It has become the main topic of conversation on Egyptian social networks: the capture of Egyptian soldiers present in Sudan at the Merowe base, located 350km north of Khartoum. Published by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the images show the arrest of unarmed soldiers – whose exact number is still unknown. And they have gone viral.
The photos are seen by many as a humiliation.
Some say it is just one more in a long list of defeats suffered by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt since the Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) crisis with Ethiopia.
Among Muslim Brotherhood supporters or their affiliated media, the case is openly mocked. A popular current television series, Katiba 101 praising the heroism of the country’s armed forces in the Sinai war, makes an ironic counterpoint.
On the other side, the authorities are calling for restraint.
In a statement issued after the videos were posted online, the spokesman for the Egyptian Armed Forces confirmed that they were closely monitoring the incident in Sudanese territories.
Hemeti has two reasons for involving Egypt in the crisis and for broadcasting videos of the arrest of the soldiers.
He confirmed that the Egyptian military had gone to Sudan to conduct joint exercises with their Sudanese counterparts.
Coordination with the concerned parties is currently underway, the spokesman added without giving further details.
The RSF, led by General Mohamed Hamdane Daglo “Hemeti”, have a very different version of the situation. They claim the Egyptian military were there to support their Sudanese rivals, the forces of General Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the Sovereign Council and commander of the Armed Forces.
Legacy of the al-Bashir regime
“Hemeti has two reasons for involving Egypt in the crisis and for broadcasting videos of the arrest of the soldiers,” says Hassan Abou Taleb, a consultant with the (government-funded) Center for Political and Strategic Studies (CEPS).
“The first is that Hemeti is a product of Omar al-Bashir’s regime, which has done everything possible to foster animosity between Sudanese and Egyptians. The second is that he is trying to gain a popular base among the Sudanese people by presenting himself as a leader who fights against hostile forces in Sudan and wants to free the country from its occupiers. This is the argument used by some of his supporters on social media networks.”
In official Egyptian media, the arrest of the soldiers has not had much coverage. Some have been content to republish the official statement, but without sharing the videos of the prisoners. The main question now is whether the fate of the soldiers held by the RSF could deteriorate and whether they could really be in danger.
Cairo is dismissing this pessimistic hypothesis for the time being, stating it is in contact with the Sudanese parties concerned.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has called on his Sudanese counterpart, Ali al Sadiq, to inform him that Cairo will not tolerate any kind of attack against Egyptian soldiers or military equipment in Merowe. Doing so could lead to adverse consequences.
Everyone apperas to have received the message, including the RSF, who confirmed that they had no intention of harming the soldiers, Taleb.
Slipping into the crisis?
But beyond the sole question of the fate of the imprisoned soldiers, Egyptian authorities are very concerned about the deterioration of the situation in Sudan, and fear its neighbour may slip into a civil war and lasting instability.
“Egypt is not a party to the crisis, but it could suffer the consequences,” says Abu Taleb. “Cairo wants a stable Sudan with a strong government with whom it can coordinate on GERD. The dam is as dangerous for Sudan as it is for Egypt.”
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