Egypt-Saudi Tension Bubbling over Planned Djibouti Base

Saudi plans to build a military base on the coast of Djibouti have made the Egyptian government ‘suspicious’, as strained relations between Cairo and Riyadh show little sign of improving.

Egypt-Saudi tension
Djibouti, like Eritrea, is strategically located in the Horn of Africa across the Red Sea and Yemen. [Getty image]
By Al Araby,

Saudi plans to open a military base in the tiny Rea Sea state of Djibouti have raised concerns among Egyptian officials, as strained relations between Cairo and Riyadh show little sign of improving.

The base, which will reportedly be built “very soon”, would threaten national security, and the Egyptian government is “deeply suspicious”, according to a diplomatic source.



Djibouti is strategically located in the Horn of Africa across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen, where the Saudis have been waging war against Houthi rebels. A recent UK report suggested that Iran has been smuggling weapons to the rebels via the waterways surrounding Yemen.

“Cairo is totally against the deal because it considers Djibouti to be under the Egyptian sphere of influence and because its location is important for national security,” an Egyptian diplomatic source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The New Arab.

“This move goes against the generally accepted customs between Arab countries as the area has a direct influence on the passage of ships towards the Suez Canal.

“If Saudi Arabia wants to ensure that Iran does not take control of the area, that is understandable – however, this must take place with Egyptian oversight and permission.”

The Egyptian government was supported by billions of dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia in the immediate aftermath of the 2013 military coup against former Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Morsi, but ties appear to have frayed between the two countries amid disagreements over Syria.

Saudi Arabia backs rebels trying to oust Assad, while Egypt has expressed support for the Syrian leader.

Saudi Arabia suspended oil shipments to Egypt in October, a move announced after Cairo backed a Russian-drafted resolution on Syria in the UN Security Council.

This week, sources told The New Arab that Saudi Arabia would not mend ties with Egypt until Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri was sacked and two contested Red Sea islands were transferred to Saudi sovereignty.

Djibouti’s Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said the deal to build the Saudi military base would happen “very soon”.

“The security, military and strategic draft of the accord is ready and the coastal areas that could host the base, be it military or naval, have been identified after Saudi military officers and officials explored some areas in the country.”


  • No-islands, no-deal: Saudi Arabia sets conditions for forgiving Egypt

    Saudi Arabia will not mend ties with Egypt until Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri is sacked and two Red Sea islands are transferred to Saudi sovereignty

    Saudi Arabia will not mend ties with Egypt until Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri is sacked and two contested Red Sea islands are transferred to Saudi sovereignty, a source close to the Saudi ambassador in Cairo told The New Arab’s sister publication.

    This comes as strained relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia show no signs of improving.

    “The crisis between the two countries is too complicated to be resolved with a meeting if one were to take place between President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and King Salman bin Abdulaziz on the sidelines of the UAE National Day,” the source said.

    That meeting did not materialise. Shortly before the Saudi king arrived in the UAE on the first leg of his Gulf tour that will take him next to Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, Sisi left Abu Dhabi.

    “There is a total Saudi rejection of any detente with the Egyptian administration, led by the Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” the source added.

    “Bin Salman demanded the islands agreement be implemented first before taking any move to correct relations between the two countries,” continued the source.

    “The young prince wanted to present himself in a certain way to Saudi society after securing the islands… [and] to take advantage of this to increase his popularity.”

    Bin Salman allegedly made another condition for detente was the dismissal of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri “given his anti-Saudi positions”, the source claimed without elaborating further.

    The thinking in Riyadh is that the Egyptian regime had deliberately tricked Saudi King Salman with the Tiran and Sanafir affair – two Red Sea islands Sisi agreed to hand over to Saudi Arabia during the monarch’s visit to Cairo in early April. Salman signed a number of agreements during this visit, including the ceding of the islands to Riyadh in return for Saudi aid.

    The Saudi aid package allegedly included oil deliveries, direct investment, and deposits in the central bank to shore up Egypt’s depleted currency reserves.

