Egypt's Morsi in Khartoum on 'historic' visit



Khartoum: Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi arrived in neighbouring Sudan on Thursday to push economic and other ties on a visit Khartoum calls "historic" but which comes nearly a year after Morsi's election.

The two-day trip is the former Muslim Brotherhood leader's first to Sudan, which Egypt jointly ruled with Britain until 1956.

He embraced his fellow Islamist, President Omar al-Bashir, on the airport tarmac after his white government jet landed.

Morsi assumed office last June after a popular uprising toppled long-time president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Bashir and Morsi were to hold talks later Thursday and jointly address a gathering of businessmen from their two nations.

"It is a historic visit because of the strategic depth of the relations between the people of the two countries, and both leaders are elected," Emad Sayed Ahmed, Bashir's press secretary, told AFP.

Posters of the two leaders have been hung on street corners.

Morsi's office said the visit has "particular importance because it is the first of its kind since the president took office, and is aimed at stressing the special and strong strategic relationship between Egypt and Sudan."

Cairo is keen to establish "a real economic partnership with Sudan, to meet the ambitions and goals of growth and prosperity for both peoples," the Egyptian statement said ahead of the visit.

Sudan is an important ally for Egypt in terms of its agricultural potential and in Cairo's efforts to secure an acceptable agreement with upstream river Nile countries on vital water supplies.

Two years ago, Egypt's then prime minister Essam Sharaf said his country was the third largest investor in Sudan, with stakes valued at $5.4 billion.

But University of Khartoum political scientist Safwat Fanous said Morsi's trip "comes too late," after he visited several other countries including India and Pakistan.

"Sudan is very important to Egypt, has been and will be in the future, for many reasons" including historical factors, the resources of the Nile river, and close ties between the two peoples, Fanous said.

"The visit should've maybe taken place earlier," a foreign diplomat told AFP. "Relations are not 100 percent in harmony, I would say."

Fanous suspects the trip was delayed because Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood "deliberately wanted to keep a distance" from the internationally isolated Bashir regime.

Khartoum has been under US trade restrictions since 1997 for reasons which Washington has said include human rights violations. US Secretary of State John Kerry in March pledged $250 million to help revive Egypt's economy.

Morsi's visit would "complete some issues that have already been agreed" when the two leaders held talks in Cairo last September, Bashir's press secretary said.

These include trade integration, transportation, investment, and the "four freedoms" pact, which gives citizens of each country the right to freely enter and conduct economic activities in the other. It has not been fully implemented.

The two countries have delayed the opening of land border crossings and have a decades-old dispute over sovereignty of the Hala'ib Triangle along the Red Sea.

Sudan consistently runs a trade deficit with Egypt, said Fanous.

AFP