Last week, the Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation for the newborn state of South Sudan paid a visit to Israel. This could have been fairly innocuous were it not for the Sudanese minister’s statements and actions during the visit, which came within the framework of growing levels of cooperation between the two sides ever since South Sudan separated from the North, or perhaps even prior to this date. The South Sudanese minister signed protocol agreements on issues pertaining to water, agriculture, infrastructure and military industries, but it was his statements that will impact far beyond Sudan and pose a grave concern to all Arabs, or at least the majority of them. However, it seems that the South Sudanese minister’s rhetoric has passed by largely unnoticed, despite its crucial significance in terms of current and future reflections. So what exactly did the man say?
According to a report published in Asharq al-Awsat last Wednesday, South Sudan’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Paul Mayom Akec, and the Israeli Minister of Energy and Water, Uzi Landau, both launched insults at the Arabs. The former compared Israel’s experience to that of South Sudan, and hinted at a comparison between Nazism and the Arabs. The Israeli minister told his guest that, since he was a young man, he kept a watchful eye on the situation and the struggle in southern Sudan, and he was aware of the amount of suffering the southern Sudanese had endured, claiming that Arabs can be very cruel with people they do not wish to see living amongst them. The South Sudanese minister responded by pointing out the considerable similarities between Israel’s experience and that of South Sudan, in terms of a people’s struggle for existence among a group that did not want them to survive. Paul Mayom Akec was not content with this however, for he went on to say that South Sudan has lost 2.5 million of its population [as a result of the Sudanese civil war], and the Jews lost six million people [during the Nazi Holocaust], and hence it is the duty of both countries to ensure that this does not happen again.
Such controversial rhetoric hides a grave problem for future relations and alliances in the region, especially between Israel and South Sudan. This will also have a profound impact upon the problematical Nile water issue, and could also incite other minorities in the Arab world who empathize with the injustice expressed by the South Sudanese. Such injustices are a direct result of the discrimination practiced against these minorities, who complain of being treated as second-class citizens denied certain rights. The Arab world has numerous minorities and a vibrant mix of ethnic, religious and ideological groups, and this means that issues such as citizenship must be handled in a way that does not lead to continual weaknesses in the structure of Arab states. These issues must not be a cause for intervention, hostilities or civil wars. It is no secret that Israel has continually exploited the minority issue in the Arab world, in a bid to infiltrate and provoke unrest and tension.
Relations between Israel and South Sudan could pose numerous problems for the Arabs if they do not take heed and correct their double mistake of firstly neglecting to establish close relations with the new southern state, and secondly ignoring the climate of hostility and war between Khartoum and Juba. In this endeavor, the Arabs are acting as if the issue does not concern them, passing the whole matter on to African mediations, international interventions and Israeli infiltration. South Sudan has already complained that Arab states have showed no interest in establishing relations with the newborn state, nor have they sought to promote contact and discuss aspects of cooperation. Hence it is South Sudan’s right to explore aspects of cooperation with Israel, a country that has showed considerable interest in establishing positive relations.
It is noteworthy that Israel’s presence in South Sudan comes at a time when the Nile water issue is coming to the boil as a result of the increasing needs of the Nile Basin states. This situation that makes further tension highly probable, to the extent that some have warned of matters escalating to the the level of confrontations, along the lines of the “water wars” anticipated elsewhere. In this context, it is understandable why Israel was keen to strike its first protocol agreement with South Sudan on the subject of water and agriculture; an agreement that ensures “the transportation and desalination of water” alongside the development of agricultural irrigation systems.
According to Israeli public radio, Tel Aviv and Juba also signed a number of military agreements according to which Israeli Military Industries (IMI) will export arms and equipment to South Sudan.
Those following water issues are well aware that Nile water could face a potential crisis in view of the rising demands of some states, especially Ethiopia, where the population is likely to exceed that of Egypt in less than 50 years. Some other states are also demanding an increase in their water quotas. Simultaneously, there are questions over what quota should be allocated to the new state of South Sudan, and whether this will provoke further disputes in the future, especially with Egypt and Sudan. Today, some people believe that the appointment of Hisham Qandil – former Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and an expert on the Nile water issue – as Prime Minister is an indication that water politics will be of great significance to Egypt in the coming period.
Regardless of whether or not this theory about Qandil’s appointment is an exaggeration, it is clear that Egypt has suddenly found itself face to face with an aggravated Nile water problem that needs to be handled as a top priority. Egypt must be wary of the current developments in the Nile Basin, including Israeli maneuvers in South Sudan. Indeed, Israel seems to be exploiting the Arabs’ mistakes and their neglect of an issue that will have an increasing bearing on national security in view of its direct impact on both Egypt and Sudan.
Sudan lost its southern region without reaping the fruits of peace or providing the welfare it had promised its people when the “salvation” government came to power, and this is well known to everyone. Yet the question that comes to mind today is: Have the Arabs lost South Sudan as well?
The answer is clear and requires little contemplation: We lost the South whilst many of us were indifferent to the consequences. We were not wary of the significance of Israel’s rapid movement in a region that will soon see events of great significance, particularly in two countries that constitute nearly one-third of the Arab world’s population. This is always the case with us; we do not take notice of many issues until “the die is cast”.