Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi described Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s visit to Sudan on Saturday as “different” than its predecessors, explaining that it took place at a time Khartoum and Cairo needed to build a strategic relationship that prioritizes development and stability.
In an interview to Asharq Al-Awsat on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Mahdi acknowledged that Sudan and Egypt had attempted to abandon their ties and even tried to interfere in each other’s affairs, “but to no avail.”
The situation is now different, she went on to say, citing joint challenges, which demand rapprochement on all economic, social and security levels.
She said Sudan and Egypt have agreed to activate a number of agreements that remained unimplemented over the years, which would help achieve the desired rapprochement and benefit the region at large, as well as the world.
“This is a joint relationship that can act as a factor for stability for our countries, region and the world,” added the minister
On Sisi’s meetings in Khartoum, Mahdi stressed that they represented a “meeting of higher political wills.”
The president had held talks with Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, head of the Sovereign Council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and first deputy Hemedti. Mahdi revealed that no issue was off limits and that Hamdok would soon visit Egypt.
Moreover, she stated that Egypt believes that ties with Sudan have a major strategic importance and they may even be its top priority.
Such strategic ties demand that discussions on pending files be held with complete transparency to remove any obstacles, she remarked.
On the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam dispute with Ethiopia, she urged the need “to reach a joint cooperation framework” so that the Nile river could be “a source of prosperity and development for Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, instead of a cause for disputes or conflicts.”
“We have the right to benefit from the river, but Sudan and Egypt oppose any unilateral moves by Ethiopia,” she stressed, saying that Addis Ababa needed to return to the negotiations table so that a legal binding agreement can be reached.
She dismissed Ethiopia’s proposal that the agreement be a declaration of intent, saying a binding agreement with international references was a more viable option.
In addition, she warned against Ethiopia’s move to begin the second phase of the filling of the dam in July. “This will expose us to imminent danger,” Mahdi said. “Egypt does have its own water challenges, but Sudan will immediately feel the impact of the filling, which will put the lives of 20 million Sudanese people at risk.”
Khartoum and Cairo have agreed to coordinate their positions and act on the diplomatic level with Africa to explain the danger of Ethiopia’s actions, she continued. The international community, especially the European Union, United Nations and United States, will also be approached.
Addressing the tensions on the Sudanese-Ethiopian border, Mahdi said that Sudan’s sovereignty over its territories is backed up by maps and documents. Addis Ababa itself recognizes these documents.
Relations with Ethiopia are “strategic” and Sudan is “very keen on them,” she went on to say, urging the need to resolve the border dispute, which would pave the way for any significant cooperation between the neighbors.
On women’s issues in Sudan, Mahdi said the December revolution “liberated women” and unleashed their potential, allowing them to play a major role in the victory that saw the ouster of the regime.
She did, however, criticize the poor representation of women in power, compared to their effective role in the revolt, urging feminist groups to unify their efforts to introduce change.
Mahdi is the second women to ever be appointed foreign minister in Sudan and the only one in the Arab world.
She said that the foreign affairs portfolio is among the most important in government. Moreover, women throughout the world are assuming diplomatic positions, except in the Arab world.
Women can occupy such position because of their high social intelligence, she stated.
She denied that she has encountered any challenges during her time in office so far, attributing it to her “military” background when she fought alongside opposition forces during the 1990s.
“The military is among the most difficult experiences women can endure. Everything else is very easy,” Mahdi told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The minister added: “The Mahdi armies were joined by women. Whole families came out to fight. I come from a very revolutionary background.” She revealed that the first feminist organization in Sudan was established by her grandmother and her mother was the first Sudanese woman to pursue an education in the West.
On the revolution, she said women took part in it in droves because of their strong nature. “Sudanese women have taken part in all revolts,” she stressed, while criticizing the ousted regime for issuing laws that infringed on women’s rights, which only strengthened and made them more committed to the revolt and change.