An Arab Alliance Stretches Across the Red Sea

Gulf states have created a loose alliance structure in northeastern Africa, one that weakens their opponents and strengthens themselves.

Gulf states have created an alliance structure in northeastern Africa by cultivating diplomatic, security and trade ties in ways that best suit their individual interests.

By Stratfor,

The rationale behind the GCC’s (Gulf Cooperation Council) interest in northeast Africa is fairly straightforward. Gulf states are compelled to improve their relationships with these countries for security purposes. Installing bases in, and enhancing military ties with, these countries gives Gulf states an added layer of protection against conventional military attacks. (In fact, the United Arab Emirates has already begun to develop military installations in Eritrea.)

The conflict in Yemen, moreover, gives Gulf states a reason to desire added oversight of the affairs of Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia, which have little control over the arms and people that pass through them and end up in places like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Another concern is that if Gulf States — which are, of course, Sunni — do not reach out to these African countries, then Iran, their Shiite rival, will.

The GCC is also interested in northeastern Africa for its agriculture. From across the Red Sea, Arab states see stretches of arable land that could feed their people as well as enough workers to make that happen. To that end, Saudi Arabia has prioritized agricultural investment in the region.

Riyadh has funded Sudanese agriculture projects for some time, particularly ones for fruits, vegetables and livestock. Saudi officials also recently visited Ethiopia specifically to discuss livestock investment.

And at a May 2015 forum in Abu Dhabi, Sudanese and Emirati officials discussed nearly tripling existing Emirati investment into Sudanese projects, many of them agricultural. (Qatar has also recently invested heavily into Sudan’s agriculture and tourism sectors.)

Surmountable Obstacles

Although the rationale underlying the GCC’s strategy is simple, the internal dynamics of northeastern Africa confound its execution. Take Egypt, for example. Egypt’s most important source of water, the Nile, binds it to other countries that likewise depend on the river for survival. But access to and usage of the Nile’s water has pitted Egypt against these upstream countries, particularly Ethiopia, whose tributary provides 59 percent of the Nile’s water flow in Egypt. Relations soured, in fact, after Addis Ababa constructed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which could halt the flow of water to Egypt.

gcc-northeast-africaThere is animosity elsewhere in the region too. Relations are tense between Ethiopia and Eritrea — unsurprising, considering Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in the 1990s.

The obstacles created by these dynamics are not insurmountable, but they certainly present challenges. Saudi investment in Sudanese and Ethiopian agriculture is bound to upset Riyadh’s relationship with Egypt; water is simply too scarce a commodity for it not to be a point of contention. The fact that the United Arab Emirates is developing military facilities in Eritrea while Saudi Arabia improves its economic ties with Ethiopia may, moreover, create conflict down the line.

That is not to say Riyadh and Abu Dhabi would back one of these countries against the other if push came to shove. Doing so would contravene their interests. Nor are they interested in getting involved in a conflict that would only cost them time and money better spent elsewhere.

But the situation attests to how difficult the GCC’s foreign policy toward the region can be. With Egypt, for example, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates both feel the need to cultivate a better relationship, especially since Egypt is a majority Sunni state. But Abu Dhabi has a much better relationship with Cairo than Riyadh does currently. The Egyptian government, in fact, has been unwilling to capitulate to Riyadh’s demands of Cairo’s foreign policy.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt also disagree on the prospect of supporting Islamists, something Saudi Arabia is more willing to do when it benefits Riyadh — as it does in Yemen. The United Arab Emirates, however, has been steadfast in supporting Egypt, particularly when it comes to Egypt’s treatment of Islamists at home and in countries such as Libya. This explains why relations between the two have been warm since 2013.

A Testament to Importance

So far, the GCC’s strategy has been relatively successful. While Sudan and Saudi Arabia have long had a healthy economic relationship, Sudan tended to patronize Iran for its security needs. But that is no longer the case. After the conflict in Yemen started, Riyadh was able to convince Sudan to join its coalition. By rallying Khartoum to its cause, Riyadh received additional troops and, more important, a way to disrupt Iran’s smuggling operations along the Sudanese coast.

Similarly, the United Arab Emirates has plucked Eritrea out of Iran’s sphere of influence and placed it firmly in its own.

