to jointly work to ensure that ongoing developments on the international arena do not negatively impact on efforts to support Sudan to achieve political, security and economic stability," a joint statement said.

Egypt will continue to offer logistical, humanitarian and technical assistance to Sudan, the statement said.

Egypt and Sudan are bound by historical, political, economic and cultural ties, with Cairo traditionally viewing its vast neighbour to be within the sphere of its own national security.

Egypt, the larger of the two and with a population of 102 million people, has consolidated its ties with the Sudanese military since the Islamist Al Bashir was overthrown nearly three years ago in a popular uprising.

During Al Bashir's 29 years in power, relations with Cairo were fraught with tension and mistrust.

Egypt has also traditionally been viewed with suspicion by Sudanese leftists and nationalists, who accuse Cairo of treating their country with condescension, a charge consistently denied by the Egyptians.

Gen Al Burhan’s takeover sparked firm opposition from pro-democracy forces and most political parties in Sudan. It also drew strong condemnation from Sudan's western backers, led by the US, which together with the World Bank suspended hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of aid to Sudan in response.

Sudan's security forces, acting on behalf of the military, have dealt violently with regular street protests demanding that the generals step down and the civilian transitional government be restored. At least 90 protesters have been killed and about 3,000 injured since the demonstrations began.

Sudanese anti-military protesters in Khartoum, Sudan. AFP

On Tuesday night, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced that UN special envoy for Sudan Volker Perthes would also be in Cairo on Wednesday, where he will meet Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Mr Perthes has led extensive consultations with Sudan’s stakeholders in recent weeks to lay the foundations of a national dialogue that could yield a way out of the political crisis.

The military at first welcomed the initiative, but later suggested it did not approve of his approach and took exception to remarks Mr Perthes had made at the UN Security Council earlier this week, when he said that Sudan was on the brink of collapse if its political crisis was not addressed quickly.

Pro-democracy groups in Sudan are refusing to negotiate directly with the military. Instead, they want the generals to quit politics and be held accountable for toppling the civilian-led government and killing protesters.

Gen Al Burhan, they say, has been firing pro-democracy officials in government ministries, schools and universities, and replacing them with Islamists loyal to Al Bashir.

On Tuesday, Gen Al Burhan replaced the directors of 30 state-run universities in the country. Last week, the teachers' union said authorities fired more than 40 headmasters and headmistresses of schools in the greater Khartoum area in response to a strike they staged this month to press demands for better pay to cope with rising prices.

The pro-democracy groups also suspect the general harbours political ambitions, even though he has repeatedly denied that he aspires to rule Sudan. He has also promised free elections for 2023.

Updated: March 30, 2022, 5:20 PM