    But Egypt froze the islands’ handover process following angry protests and legal action taken by Egyptian oppositionists that led to a court order halting the agreement. The government has since appealed the order.

    These developments were likely one of the reasons behind Saudi Arabia’s decision to suspend oil deliveries via Aramco, which is dominated by the deputy crown prince, said the source.

    He claimed the decision predated Egypt’s decision to vote in favour of a Russian resolution on Syria at the UN Security Council.

    At the time, the vote angered Saudi Arabia and further strained relations between the two countries.

    After that, unspecified “leading Arab figures” tried to mediate between the two governments, but the attempts were stonewalled by the Saudi prince, the source claimed.

    Semi-official backlash

    The Saudi rebuffs seem to have angered the Egyptian regime.

    “Egypt must not bow down to dictates by other Arab governments for the sake of aid,” wrote Ibn al-Dawla [“Son of the State”] in his column this week in government-affiliated al-Yawm al-Sabei.

    “Son of the State” is likely to be Lt. Ahmed Shaaban, General Abbas Kamel’s chief of staff, a key figure in the Egyptian presidency.

    The writer is thought to be the key figure behind the regime’s media nexus, and wrote in what is probably a quasi-official reaction from the government.

    “Egypt’s positions are based on its vision, interests, national security and regional security. This position does not tolerate extortion. Current outcomes vindicate Egypt’s attitude and vision in Syria and Libya,” he wrote, in reference to the regime’s support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and controversial Libyan militia leader Khalifa Haftar.

    “Egypt cannot trade its sovereignty for aid or loans… or change its positions under pressure. At the same time, Egypt is keen to have relations with all Arab countries and does not attempt to impose its views.”

    • B.Adal

      Wey Gud, the Saudi “Royal” family just wanted to buy Egyptian islands with their oil !!
      I don’t even know why El-Sisi agreed the first place to hand the two islands. The Egyptians should just lease it to Saudi for 30 years, in exchange for $ and continuous Saudi oil.

      • Truth

        A good first step—towards a lasting solution.

  • Kuwait wants to mend Egypt-Saudi relations, says deputy minister

    Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister has said his country would like to “help clear the air” between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and potentially bring about a reconciliation.

    Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister has said his country would like to “help clear the air” between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and potentially bring about a reconciliation.

    Earlier this week while in Manama, ahead of the annual Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] summit, Khaled al-Jarallah said that Kuwait was optimistic it could to fix the rift between Cairo and Riyadh.

    “We hope this blows over soon; just as everyone wants,” local daily al-Jarida quoted Jarallah as saying.

    The Egyptian government was supported by billions of dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia in the immediate aftermath of the 2013 military coup but ties appear to have frayed between the two countries amid disagreements over Syria.

    Saudi Arabia backs rebels trying to oust Assad, while Egypt’s president has expressed support for the Syrian leader.

    Saudi Arabia suspended oil shipments to Egypt in October, a move announced after Cairo backed a Russian-drafted resolution on Syria in the UN Security Council.

    Kuwait stepped in last month to replace Riyadh as the main supplier of oil to Egypt, agreeing to provide two million barrels of crude per month.

    Last month, reports emerged that Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain were attempting to end the differences between the two longtime allies.

    This week, sources told The New Arab that Saudi Arabia would not mend ties with Egypt until Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri was sacked and two contested Red Sea islands were transferred to Saudi sovereignty.

    The statement from Jarallah is the first time a senior government official has acknowledged the existence of tensions between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and serious efforts to mediate the fallout.

    • truth

      TN:
      Good news that Saudi Arabia and Egypt will reconcile but I am afraid that the CIA and the Mossad might be behind the ‘fight” considering El Sisi’s move towards Russia and Syria’s Assad, which by default, might imply that Cairo is backing Iran…
      My previous analysis on the Ethiopian High level Delegation’s Visit to Saudi Arabia might have some beef.
      we all know that the Saudi Royal family revoked Saudi Arabia Sovereignty long time ago.
      Simple solution for Egypt:
      Join the UAE Naval Base at Aseb…and we will see if PMHD will dare to warn Cairo for its base at Aseb….
      Enough bullying on us by the South.