Gulf states have thus created a loose alliance structure in northeastern Africa, one that weakens their opponents and strengthens themselves. And though there is always a chance of conflict among such an alliance, constituted as it is by countries with divergent interests, there is also the possibility, however remote, of tranquility.

After all, if the GCC can convince Egypt and Ethiopia that the economic benefits of peace outweigh the cost of conflict, the alliance could create a semblance of stability.

Either way, the GCC is unlikely to stray from its strategy in the region. Rather than craft a uniform policy for the countries therein, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will continue to cultivate bilateral ties for each respective country, even negotiating with and investing in different sides of historical rivals. That the GCC would go through the trouble at all is a testament to how important this region has become.


The Gulf Cooperation Council only sometimes lives up to its name — at least as far foreign policy is concerned. Led by heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — and Qatar to a lesser extent — the bloc has a shared strategic vision of unity and strength to ensure its security on the world stage.

But for all their agreement on these specific foreign policy goals, the member states tend to pursue the goals differently, cultivating diplomatic, security and trade ties in ways that best suit their individual interests, even when dealing with the same country. These differences are on full display in northeast Africa, an overlooked region that presents as many risks as it does opportunities for Gulf states.

47 thoughts on “An Arab Alliance Stretches Across the Red Sea

  1. Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Sudan are all under dictatorship.

    Djibouti has been under one family rule since independence from France.
    Ethiopia and Eritrea are run by ex bush rebels TPLF and EPLF and
    Sudan under Omar al-Bashar who took power in 1988 through arm struggle.

    It seems Somalia is the only democracy country in the horn of African.

    1. A prerequisite to commenting FIRST is that you read the news article FIRST, unless you want to act like Ugumesh. Only in TN, where you get the chance to present Somalia as a country equal to other African countries, where in reality, A Black-Hole has been created in Africa right after the late President Siad Bare of Somalia. You’re funny to talk of democracy in Somalia … There is no democracy even among The armies (Al-Shebab, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Burundi) that rule Somalia, as it is dictated by Al-Shebab. Sorry to say, but In today’s Somalia, there is only a democracy of violent death. May Allah bring you a democracy of Natural Death before other democracies:-)

    2. You’re always lost in the translation. What is democracy? Where is that ‘democracy’ in Somalia? If you think ‘democracy’ means helding “election” then Somaliland is ‘democratic’ but not Somalia proper since you never had an “ELECTION” ever. How quickly you forgot the recent “SELECTION” drama unfolded in your so called Somalia where votes were sold for as much as US $30,000 …. and as if that is not enough, it took you more than 5 – months to SELECT a handful of corrupt warlords as parliamentarians. You should be ashamed to bring that shamble drama as ‘democracy’, dude.

      My confused brother, just to educate you, Democracy means “by the people and for the people”. Somali people had never ELECTED its leaders. The so called ‘leaders’ just get assembled in Nairobi and Baidoa and then installed at Villa Somalia on the back of foreign mercenary troops. Are you going to deny that? So, please, do not take us ignorant as you are already. Leave some room for common sense next time.

          1. LOL … Which Somali would ask of Human Rights, when they don’t know the time Al-Shebab would blow them up during lunch break in a Mogadishu restaurant? Your human rights say is equivalent to Woyane saying “Why don’t they eat Cake” to the millions Hungry Ethiopians made by Woyane.

          2. The Last Warlord is strange as his namesake. He doesn’t know what he wants, nor does he care about his country. One day he is pro woyane, next day anti woyane, and most days against all the countries. One thing he is consistent about though: his anti Eritrea.

          3. I am a die hard pro Eritrea why? because I have such overwhelming empathy for those who are oppressed like the Eritreans, Oromos, ogadenis etc, I never liked Ethiopia.

          4. Well terrorism now days happens everywhere including those powerful countries American, France, U.K etc but terrorisim can be defeated only through democracy because extremists salafism hate the word democracy and that’s exactly what Somalia is doing.

            Like I said before of all these horn countries Somalia is the only country where the citizens can hold protest and criticized their government without fear, in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Djibouti you probably get shoot in the head, also in somalia we have large Oromo’s community who own lands and farms and they have more rights in somalia then in their own Ethiopia country and half a millions of Yemeni refugees who also made Somalia their home.

