Plans to join Egypt, Sudan may not flourish in desert

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

It takes Dawood Hamad five days to travel from Egypt to his native town in Sudan. Two days by train gets him to El Shallal in southern Egypt, then he has to take a slow and irregularly-scheduled boat on the Nile River.

Although the governments of Egypt and Sudan have moved one step closer to political federation, the trip of Mr. Hamad is one indication of the geographical and economic divisions that remain between the two countries.

Hamad, who came to Egypt 50 years ago along with hundreds of Sudanese in search of work opportunities, is not treated as a foreigner anymore. As a result of an agreement laying the groundwork for integration between the two countries signed eight years ago, he does not have to renew his residence or work permit annually.

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But, he says, integration has a long way to go. And the results of a charter signed last week, which ensured equal treatment for nationals of both countries and facilitates the exchange of goods between them, ''remains to be seen.''

The charter provides for a transitional period of 10 years during which the two countries are supposed to draw closer and coordinate policies in different fields. The plan is to promote unified domestic and international policies.

Two bodies have been formed to supervise this process: a higher council headed by the two presidents and a joint Nile Valley parliament made up of appointed members of each parliament. Also an integration fund has been set up, financially independent of the two governments but directed by the higher council.

Militarily, the move makes sense for Sudan. It stands as an Egyptian commitment to protect the shaky Sudanese regime. President Jaafar Nimeiry has survived five coup attempts since he took over 13 years ago. Egypt maintains a military regiment close to the capital and, because of a mutual defense pact, is prepared to intervene to protect Sudan.

For Egypt, the economic advantages of integration are more important. Its food imports have recently reached 6 billion pounds ($8.4 billion), a major faction in its growing trade deficit.

In the regional context, the two states, which have offered the United States military facilities, are in the process of forming a pro-Western front to counterbalance an increasingly exclusive but powerful Gulf Cooperation Council made up of six oil-rich Gulf states.

However, a number of obstacles stand in the way of a total Egyptian-Sudanese integration. They are:

* Foreign policy disagreements. Egypt's peace treaty with Israel was followed by Sudanese oscillation between Egypt and the Arab countries that boycotted Egypt. And President Nimeiry's recent decisions to send troops to help Iraq fight Iran and to receive hundreds of Palestine Liberation Organization fighters evacuated from Lebanon have caused widespread concern in Cairo.

* Geographical and economic factors. The two countries are separated by a large unpopulated area and a wide gap in technological and economic development. Not only is this likely to make the Sudanese sensitive to any dealings in which they will be treated as inferior, but it underscores the danger in relying solely on the bureaucracy to implement integration plans.

There are no roads or railways parallel to the Nile connecting the two capitals. Even telephone and telex communications between the two are made through a third country.

* Lack of funds. The relation seems to be viewed by officials on both sides as being complementary instead of equal. Egypt would provide technical expertise , manpower, and investments. Sudan would supply the raw materials, including vast areas of unexploited cultivatable land.

Both countries admit funds do not exist to carry this out on a large scale any time soon. And reliance on foreign and private capital is questionable, especially in the long-term projects mapped out for integration. Moreover, Sudan lacks data necessary to assess its resources and industrial capabilities.

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