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