          5. Just so you know democracy can’t defeat extremists. You thought is a misnomer. You see democracy only works when political violence is not the option. Otherwise, extremisim would have democracy for breakfast. Trust me on this, I invented democracy!

          6. Yes democracy can defeat terrorisim, I believe if we give woman more powers then extremists can be defeated after all that’s why in Somalia there’s more woman in the parliament then any African country, Somali woman get in involved in the country’s political and decision-making process, Somalia Last foreign minister was a woman Fozia Yusuf Haji Adan, it was historic not only in Somalia but the entire Africa, in the ere of Mohammed Siad Barr regime there wasn’t one single woman in his government but today Somalia has 30% per cent parliamentary quota for women and that cannot be changed.

            R.E.M the so called al shabab terrorists mothers were all woman, their mothers never went to school neither they ever had any education, that’s why education for woman is very important to Somalia as this is the only way to defeat these evils forces.

      1. Well unfortunately Somalia couldn’t hold the one person-one vote election in 2016 because some parts of Southern Somalia are still called controlled by al Qaeda and its unsafe for the people to vote because they will be killed by these al Qaeda terrorists so Somalia chose an alternative, you see all the capitals of the ferderal states will select the next president, its much better then the one in 2012 where only Mogadishu voted for the president, hopefully come in 2020 there will be one persons one vote.

        Somalia deserves full credit for trying to bring democracy especially this difficult times, Buts what’s stopping these peaceful countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Sudan?

        1. I also hope there will be one person one vote, but Let us hope Peace in Somalia first, which means all the terrorist AL-Obama, Al-Shebab, AL-Woyane, Al-Kenya, Al-Uganda, Al-Djibouti & Al-Burundi are out of the day2day Somali Affairs.

          1. I LOL, this part … “Well unfortunately Somalia couldn’t hold the one person-one vote election in 2016 because some parts of Southern Somalia are still called controlled by al Qaeda and its unsafe for the people to vote because they will be killed by these al Qaeda terrorists”

            Forgive me but I am trying to do the unthinkable: kill you (last remaining warlord) before the year end. Somalia does not need warlords, but leaders. I am LOL again.

            Happy New Year!

    3. I don’t know what’s more offensive, the fact you are insulting the “bush rebles” who thought you how to defend your mom from being raped or using Somali and democracy in the same sentence, komal. Pay attention for Jan 22nd, if your lucky we will let you keep Somaliland.

      1. Your a starving Tigrai from Mekelle who can’t even defend himself let alone defend me? the only reasons your starving Ethiopia troops are in Southern Somalia is only to get their food rations.

        in some parts of Northern Somalia theres millions of ex Ethiopia troops living in refugees in a camps alone side the Yemenis in bosaso port.

    4. What happen to your brothers by blood and arms the Al shabab and the war lords, as for Somalia Democracy, please Somalia is becoming nomad like it’s inhabitants!!

  2. Not a very good article, its full of speculation and little fact but I guess it’s news these days. If Ethiopia builds the dam, these is no way to stop the flow of water at all, Egypt does irrigation and Ethiopia supplies the electricity. I swear, I have never been proud of my country for not joining these Arabs in their little GCC where the Arabs gets to tell proud Africans where and when to go. It’s sad what shabo has done to my people, truly pathetic.

    1. I agree with you No FCN Egypt should stop Ethiopia from using water in their back yard. What I laughed hard is when you say you are proud of Woyane for not joining the “little” GCC — How could you join when your Ugumesh Ass is Land Locked? The GCC are not looking for Quenty! You have actually joined by sending Al-Amoudi girls to Saudi :-); … and regarding pride (LOL), Africa has lost pride because of Woyane not being able to feed Ethiopia.

      1. Lol. The pride we gave Africa doesn’t come from how rich or poor Ethiopia was/is. It really comes from how we stood and defend the continent from invaders when it wasn’t popular sir. We even have our green yellow and red in almost every country to prove it. Also, haven’t you read the GCC coming to visit us, Invest while the members aren’t even getting the kind of help they need. Somalia wanted to Arabs for a long time, they can’t even get a visa to visit Mecca. Yemen is in fact their own, look how it’s being treated but some how shabo thinks it’s a win to join it? SMH

        1. Donkoro by Choice or the Traditional IQ63?
          We are not talking about being a win or loss although having access to Berbera might be a win in Woyane’s IQ 🙂 What I am talking about is what Ethiopia is synonymous with and what you could offer to GCC is not the Red Sea, but The Poor Young Al-Amoudi Aid Infected Girls.

