On Jan. 2, 2008 President Mubarak inspected hundreds of Egyptian troops ahead of their deployment in the war-torn Darfur region of neighboring Sudan to join a UN-African peacekeeping force in a move that calls to mind an interesting historical analogy.
Close to 200 years ago, in the first quarter of the 19th century, under the rule of Mohamed Ali, Egypt had also sent its troops to Sudan, but the two incidents couldn’t be more different.
While back in the year 1820, Sudan was pristine, unknown territory, today what happens in Sudan makes daily international headlines, especially with coverage of the bitter conflicts in the south and in Darfur, now that both global and regional powers are eying the country, each with its own hidden or stated agenda.
The first time round, Egypt entered Sudan as a strong and rich country, powered by its official status in the Ottoman Empire as part of an ambitious regional strategy. But today, Egypt is old and tired, weighed down by its own burdens, and enters Sudan as part of a complex regional and international effort, the ramifications of which are uncertain.
Back then Egypt entered Sudan alone, but now it is accompanied by regional and international powers. General Qaddafi even attended the troop inspection with President Mubarak – proof indeed of Libya’s commitment to resolve the Darfur crisis!
The troops heading to our southern neighbor today are joint UN-African Union peacekeeping forces, which strengthens the notion that, since the discovery of petrol, Sudan has become an international playground for powers seeking to reinforce their presence there led by the US and China, which has now become the biggest consumer of Sudanese oil through the companies it has set up there.
While two centuries ago, Egypt’s military presence in Sudan was part of a long, historic process that culminated in the birth of a nation, now Egypt is merely participating in an effort to save a country from complete collapse and disintegration.
Yet no one can state unequivocally that the international intervention, whether overt or covert, truly aims to save the Sudanese “state , since the reality on the ground proves that the possibilities of a divided Sudan seem more likely today than they ever were in the past; not because of what’s happening in Darfur, but more importantly because of what will happen in the South of Sudan.
How different is Egypt’s presence in Sudan at the beginning of the 21st century from what it was at the beginning of the 19th!
Dr. Osama Al-Ghazaly Harbis first deputy of the Democratic Front Party.