Security concerns in Cairo over joint Turkish-Qatari moves in Sudan

With reports that jihadists were seeking refuge in Mauritania and Mali, there are concerns that strengthening ties between Turkey, Sudan and Qatar will exacerbate the problem.
January 07, 2018
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir embrace in Khartoum, on December 24

Cairo - Strengthening ties among Sudan, Turkey and Qa­tar are cause for concern in Cairo amid fears that Ankara and Doha’s inten­tions in Egypt’s southern neigh­bour could harm the North African country’s security.

“There is credence to these worries, given the record of the three countries in backing Islamist movements, viewed in Cairo as a national security threat,” said Ma­jor-General Ahmed Youssef Abdel Nabi, a former member of Egypt’s Supreme Military Council of the Armed Forces. “Egypt suffers a lot because of this support [for Islam­ist movements].”

Egyptian officials followed a De­cember 24 visit by Turkish Presi­dent Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Sudan, the first by a Turkish head of state since 1954, very closely. Nearly 200 Turkish businessmen accompanied Erdogan on the 3-day trip, during which Sudan and Turkey signed 21 agreements to boost cooperation.

Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir agreed to give Turkey ad­ministrative control over Suakin, a Sudanese Red Sea island close to Port Sudan, almost 400km from Egypt’s border.

While Erdogan talked with al- Bashir at the presidential complex, the chiefs of staff of the Turkish, Qatari and Sudanese militaries met elsewhere in Khartoum.

Turkey and Qatar have been accused of backing the Muslim Brotherhood, a prominent Egyp­tian Islamist group before 2013. Following the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi, Cai­ro accused both Ankara and Doha of supporting the group, now designated as a terrorist entity in Egypt.

Many Muslim Brotherhood fig­ures fled Egypt for Istanbul and Doha, with Cairo calling on Turkey and Qatar to cease hosting Muslim Brotherhood figures accused of crimes in Egypt.

With several recent terrorist attacks in Egypt tied to Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups, there are hopes in Cairo that the inter­national community will clamp down on the Brotherhood’s global operations.

Two days before Erdogan ar­rived in Khartoum, the British government officially designated two Brotherhood-affiliated organ­isations active in Egypt — Hasm and Lewa al-Thawra — as “terror­ist” movements.

The Libyans, who previously ac­cused Qatar of supporting terrorist groups there, have charged that Sudan has allowed Islamist mili­tants entry into the restive North African country.

“Most of these militants en­tered Libya through Sudan in the past few years,” said Mohamed al-Zubaidi, a Libyan international law professor based in Cairo. “Now they are re-entering Sudan, either to settle down there or move into a third country.”

Many fear that Egypt could be that third country, with increas­ing numbers of Muslim Brother­hood supporters — particularly students — known to have fled across the country’s southern bor­der since Morsi’s ouster in 2013.

In January 2017, the Hasm movement, which has carried out numerous attacks on Egyptian police and soldiers, released a video showing militants receiving training in a desert area. Security analysts said the video was most likely shot in Sudan. A short time later, Egyptian police arrested 74 Hasm militants who said they re­ceived training in Sudan.

“A close look at the conduct of the Sudanese regime can show that this regime considers Egypt as an enemy state,” said Hani Ra­slan, a researcher at Egypt’s Al- Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

Khartoum has been locked in a decades-long border dispute with Egypt over the Hala’ib Triangle, over which both countries claim sovereignty. While Egypt has been in de facto control over the terri­tory since the 1990s, it remains a major issue between the two neighbours.

Tensions increased recently over Khartoum’s support for Ethi­opia’s position regarding shares of the Nile water and Addis Ababa’s controversial construction of a multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dam. Khartoum recalled its am­bassador to Cairo amid uncon­firmed media reports that Egypt demanded Sudan be excluded from talks regarding the Grand Renaissance Ethiopian Dam.

Egypt faces a major challenge in fighting terrorist groups that have taken root in the country. There is an increasing fear of jihadists from Iraq and Syria returning via Sudan.

“The three countries want to ensure that those fleeing the in­ferno in Syria, Iraq and Libya will find refuge in Africa,” said Haidy Farouk, an independent expert on border issues and international sovereignty.

With reports that jihadists were seeking refuge in Mauritania and Mali, there are concerns that strengthening ties between Tur­key, Sudan and Qatar will exacer­bate the problem.

“Growing jihadist presence in West Africa is the new fear for in­ternational governments,” Farouk said. “Turkey, Sudan and Qatar, I believe, will be instrumental in easing the movements of militants to the area. This is why Egypt is worried.”