Egypt, Somalia bolster security coordination amid Suez Canal fears
CAIRO - Egypt and Somalia are strengthening security coordination because of what they deem are common threats.
The two countries signed on March 1 a memorandum of understanding on security cooperation, a document that allows for concentrated security coordination between Cairo and Mogadishu.
During a meeting in Cairo with Somali Internal Security Minister Abukar Islow Duale, Egyptian Interior Minister Mahmoud Tawfiq said increased intelligence cooperation between the two countries would weaken terrorist groups in both territories.
Egypt also said it would share counterterrorism expertise with Somalia, train security personnel and exchange intelligence with Somali officials.
There is concern that unrest in the Horn of Africa could threaten navigation in the southern entrance of the Red Sea, possibly affecting access to Egypt’s Suez Canal.
“Somalia is a very important state in the Horn of Africa’s strategic security equation,” said Khaled Okasha, a member of the Supreme Anti-Terrorism Council, which advises the Egyptian presidency. “This is why security coordination with it is a matter of utmost importance.”
Despite efforts by the government in Mogadishu, African Union troops deployed in the country and occasional air strikes by the United States, al-Qaeda-aligned al-Shabab remains a major terrorist threat in Somalia and its environs.
Attacks by al-Shabab, including one March 1 near a hotel in Mogadishu, signal the need for improved counterterrorism actions in the country. Apart from threatening Somalia, al-Shabab is also a concern for neighbouring countries, especially Kenya.
Egypt is fighting both the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda-aligned groups in its territory, with many fearing that battle-hardened jihadists fleeing Syria could move into Africa.
Egypt’s concern, security analysts say, is that terrorist groups in other African countries, including Somalia and Nigeria, will join militants in North Africa, particularly Libya, in a broad strategy to foment unrest in Africa.
“Al-Shabab has already started staging attacks in Somalia’s neighbouring countries,” Okasha said. “Egyptian authorities are closely monitoring these developments.”
Egypt, which holds the rotating presidency of the African Union, has pledged to lead the continent into greater security and an effective counterterrorism strategy.
Apart from establishing a command centre for counterterrorism operations in its new administrative capital on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt is organising joint training with other African militaries to share counterterrorism tactics.
Some terrorist groups active in Africa, including ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram in Nigeria, have been providing others active in Libya with recruits through Libya’s southern border with Chad and Sudan.
This has become an increasing threat for Egypt, whose border with Libya has become a hotspot for smuggling of arms and militants into Egypt’s Western Desert.
This also makes security cooperation with those countries a priority for Cairo, security analysts said.
“Egypt has a lot to offer to help these countries modernise their security agencies,” said MP Kamal Amer, chairman of the Egyptian parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee. “Apart from having valuable counterterrorism expertise to share, Egypt can increase economic cooperation with those countries to help them towards stability.”
This was at the heart of talks between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Somali Minister for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Isse Awad in Cairo four days after Egypt and Somalia signed the memorandum of understanding on security cooperation.
Egypt, Shoukry said, would continue to back the Somali economy and push development in the Horn of Africa country. “Somalia’s security is an essential part of Egypt’s national security,” he said.
A meeting of Egyptian and Somali businessmen is being planned to bolster trade and investment cooperation between Egypt and Somalia.
Security conditions in Somalia, analysts said, have a direct bearing on the situation in the southern entrance of the Suez Canal, a vital international maritime passageway and an important source of revenue for Egypt.
Egypt has a naval presence near the Bab el Mandeb Strait and has agreed with Sudan to increase maritime cooperation to improve security in the Red Sea region.
Nevertheless, stronger cooperation with Somalia will be in the country’s best interests and a step aimed at protecting the Suez Canal from unrest in the Horn of Africa.
“Sorry to say, Somalia has become a fertile soil for terrorists and pirates,” said retired Egyptian diplomat Mohamed al-Shazly. “The Suez Canal is a national security issue for Egypt.”