After many years of false starts and empty promises, the much-vaunted rail link between Egypt and Sudan may finally become a reality after Kuwait agreed to fund a feasibility study.
Egypt's Official Gazette reported that President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has ratified a $2.4m agreement with the Kuwaiti Fund for Economic Development, reached in April, to finance a study on the rail link.
The study will focus on a 570-kilometre line between the southern Egyptian city of Aswan and Wadi Halfa in northern Sudan.
As well as moving freight, such a railway line could help millions of Egyptians and Sudanese who unable to afford air fares for the two-and-a-half hour flight between Cairo and Khartoum to travel overland, avoiding the meandering route by bus and river ferries between the two Afro-Arab nations.
When the agreement was reached in April, Egypt’s International Co-operation Ministry said the proposed rail link would open opportunities for sustained co-operation between Egypt and Sudan, potentially boosting trade.
The project, said the ministry, would “enshrine co-operation and realise economic and social integration” between the two nations.
The feasibility study, according to the agreement signed in Jeddah, would examine the economic, environmental and social effects of the project, review previous studies, decide on the route and provide an estimate for the total cost.
Egypt and Sudan are bound by a complex web of cultural, economic and social ties dating back to ancient times, with the Nile river that flows through both nations a potent symbol of their bond.
However, the two nations have had a history of political differences, with Sudanese nationalists and liberals often accusing their bigger neighbour to the north of seeking to play a patronising, “big brother” role over their country.
Previous attempts at economic integration have been marked by much fanfare but made no headway in bringing the two nations closer. Similarly, talk over the years of Sudan using Egyptian expertise to tap into Sudan’s massive agricultural potential has come to nothing.
Sudan’s seemingly chronic political turbulence — the country has undergone more than 12 coups and attempted coups since independence in 1956 — has also played a big role in disrupting attempts at economic integration with Egypt.