Sunday, May 26, 2024

As Ethiopia seeks Red Sea access via Somaliland, why is Egypt supporting Somalia?

Thursday January 25, 2024 :Hosting Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Sunday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made a show of supporting Somalia against the independence of Somaliland, a breakaway region in northwest Somalia.

Somaliland’s long-held ambition for independence from Somalia gained political thrust this month. Its government penciled an agreement with Ethiopia to develop a naval base on Somaliland’s coast. In return, Ethiopia committed to acknowledging Somaliland’s independence.

Mogadishu has rejected the step, with states in East Africa and around the Red Sea basin, including Egypt, rallying around it in support.

“We in Egypt refuse interference in Somalia’s affairs and harm to its territorial integrity, and refuse this agreement [with Ethiopia],” Sisi said at a joint presser with President Mohamud.

The Egyptian president escalated his rhetoric to talk about security. As Somalia is a member state of the Arab League, he said, it is also protected by the body’s joint defense treaty. “We will not allow anyone to threaten or harm Somalia,” Sisi said.

Why is Egypt assuming such a defensive posture?

Mada Masr spoke to advisor to Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Amany al-Taweel and International Crisis Group’s Project Director for the Horn of Africa Alan Boswell to understand how Ethiopia’s move to augment its access to the Red Sea has set alarm bells ringing in Cairo and the region more broadly.

Ethiopia lost its connection to the Red Sea in the early 1990s, when Eritrea gained independence. Since then, it has been keen on regaining a foothold on the coastline.

“Ethiopians will point out it is the most populous country in the world to be landlocked, which poses developmental and security constraints on their government,” says Boswell. From the Ethiopian perspective, relying on another country’s ports, as Ethiopia currently does with Djibouti, also leaves the nation vulnerable, Boswell tells Mada Masr.

It is also Ethiopia’s ambition for Red Sea access that brings it face-to-face with Egypt. Somalia overlooks the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the entry point to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, one of the major resources of the Egyptian economy, Taweel notes.

Sisi noted Ethiopia’s access to the Red Sea on Sunday, addressing Addis Ababa directly. “If you want facilitations from your friends in Somalia, Eritrea or Djibouti, you can get it via the traditional channels,” he said. “For there to be a chance, I mean, that you benefit from the ports in these countries, is something no one is denying you.”

But there is also a political dimension to Ethiopia’s current moves. “Prime Minister Abiy [Ahmed] wants to be the leader who restores Ethiopia’s access to the sea. He also has designs for an Ethiopian Navy, which would be difficult to do without their own port,” notes Boswell.

Abiy first publicly announced his intentions to pursue access to the Red Sea in October, saying it is “an existential matter for Ethiopia.” But the announcement quickly resparked tensions with Eritrea, with which Abiy ended a decades-long conflict in 2018. As Boswell notes, many in the region and in Eritrea took the announcement as an implicit threat to try to grab the port of Assab.

While Ethiopia’s pursuit of guaranteed sea access is understandable, Boswell says, a coercive demand for a port of its own, if none of its sovereign neighbors are eager to accommodate it, renders the country’s options problematic.

As such, Somalia has responded sharply. It described the Somaliland-Ethiopia deal as “the illegal infringement of Ethiopia into our national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” calling on the country to cancel the memorandum of understanding.

Mogadishu also called an emergency meeting of the Arab League at the level of foreign ministers last week, with the body issuing a statement rejecting the preliminary agreement and any legal, political, commercial or military consequences that may result from it.

The moment seems opportune for Egypt to build politically on its existing relationship with Somalia and longstanding resentment of Ethiopia.

Taweel notes that Egypt’s relationship with Somalia dates back to the 1970s. More recent cooperation has manifested in coordination against extremist groups, as Sisi mentioned in his speech this week.

Boswell also notes the longstanding ties, adding, “Egypt seeks to stand with countries against Ethiopia in the region, given the longstanding feud over [the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam].”

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have failed to reach an agreement on the filling and operation of the Renaissance Dam after nearly a decade of on-and-off talks. Egypt has repeatedly accused Ethiopia of obstructing the deal and unilaterally moving on with the dam’s operation. Speaking at the Arab League meeting on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry referred to Egypt’s earlier warning about “the potential consequences of Ethiopia’s unilateral policies that violate international law.”

Egypt’s interest in Somalia has increased due to the difficult relationship with neighboring Ethiopia, says Taweel. “Somalia is adjacent to Ethiopia, so having a strong Egyptian presence there can give us a pressure card on Ethiopia regarding the Renaissance Dam, in our quest for a binding legal agreement,” she says.

As for Sisi’s reference to the Arab League defense treaty, Taweel says it is important as the treaty provides the political, diplomatic and security basis Egypt requires to articulate its defense for Somalia against the Ethiopian deal.

According to the Joint Defense treaty, which includes Somalia alongside other Arab League member states, an aggression against any of the signatories is considered an aggression against all, and obligates the other states to provide all necessary measures to mount a defense, including by deploying armed forces.

The treaty has not been fully utilized in previous situations when Arab countries faced an invasion, though Sisi previously invoked it in 2015, calling for the formation of a joint Arab military force to confront terrorism. It received a preliminary approval from heads of state at the Arab League summit in March of that year, though the military force did not materialize.

Sisi’s comments did not go without a response from the government in Somaliland. In a statement on Monday, the region’s government vaguely acknowledged Egypt’s “fears and concerns regarding stability in the Horn of Africa,” but categorically rejected “any outside interference in our internal affairs.”

Somaliland, a former British colony that overlooks the Gulf of Aden, has been a part of Somalia since the latter declared independence from Italy in 1960.

It broke away in 1991 after the deposition of former Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre, declaring independence. Since then, the region has developed an autonomous political system, but remains unrecognized as an independent state by the international community.

Taweel notes that the Organization of African Unity and the African Union have recognized state borders according to old colonial lines — meaning that Somalia is recognized but not Somaliland — because of their view that the alternative would open the door to armed conflicts and political instability.

“The deal [with Ethiopia] recognizes Somaliland, which is an unprecedented step that violates international legitimacy. It does not preserve the unity of Somalia and opens the door for the assault [on] its sovereignty and fragmentation of its territory,” Taweel tells Mada Masr.

Other international actors, like the United States, have also rejected Ethiopia’s deal.

As for what happens next, it is less clear. Boswell notes that Somalia’s allies have rallied behind it diplomatically, but how these positions will be translated into practical steps remains to be seen.


Source Mada Masr
By Ahmed Bakr

{DAAWO MUQAALKA} Maxkamada Gobolka Hiiraan oo maanta u fadhiisatay dhageysiga Kiis dil ah oo ka dhacay Baladweyne

Sabti 25, May 2024 {HMC} Maxkamadda Gobolka Hiiraan, qeybta ciqaabta, laanta tashiga, ayaa maanta u farriisatay dhageysiga garmaqalka 1-aad ee gal dacwadeed ciqaabta ah...

{DHAGEYSO} Warka Habeenimo ee Hiiraanweyn {25-05-2024}

Sabti, 25 May, 2024 {HMC} Dhageystayaal halkan waxa aan idiin kugu soo gudbi neynaa Warka Habenimo ee Warbaahinta Hiiraanweyn Warka waxaa soo jeedinayo ::Abdimajiid Abdirahmaan...