Direct road links between Egypt and Sudan will open soon, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said on Thursday, beginning a two-day visit which Khartoum has called “historic”.
Morsi’s first trip to the neighbouring country, which Egypt jointly ruled with Britain until 1956, comes nearly a year after his election.
He and his fellow Islamist, President Omar al-Bashir, said they both sought tighter economic links.
“We are looking forward to integration in sectors like infrastructure and roads linking the countries — two of which will be opened soon. A third one has to be completed,” Morsi said during a meeting between their delegations at a conference centre on the Blue Nile River.
The former Muslim Brotherhood leader also spoke of cooperation in education and agriculture, to promote mutual “food security”.
Before he and Bashir joined a gathering of businessmen from their two nations, the Egyptian leader called on his countrymen to invest more in Sudan.
Bashir said they aimed for “integration of Sudanese resources and Egyptian experience”, with an increase in joint investments.
Earlier, Morsi embraced 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.
“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.
The two countries have delayed opening the land border crossings which Morsi referred to, and have a decades-old dispute over sovereignty of the Hala’ib Triangle along the Red Sea.
Fanous said each country has had reasons to hold up opening the two roads which straddle the Nile.
Sudan, which consistently runs a trade deficit with Egypt, does not want to be flooded with cheap Egyptian goods, while Egypt has concerns about weapons passing through Sudan, the political scientist said.