    • truth

      Achhh–this gas pipe lines project from Iran and Qatar also form Saudi Arabia??? is thought to be the Major culprit…

  • Sisi meets with Eritrean leader ‘to pressure Addis Ababa’

    Sisi met with his Eritrean counterpart in Cairo on Tuesday in a meeting that sources have said was a “deliberate move” against Ethiopia.

    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with his Eritrean counterpart Isaias Afwerki in Cairo in a meeting that was a “deliberate move” against Ethiopia, political sources in Cairo told The New Arab.

    The two leaders met on Tuesday to discuss enhancing bilateral relations across all levels and projects related to fishing and agriculture, local media reported.

    Ethiopia is building a hydropower dam on the Nile close to its source in the Ethiopian highlands, raising fears in Egypt, which depends on controlling the flow of the Nile’s waters for its survival.

    “Approachment with Ethiopia’s enemy and demonstrating the possibility of cooperation could pressure Addis Ababa to be more flexible in dealing with the Renaissance Dam or it could make the situation worse,” the source said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

    “The aim of this meeting is to send a message to Ethiopia. In the past there has been non-serious talk about Egypt striking Ethiopia, however, it could possibly supply Eritrea with arms,” he added.

    Former Egyptian diplomat Maasoum Marzouq said that using Eritrea to intimidate Ethiopia was a tactic that must be used with “extreme caution”.

    In October, Ethiopia accused Egypt and neighbouring Eritrea of supporting outlawed rebels and stoking an unprecedented wave of protests that has led the government to declare a six-month state of emergency.

    An Ethiopian minister said there was “ample evidence” that Egypt had provided training and financing to the Oromo Liberation Front, a group labelled a terrorist organisation by Ethiopia.

    He added that “elements in the Egyptian political establishment” were fomenting rebellion, seeking to promote “historical rights” over access to the River Nile.

    Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a two-year border war between 1998 and 2000 which left 80,000 dead, and tensions between the neighbours flared again earlier this year.

    Ethiopia’s government is facing the biggest challenge of its 25 years in power from protesters who have turned their anger against foreign-owned companies, torching several farms and factories in the past week.

    Rights organisations have already criticised authorities for a harsh security crackdown on nearly a year of protests that has killed hundreds.

    • truth

      “The aim of this meeting is to send a message to Ethiopia. In the past there has been non-serious talk about Egypt striking Ethiopia, however, it could possibly supply Eritrea with arms,” he added.
      Well,this is inviting another war between Ethiopia and Eritrea then..

  • Kaleab B

    Egypt “considers Djibouti to be under the Egyptian sphere of influence”. Is this a joke? I didn’t know the Arabs have secretly divided up the world among themselves. Let me guess, TPLF’s Ethiopia is under Saudi Arabia sphere of influence?

    • YapiYapo

      This surprised me too. How does a country that receives a large amount of foreign from the United States and currently trying to receive some aid/benefits from Saudi thinks Djibouti is in sphere of influence.

      • Truth

        That is balloni indeed.
        had Cairo had any Influence over Djibouti,Ethiopia could not have plundered in Djibouti as much it wants..

    • Guest24

      That is the problem with third World countries dictators. Their people go to bed with empty belly, their leaders leave in their dreams. At least Saudi & Qatar have wealth, what does Egypt has to exert its influence anywhere? Very funny indeed!

  • Eritrawi Assabawi

    Djiboutins are like bitch having so many customers it has a very big wide pussy to accommodate all these people (France,USA,China,Saudia ..)That’s mean so many aids coming to Ethiopia through Djibouti by begging of course also can they handle all of them well Girls will be sent in millions to Jabuuttii t by planes in order to entertain solders & get them money