          1. My friend, I think you missed the bigger picture, what do you think we have been doing in Djibouti since we divorced shabo, loading unloading wheat? Why do you think all this military installations are in a country we co-signed named Djibouti? They know Ethiopia being the guarantor of peace in Djibouti, the Red Sea security only comes from Ethiopia being stable and agreements of any kind with GCC with Djibouti must be re-read by Addis. Notice how we scared UAE, Saudi about not getting involved in Assab and they did 360, accident? Even your misinformation ministry denied any lease with UAE in his press release. The only card you have is Egypt fighting with Saudi but I have a feeling they will kiss and make up soon, once Yemen is at peace the game is over.

          2. The Eritrean ministry of information has denied that the UAE acquisition of a 30 year lease of the port of Assab. What does that mean regarding the relation between Eritrea and the UAE?

            (1) It is an undeniable fact that the UAE is using the port of Assab as a LOGISTICAL HUB, some call it a military base or a naval base.

            (2) That the UAE has built a new HUB or a base is an easily verifiable fact.

            (3) Eritrea is offering this service for the UAE based on its agreement with the GCC that it signed when PIA visited the KSA where Eritrea has pledged to do its part.

            (4) If you were an Eritrean, which I can tell that YOU ARE NOT, you would have known the strong bond/relation between the government of Eritrea and that of the UAE. The relationship goes way back to the days of the Eritrean Revolution and the help that the UAE has given is still highly appreciated by the leadership of the Eritrean government.

            Eritreans quite often do not FORGET those who stood with them in their times of need and the UAE is one of those countries and no wonder Eritrea is willing to work with it.

            (5) The UAE, counting from the days of the Eritrean Revolution and post-Eritrean independence has generously provided financial and other types of help to Eritrea.

            (6) Eritrea, I am sure, will benefit handsomely from this relations with the UAE now and in the coming years, even if there is no 30 years lease of the port of Assab by the UAE.

          3. Sentek does not know that the Adwa victory would not have been possible without a single Eritrean man named AwAlom. He conspired with Ethiopians to lead the Italian army where they needed to be — and Ethiopians this important battle. Today, how I LOL when see Ayte Sentik lectures us all that what it meant to be proud Ethiopian that “stood and defend the continent from invaders”.

            Sentek and his likes are being left behind though, as the Amharas have begun to accept their real history be in relation to Eritrea or Oromo.

          4. CORRECTION: Sentek does not know that the Adwa victory would not have been possible without a single Eritrean man named AwAlom. He conspired with Ethiopians to lead the Italian army where they needed to be — and for Ethiopians to win this important/historic battle. Today, how I LOL when see Ayte Sentik lectures us all that what it meant to be proud Ethiopian that “stood and defend the continent from invaders”.

            Sentek and his likes are being left behind though, as the Amharas have begun to accept their real history be in relation to Eritrea or Oromo.

          5. I’m actually surprised you know that much of your history based on the comments I see on here but good for you. Just to correct you, I do know my history of Awalom Hargoet, an ETHIOPIAN, origin being Eritrea was a spy hand picked by our own believed Ras Alula. Since you know that much, read also about Ras Sebhat and Djazmach Hagos Tefferi, also pure Ethiopians of Eritrean origin. We have all three heroes monument in Adwa and I know King Hile also was the one to recognize that part of history. We will never forget the contributions of Ethiopians with Eri origin even if it kills us unlike you who are teaching everything Ethiopia is cancer. Kehadi

          6. Let me get it right, are you saying Bashi Awalom Hargot was an Ethiopian? I try to avoid your mombo jambo, but I must get this one right.

