Egypt and Sudan’s Escalating Border Dispute

Why Sisi Can't Afford to Lose the Halayeb Triangle

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi sits during a signing of agreements ceremony with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir (unseen) at the El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, October 2016 Amr Abdallah Dalsh / REUTERS

In October 2016, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi invited his Sudanese counterpart, Omar al-Bashir to Cairo to attend festivities marking the anniversary of the 1973 Arab–Israeli war and to bestow on him the Star of Sinai, the highest military medal in Egypt. Scenes of Bashir sitting next to Sisi in an open car inspecting the Egyptian army units were widely seen as evidence of improved relations between the two countries after years of tensions. Up to that point, things between them had been strained, dating back to the 1995 attempt on the life of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, which Egypt accused Sudan’s government of facilitating.

The new Egyptian–Sudanese honeymoon did not last long, however, and by early 2017 the traditional points of contention began to reemerge. Calculating that the regional balance of power had changed in its favor thanks to improved ties with both Saudi Arabia and the United States, Khartoum asked Egypt to hand over control of the long-contested Halayeb border area in April. When Egypt refused, it triggered dueling media blitzes that seemed likely to worsen diplomatic tensions.

Since then, tensions have continued to rise. Sudan has barred Egyptians from entering the country without a visa, which they had previously been able to do. It also decided to ban Egyptian fruit imports on the grounds that they were contaminated. Finally, Bashir accused Cairo of supplying arms and ammunition to South Sudan. In response, Egypt accused Sudan of harboring members of the Muslim Brotherhood. And according to a Sudanese state television report that Cairo did not deny, Egypt has also moved military units in the territorial waters adjacent to the Halayeb Triangle and sent warplanes to fly over the area.


The roots of the Halayeb Triangle dispute go back over a century. In 1899, the British Empire decided to demarcate the borders between Egypt and Sudan, both of which were under its protection. It picked the 22nd parallel as the separation line between the two administrative

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