In a significant development, Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has voiced strong support for Somalia amid a contentious dispute involving the breakaway northern region of Somaliland and land-locked Ethiopia.
The rift escalated when Somaliland offered Ethiopia access to its coast in exchange for international recognition of its independence, bypassing the Somali government.
President Al-Sisi, speaking alongside his Somali counterpart, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, at a press conference in Cairo, issued a stern message to Ethiopia, stating, “Trying to seize a piece of land to control it is something no one will agree to.”
The president emphasized his country’s readiness to provide support in case of aggression against Arab nations, sparking concerns of potential direct involvement by Egypt in the escalating tensions between Mogadishu and Addis Ababa.
Relations between Somalia and Ethiopia soured in early January when Somaliland and Ethiopia announced a memorandum of understanding, sidelining the Somali government, which has lacked control over the self-declared republic since 1991.
Somaliland officials claim the agreement involves Ethiopia gaining a naval base along the Gulf of Aden coastline in exchange for full recognition.
Ethiopia, which has been landlocked since 1993, relies on neighboring Djibouti for its international trade. The prospective deal with Somaliland has raised international eyebrows, with Egypt, facing its own discord with Ethiopia over a dam on the Blue Nile, expressing opposition to the memorandum.
Somaliland’s Foreign Minister, Essa Kayd, highlighted in an interview with The Observer the importance of recognition as an independent state for any progress in the region. “Ethiopia needs sea access, and we need recognition,” Kayd stated, pointing to a potential alignment of needs in the deal.
The Somali government, backed by its international partners, has mobilized against the agreement, characterizing it as an attempt by Ethiopia to “annex” its territory. Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, referred to Ethiopia as “a source of instability” in the region, urging respect for Somalia’s territorial integrity.
The Somali president addressed the issue at a Non-Aligned Movement summit, condemning the agreement as a “clear violation of Somalia’s sovereignty” and revealing concerns about Ethiopia establishing a naval base on its coastline.
Regional leaders convened in Uganda for a meeting initiated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to address the fallout from the memorandum.
While Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, did not attend in person, the regional body issued a cautiously worded statement urging members to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Meanwhile, the United States expressed concern that heightened tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia could jeopardize broader efforts in combating the Islamist insurgency group al-Shabaab in Somalia.