Ethiopia’s plan to establish military bases in the Red Sea increases tensions with Egypt

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CAIRO – Ethiopia recently made harsh statements that further exacerbated tensions with Egypt over controversial dam Addis Ababa is being built on the banks of the Blue Nile.

On June 2, Dina Mufti, spokeswoman for Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry, said his country is determined to build military bases in the Red Sea… Speaking to the press conference held in Addis Ababa, he added: “Various countries (which he did not name) are showing interest in controlling the Red Sea region, establishing more military bases than ever before.”

The mufti said his country plans to build military bases at a time when “alarming” changes are taking place in the Horn of Africa.

This is due to the fact that Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan made no progress in the negotiations on the Great Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD), the last round of which took place in January.

Although Cairo did not make official comments on the mufti’s statements, the latter drew criticism in local media.

In that vein, Major General Mohamed al-Shahawi, an adviser to the Army Command and Staff College, told Al-Monitor: “Ethiopia is landlocked, which means it has no direct access to the Red Sea. Repeated statements (about the Red Sea) are intended to disturb public opinion in Ethiopia, to cover [Ethiopian] economic crisis and divert attention from Tigray War… “

After Eritrea gained independence in 1911, after three decades of war with Ethiopia, Addis Ababa lost its direct access to the Red Sea.

“Let’s talk about setting up Ethiopian military bases in the Red Sea occurs in response to military agreements signed by Egypt with a number of countries. Nile Basin Countries and joint military exercises were recently held with Sudan, “Shakhoi said.

He considers these military arrangements Egypt signing will force Ethiopia to sign a legally binding agreement to fill and operate GERD.

Egypt has signed a number of military agreements with African countries, especially with countries close to the Nile basin, and more recently defense cooperation agreement signed on May 26 with Kenya.

In March, Egypt signed a defense agreement with Sudan; he signed a memorandum of understanding to exchange information with Uganda in April. Also Egyptian and Burundian In the same month, the military signed a military cooperation agreement that focuses on training and joint exercises.

Hani Raslan, head of the Nile Basin Research Unit at the Al-Ahram Center for Policy and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor: “Ethiopian officials have repeatedly reiterated their intention to establish military bases (in the region) after they decided to rebuild the Ethiopian fleet, which will require a seaport and a naval base. “

In June 2018, Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed promised to restore the country’s navy, disbanded in 1996.

During the French presidency of Emmanuel Macron visit to Addis Ababa In March 2019, the two countries signed a defense cooperation agreement to develop Ethiopia’s navy and train Ethiopian sailors in France.

Raslan believes that “understanding with a country bordering the Red Sea, including Eritrea, is necessary for Ethiopia to build a military base in the Red Sea.”

In December 2019, Ethiopia’s Capital magazine published an agreement to establish Ethiopian naval base in Djiboutiafter previous proposals to build it in Sudan or Eritrea allegedly failed.

Mohammad Hasan, military expert in Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, Al-Monitor said, “The timing of Ethiopian announcements about the military base has several indications. Ethiopian generals are well aware that Ethiopia is a landlocked country. ” He added: “Egypt has succeeded in politically encircling Ethiopia on all sides by signing agreements on security, military and economic cooperation with Sudan, Djibouti, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. As a result, Addis Ababa was isolated from its regional environment in search of a way out of this crisis. “

Shahavi said that Egypt insists on its principle that the waters of the Nile are a red line and that it is a matter of life or death regardless of the circumstances.

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