          7. My brother, I’m Ethiopian but he was one of our forefathers and will remain that way, hell add Zeri to the mix. The title Bashi came from Atse Minilik himself for the bravery he displayed. Also, he was hand picked by Ras Alula to be a spy or double agents however Wedi Afom teaching history these days. When Atse Was camping in Adwa, Awalom used to go the Italian camps and get the 411, that’s when my grandfathers used to go to Asmera to educate your people not to sell us out, please learn to unite and all the pasta and the 4th gread schooling is not worth your dignity. And in the 21st century, we also do have Proud Ethiopians with Eri blood line but if I’m not mistaken, you call them sell out or woyane, is it?

          8. Thanks brother B.Adal. After reading his response, I lost for words but you captured my thoughts in these snaps. So Thank You for saving me time.

            BTW, I know now, for sure, Sentek is one of those guys who run Aigaform.

          9. U missed the main history as well.
            ‘It was the Eritreans, who stood firm and fought fiercely in defense of Ethiopia out of respect… against the Italian Colonizers. U also missed that it was the Tigreyans/Agame of Tigray,who received and welcomed the Italian Colonizers with Flowers. ????

    2. Ethiopia is a playground for the Arabs . it is easily infiltrated by extremists who come to the country as businessmen or proselytizers. Remember how the terrorists who attempted to assassinate President Mubarak in Addis years ago embedded themselves in the Ethiopian society by marrying local girls in order to plan their evil mission without being noticed by the unsuspecting Woyane security forces.

  3. The article says “United Arab Emirates has plucked Eritrea out of Iran’s sphere of influence and placed it firmly in its own”? What the hell is the author saying? When was Eritrea in Iran’s influence? And who said that Eritrea is “firmly”
    in UAE’s influence?.

    1. Journalism is not always about telling the truth. If you follow some parts of the Arab media you will find many who insist on making you believe that Assab is hosting Iran,Israel and the UAE at the same time. They do not repent even when they are caught making contradictory statements.

      1. Ayeee jegna, thats exactly the kind of economics we need in Africa. Since Eritrea grows everything it needs, forget about trading or screw the global economy. Hell, if we build a wall we have enough to feed the world. Keep it up.

        1. Ayte Ugumesh, your mind is always occupied with Quenty!! “amanuel kifle” is talking about being influenced politically. And he is right, could you show us a proof how Eritrea is in anyway influenced by Iran? I don’t even know if Iran has embassy in Eritrea. To be influenced by any country, there needs to exist an economic and/or military cooperation. The only time we have news regarding Iran is when Woyane spread lies saying “Both Israel and Iran have military bases.”

          1. With all due respect, shabo came after the Hamid Idris crowd which was being funded by the entire Arab dummies to weaken Ethiopia not cuz they believe in the cause. Second, I shared the article from the one and only TN when wedi afom money dried up and he sent people to get Iran’s help. Most importantly, you can’t have any economic or military cooperation while your have sanctions, not cuz your leader is noble or can’t use it. Plus, what country would want to violate UN sanctions for the sake of Eritrea or any African country unless there is gas. Last, you have Iran consultant in Gash Barka, trust me on that one.

          2. Eritrean hero, Hamid Idris vision came to reality by EPLF in 24 May 1991. You know the history of EPLF, the men & women who land locked your mama Ethiopia, where 100% of their armaments came from mama Ethiopia, by capturing your Russian donated weapons. Initial Question was if Eritrea is influenced politically/economically/militarily …your earlier answer supported that, but when confronted to show a proof, you answer changed to Sanctioned Eritrea can not have economic/military relationship ==> No influence. So, sanctioned or not there is no influence from Iran on Eritrea. You reasons of sanctions also don’t make sense since Eritrea is exporting Gold under “sanctions”. So you know: Influence by a donor on a third world country comes when millions of your starving people depend on that donor.

            Not that you have any control, the problem is that your DNA won’t allow you to give a straight answer, as I observed in any of your discussions in TN. Before I leave for the day though, I have to “respectfully :-)” point out two things from your comment … Your response starts with “With all due respect” and ends with “trust me on that one”. For the record, There is no respect between Ugumesh and Eritrean and I trust my grandfather who explained to me why your kind are not trust worthy.

    2. It shows you how much Stratfor knows, probably their news source is Google News. I don’t even know if there is an Iranian embassy in Eritrea, let alone Eritrea to be influenced by Iran. Since when does Shaebia get influenced by other countries? We have to sometimes simply ignore news that anyways wound end up in the recycling bin,

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