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March 3, 2024

Egypt Vows to Protect Somalia Amid Rising Tensions Over Ethiopia-Somaliland Deal

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Jan 22, 2024

Tensions are escalating in the Horn of Africa over Ethiopia’s recent deal allowing it access to the Somaliland port of Berbera, with Egypt strongly backing Somalia and vowing to protect it from any threats to its security.

Sisi: Egypt Will Not Tolerate Threats to Somalia

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated unambiguously on Saturday that Egypt would not stand idly by in the face of any threats to Somalia’s stability and security. Speaking at the inauguration of a technology park, Sisi said:

“I am telling our brothers in Somalia, Egypt will not allow any threat to your security and stability.”

His remarks come after Somalia strongly condemned Ethiopia’s agreement with Somaliland allowing Ethiopia the right to acquire a stake in Somaliland’s Berbera port. Somalia sees Somaliland as an integral part of its territory.

Arab League Chief Affirms Support for Somalia

The head of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, also stated his support for Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity at the summit of Arab foreign ministers held in Cairo over the weekend. The ministers backed Somalia’s rejection of what they see as Ethiopia’s infringement on its sovereignty.

The Arab League resolution called on the international community to “refuse to deal with any party that infringes on the sovereignty of the Arab Republic of Somalia.”

Background to Ethiopia-Somaliland Deal

Ethiopia and Somaliland signed an agreement on January 12 allowing Ethiopia to acquire a stake in Somaliland’s Berbera port. Ethiopia is landlocked and has long sought access to seaports to handle its import and export freight.

Under the deal, Ethiopia will get a 19% stake in the port and be allowed to develop trade and logistics corridors between Berbera and its borders. This would end Ethiopia’s dependence on Djibouti’s port for 95% of its foreign trade.

Somalia reacted with fury, labeling the deal an infringement on its sovereignty over what it sees as its own territory in Somaliland. It accused Ethiopia of destabilizing the region and rejected mediation efforts by the African Union.

Egypt Backs Somalia as Tensions Rise

Egypt strongly supports Somalia’s position as tensions continue to escalate. Egypt sees Ethiopia as a regional threat due to its giant new Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile which Egypt fears will reduce its vital share of Nile waters.

Sisi’s remarks indicate Egypt may even be willing to intervene militarily to protect Somalia if needed. This alignment is reminiscent of past divisions:

Period Key Allies
1960s-70s Egypt & Somalia
1970s-90s Ethiopia & Sudan

Egypt has been holding naval exercises with Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea, which analysts see as a signal to Ethiopia amid their Nile dam dispute.

The Speaker of Egypt’s parliament, Hanafy El Gebali, warned that if Ethiopia threatens Somalia’s security in any way, “this will be the beginning of Ethiopia’s end.”

UN Urges Dialogue to Defuse Tensions

António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, has urged Ethiopia and Somalia to pursue dialogue to resolve tensions over Ethiopia’s deal with Somaliland:

“The secretary-general calls for restraint, dialogue and de-escalation between the concerned countries,”

However, Somalia has so far rejected the African Union’s mediation efforts or any international mediation until Ethiopia cancels the port access deal.

Somalia Alleges Aggressive Expansion by Ethiopia

Somalia asserts Ethiopia is facilitating Somaliland separatism as part of a wider strategy of aggressive expansion at Somalia’s expense.

Somali officials accused Ethiopian Airlines of illegally flying directly to Somaliland without permission in support of recognition efforts. And they slammed Ethiopia’s naval cooperation pact with Somaliland allowing both sides access to bases as constituting “an illegal, unjustified and dangerous move.”

A former Somali national security advisor claimed Ethiopia plans to annex Somali territory all the way to Mogadishu as part of a “Greater Ethiopia” irredentist plan:

“Their intention is to control South Somalia by installing proxy regional leaders, split up the rest and annex it.”

Oil Exploration Rights Also at Issue

An additional issue stoking tensions is competition over rights to explore for oil and gas reserves believed to exist offshore and onshore neighboring disputed territory. Somalia has been auctioning exploration blocks in these zones since 2020 despite Somaliland’s competing claim.

Egypt Backing Raises Risk of Wider Conflict

Egypt explicitly backing Somalia against “any threat” from Ethiopia or Somaliland raises the odds of a wider regional conflict breaking out.

Given past divisions and Ethiopia’s ambitions for regional influence, clashes could potentially spill across the wider Horn of Africa. The UN and African Union are struggling to find an off-ramp for the mounting tensions.

Outlook: No Quick Resolution in Sight

In the near term, further escalation between Somalia and Ethiopia/Somaliland seems likely. Competing territorial claims, Ethiopia’s quest for sea access, and Egypt’s regional power ambitions mean this brewing crisis has the potential to spiral in unpredictable directions.

With Somalia refusing talks until Ethiopia cancels the port deal, no quick diplomatic solution seems plausible. All sides are posturing aggressively at present, so risks of a serious military clash ARE rising, albeit still unlikely.

The US and other world powers may need to get more actively involved soon to contain tensions before they ignite open conflict in this already volatile region.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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