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Egypt supports Somalia to counter Turkish influence

Egypt has sought rapprochement with Somalia in hopes of countering Turkey’s growing influence.
LUIS TATO/AFP via Getty Images

Egypt is working to step up its influence in Somalia and support the Somali government in solving its internal disputes to counterbalance the Turkish and Ethiopian presence in Mogadishu.

In December 2021, the Cairo International Center for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding affiliated with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized the first capacity-building training session for Somalis in the fields of dialogue, negotiation and mediation, with the participation of 17 officials from several Somali ministries and sovereign parties.

Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister for African Affairs Sherif Issa said during the session’s inauguration on Dec. 11, “The session comes as part of Egyptian efforts to support the Somali state. Egypt is backing Somalia to achieve national reconciliation, fight terrorism and build peace.”

Mohammed Abdul Qadir Mahmoud, adviser to the Somali Ministry of Interior and Federal Affairs and one of the participants in the session organized by the Cairo International Center, said in a Jan. 4 interview with Egyptian newspaper Shorouk News, “The training session focused on dialogue, dispute resolution, negotiation mechanism with conflicting parties and rectification of concepts to prevent violence and extremism.”

He added, “The session will have a huge impact on the ground, especially as the participants come from various Somali state institutions. This will help enhance their ability to resolve disputes in the country without any need for foreign support.”

Egypt has recently shown clear interest in supporting Somalia across political, economic and security sectors. 

In November 2021, the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources trained 22 people from Somalia in conservation and development of water resources.

In an October 2021 visit to Cairo, Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Aty discussed with Somali Minister of Livestock, Forestry and Range Said Hussein Iid Egypt’s means of support for Somalia in building dams and developing irrigation systems in light of Somalia’s limited water resources.

In September 2018, Egypt opened a two-megawatt solar power plant in Somalia.

Egypt is also interested in consolidating its influence in Somalia through Egyptian educational missions in Somali schools. In January 2021, the Egyptian Ministry of Education resumed sending Egyptian teachers to Somalia.

Egyptian interest in Somalia prompted Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Roble to visit Cairo in August 2021 where he agreed with his Egyptian counterpart Mustafa Madbouly to double the number of Egyptian scholarships granted in Somalia to 400 per year. During the visit, Madbouly also vowed to meet the Somali side’s needs for medical convoys, medication and other supplies and to increase Egyptian support for Somalia.

In September 2021, Somali ambassador to Egypt Elias Sheikh Omar praised the “Study in Egypt” initiative launched by the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education to encourage African students to study in Egypt. He said, “The initiative has granted more opportunities to students from Somalia to study in Egyptian universities in various disciplines, in light of Egypt’s support for scientific and educational fields in Somalia.”

On Jan. 12, 2020, Egypt signed a cooperation agreement with Somalia to transfer Egyptian expertise in the fields of oil and gas. ‎

Egypt also supported Somalia militarily. On Feb. 24, 2016, the then-commander of the Somali army, Maj. Gen. Mohamed Adam Ahmed, visited Egypt. He was received by Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Hegazy, then-Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces. In the same month, Egypt sent military aid to the Somali army, which included armored cars and office equipment.

Through its rapprochement with Somalia, Egypt seeks to limit Turkish presence in the African country, as Turkey seeks a foothold in Mogadishu by exploiting the differences between Somali clans and tribes and the battles between the Somali government and extremist groups, according to a March 2021 report by the Swedish Nordic Monitor. The report said that the Turkish government is using “political, military and economic capital it has poured into Somalia … to empower a jihadist network and radical Islamist groups.”

Rapprochement efforts between Ethiopia and Somalia have borne fruit. In November 2020, Turkey settled part of Somalia's overdue debt to the International Monetary Fund. Turkey is also present militarily in Somalia. On Sept. 30, 2017, it opened a military base south of Mogadishu, the largest Turkish military training camp outside Turkey.

On Jan. 20, 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of oil exploration in the waters of Somalia. 

In a July 2020 message, Somali President Mohamed Farmajo stressed to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that “Somalia will continue to work with Ahmed's government to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries for the benefit of their people and the region.”

The Ethiopian-Somali rapprochement prompted Mogadishu in June 2020 to expressed its reservations on the Arab League's statement in support of Sudan and Egypt in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis.

Attia Issawy, a researcher on African affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt is trying to strengthen Somalia's capabilities to solve its internal crises by organizing training courses for its officials on mechanisms for negotiation and peaceful settlement of disputes.”

“Somalia was the gateway to Turkish military presence in Africa because of its military base. Turkey took advantage of the internal conflicts in Somalia and drew closer to the Somali government, taking advantage of its concerns over rebel movements. Consequently, the government agreed to Turkish military presence,” Issawy said.

He added, “Turkey helped Ethiopia in its rapprochement with the Somali government after years of conflict between the two African countries. This is why Egypt is seeking a presence in Somalia to confront the Turkish-Ethiopian alliance.”

Issawi explained that Egypt believes “Somalia can play a role in the GERD crisis, since it is an Arab African country that has influence in the Arab League. This may explain why Ethiopia is seeking rapprochement with Somalia with the aim to divide the Arab position supporting Egypt in the GERD crisis.”