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Trouble on the Nile

14 97 1013

Ongoing tensions in the Red Sea region came to the fore in late December, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Sudan as part of his Africa tour. During the visit, Erdogan and his Sudanese counterpart, Omar al-Bashir, signed more than a dozen agreements to boost the economic partnership between the two nations.

Among these agreements was a deal to temporarily hand over the Red Sea island of Suakin to Turkey. Ankara and Khartoum said Turkish investors would rebuild the ruined, sparsely populated island to increase tourism and create a transit point for Muslim pilgrims crossing the Red Sea to reach the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The agreement over Suakin has triggered a heated debate in the region, as many saw Erdogan's move as an attempt to establish a third military base - after the ones in Qatar and Somalia - outside Turkey's borders.

Egyptian and Saudi media have harshly criticised the agreement, categorising Erdogan's move as yet another attempt by what they call the "Turkey-Iran-Qatar axis" to undermine the stability and security of the so-called "Sunni moderate alliance", which includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE.

In a joint press conference with his Sudanese counterpart in Khartoum, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu strongly denied the existence of such an "axis", but he was unable to ease the tensions and convince the Egyptian leadership that the agreement over Suakin does not pose a threat for Cairo.

But Erdogan's visit to Sudan was in no way the beginning of the dispute between Sudan and Egypt. Relations between Cairo and Khartoum have long been strained, with ongoing disagreements over issues such as the Hala'ib Triangle border dispute and the Renaissance Dam project in Ethiopia.

The Hala'ib Triangle is an area of land of just under 20,500 square kilometres on the Egyptian-Sudanese border, which both countries have claim over since Sudan gained........

© Al Jazeera