The visit of Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh to Egypt on 6 February bore strategic dimensions and significant implications that came within the framework of Egypt’s commitment to build strategic and political ties in the Horn of Africa. The timing of the visit was critical, given the mounting tensions that threaten the stability of the Horn of Africa.
Guelleh’s visit is a culmination of the distinguished bilateral relations between the two countries, coming after only eight months of President Al-Sisi’s visit to Djibouti on 27 May 2021. If the mutual Egyptian-Djiboutian visits are any indicator, they reflect the two countries’ keenness on building outstanding partnerships and coordinating on issues of common concern.
Djibouti is one of the vital countries in the Horn of Africa, a region that enjoys strategic significance due to several considerations, primarily its geographical location, linking vital waterways that serve as a link for international trade between continents, including the Red Sea, which is becoming increasingly important with 13-15 percent of world trade passing through it making it an important trade corridor for many strategic commodities such as oil and gas.
Development of Egyptian-Djiboutian Relations
The Egyptian-Djiboutian relations are multidimensional serving common interests of both countries. Prospects for cooperation between the two countries can be reviewed as follows:
- Cooperation in the Political Sphere: The Egyptian-Djiboutian bilateral relations have been witnessing positive developments over the recent period, as has been evidenced by Cairo’s commitment to strengthen relations with Djibouti and provide it various forms of support. The joint talks between the two countries are demonstrative of mutual understanding and keenness of the two countries to exchange views on important regional files, including the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), where the two countries agree on the need for Nile riparian countries to reach a binding agreement on filling and operating the Dam within an appropriate time frame, towards reinforcing regional security and stability. There is also consensus between the two countries on the importance of settling the crisis in light of rules of international law and the Security Council decisions to avoid their negative impact on the security and stability of the entire region.
- Economic Cooperation: The political coordination between Egypt and Djibouti has reflected on their economic relations as well. Egyptian-Djiboutian trade exchange between the two countries speaks volumes of this, where it increased up to $86.5 million in the first 10 months of 2021, up from $62.2 million over the same period in 2020.
Additionally, the Egyptian-Djiboutian understandings play a role in enhancing cooperation between Djiboutian Ports and the Suez Canal Authority, which will help the two countries benefit from the trade corridor linking the port of Djibouti and the Suez Canal across the Red Sea, promote cooperation in the transport field, pursue efforts to establish an Egyptian logistics area, and launch a direct flight route between the two countries.
- Collaboration at the Security Level: Egypt provides technical support to the Djiboutian military cadres and there is collaboration between Egypt and Djibouti in the field of combating terrorism and extremism by energizing existing mechanisms to strengthen military and security collaboration. Further, Djibouti plays an instrumental role in combating terrorism and piracy where it hosts global counter-piracy and -terrorism forces. There is also entente between Egypt and Djibouti to protect the Red Sea from the terrorist threat and international piracy operations, given its strategic location and the two countries coordinate to enhance stability in this region and prevent terrorist groups from controlling the shipping lanes.
- Humanitarian Aid: There is humanitarian collaboration between the two countries, as has been demonstrated by the revitalization of the presidential initiative “Tahya Misr Egypt-Africa” [Long Live Egypt-Africa] to treat cases of visual impairment in Djibouti. To that end, the Egyptian Ministry of Health dispatched a medical convoy to Djibouti to treat cases of visual impairment. The initiative resulted in the medical examination of 1,354 students and prescription of 650 eyeglasses. The Djibouti Ministry of Health honored members of the Egyptian convoy, confirming Djibouti’s appreciation of collaboration with Egypt.
Reviewing the current Egyptian-Djiboutian collaboration, relations between the two countries are likely to develop as follows:
- At the Bilateral Level: The upcoming period will likely witness reciprocal high-level visits between Egypt and Djibouti to promote collaboration and coordinate visions on issues of common interest. Promoting the Egyptian-Djiboutian partnership will undoubtedly contribute to enhancing the Egyptian interests in the Horn of Africa.
- At the Regional Level: Djibouti is located in a region that is rife with regional interactions. Several Sahel countries are afflicted by disputes, conflicts, and threats, and it shares borders with these Sahel countries riddled with crises. As such, there are fears that instability in Djibouti’s neighbouring countries could spill over into Djibouti and affect the political and security situation there. The Egyptian-Djiboutian rapprochement would contribute to the development of a unified vision to confront regional threats.
Overall, the Egyptian-Djiboutian relations have recently evolved significantly. Guelleh’s Cairo visit suggests the existence of new prospects for collaboration between the two countries, which will positively reflect on issues of common interest.