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Young Chadian leader sees partner, role model in Sisi

Mahamat ibn Idriss Deby Itno is seeking Cairo's support to manage the country's transition.
Mahamat Idriss Deby (C) sits in the honor tribune during the state funeral for his father, Chadian President Idriss Deby, in N'Djamena, on April 23, 2021.

CAIRO  — On Jan. 5, Mahamat ibn Idriss Deby Itno, head of Chad's Transitional Military Council, arrived in Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The visit raised questions about its motives and implications as well as the nature of Egypt's role in Chad.

Deby wrote on Twitter, “This official visit falls within the dynamic framework of consolidating our bilateral cooperation, strengthening the bonds of brotherhood and friendship, and exploring new horizons for partnership.”

The Chadian presidency tweeted, “Chad and Egypt are strengthening ties, as cooperation and friendship have been well-established for a long time,” noting that the visit was intended to strengthen cooperation and solidify the friendship with Cairo.

The visit lasted for two days. Deby first met with Sisi, and the two discussed ways to advance bilateral cooperation between the two countries, especially by reactivating the joint bilateral committee, a Jan. 5 statement by Egyptian presidential spokesman Bassam Rady said.

Sisi reportedly stressed Egypt's keenness to provide full support to Chad during the current transitional phase. “Cairo is interested in continuing cooperation between the two countries for the development and refinement of Chadian cadres in various disciplines.”

He also spoke of cooperation to “maximize security, intelligence and military cooperation to combat the challenge of terrorism and extremist ideology,” according to the Egyptian statement.

Meanwhile, Deby praised the close relations between the two brotherly countries, stressing his country's keenness to activate and develop bilateral cooperation with Egypt.

In this context, Ahmed al-Maslamani, a former adviser to Sisi, told Al-Monitor that the visit is an “excellent step and a reassuring development in Egyptian-Chadian relations,” adding that Deby requested cooperation on all levels but especially in terms of security and intelligence because the two countries have common enemies: terrorism and poverty.

He noted that Egypt is seeking to strengthen its relations with Deby, especially since the current transitional period is establishing the next government in Chad.

“Chad affects Egyptian national security, and Cairo believes in N'Djamena's essential role in combating terrorism and curbing the activity of extremist armed groups in Africa, beginning with Boko Haram on the Atlantic Ocean, through Mali and the Lake Chad region, all the way to the Islamic State in Somalia on the Indian Ocean,” Maslamani explained.

Egypt’s policy toward Africa has changed since Sisi came to power in 2014. It became driven by improving its image and protecting its interests in the Horn of Africa to strengthen its position on the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. However, in the Sahel-Saharan region, it has focused on enhancing security and intelligence cooperation and presenting itself as a model for combating terrorism.

That is why the sudden death of Idriss Deby — the father — in April 2021 as a result of injuries he sustained in his battle with rebels raised Cairo’s concerns and fears since he was a close ally of Egypt.

Deby has since seized power and pledged to hold free and democratic elections at the conclusion of an 18-month transitional period. Meanwhile, he seems to be following in his father's footsteps in consolidating his relationship with Sisi.

Chadian journalist and political analyst Jebren Issa told Al-Monitor, “It is clear that Deby seeks Cairo’s support if he is to run in the upcoming elections.”  

He added, “Deby views Egypt as a pivotal player in Chad's stability, due to its political and economic influence in Africa and the Arab world and the impact of Egyptian policy on Chad's neighboring countries such as Sudan and Libya.”

Roland Lombardi, a historian specializing in the Middle East (specifically Egypt) and an independent geopolitical consultant analyst at Fildmedia, said this was a very important visit for the Chadian leader. “This shows first of all Sisi’s increasingly growing diplomatic role, as he has become essential as a leading actor, mediator, intermediary, even peacemaker in many issues in the Middle East (i.e., the Abraham Accords, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular in Gaza and even in Syria) as well as in Africa (i.e., Sudan and Chad).”

He added, “Sisi has succeeded in restoring Egypt’s powerful position on the international scene.”

Deby’s visit to Cairo came a few days after he announced an “inclusive national dialogue” scheduled for Feb. 15 to achieve reconciliation in his country and pave the way for presidential and legislative elections.  

In August 2021, Deby formed a special technical committee of political figures to dialogue with political and military movements. In November 2021, he ordered amnesty for hundreds of political opponents so they could partake in the national dialogue process.

Deby allowed opposition parties to hold meetings in conjunction with the transitional government's continuing to hold conferences to promote the upcoming dialogue and encourage participation in it.

In a speech to the people on the occasion of the New Year on Dec. 31, Deby said that the upcoming dialogue would be a "sovereign dialogue without taboos" and everything that he concludes would be "fully implemented." At the end of this dialogue, "a new constitution will be approved through a referendum, and transparent, free, democratic and credible general elections will be organized."

Issa noted that the Chadian transitional government wants Sisi to mediate in order to urge armed movements and parties in exile to negotiate with the transitional government at the national dialogue conference that will be hosted by Doha in February.

He pointed out that the Togo Alliance, the most hard-line wing of the opposition, still refuses to participate in the national dialogue, saying that the upcoming conference will be a failure.

“Egypt has a strong presence in Libya and Sudan and could take action to … contribute to the success of Chadian reconciliation in cooperation with the Qatari government, especially after ties between Cairo and Doha improve,” Issa said.

Lombardi noted, “Despite the alliance of several rebel movements, Deby still managed to impose a form of dialogue for the democratic transition.”

He added, “The rebels are weakened because their main supporters (Turkey and Qatar) are more isolated and face great economic difficulty. This is particularly true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has been forced in recent months to put a stop to his inclinations in Africa, the Mediterranean [and] the Middle East.”

Lombardi added, “The Inclusive National Dialogue can thus succeed since Deby’s enemies will be forced to make concessions or even compromises. Above all, once again and discreetly, Cairo is a stakeholder in the ongoing discussions.”

Speaking about Deby’s future, he said, “He has the will and the ability to control the country. But he must not fall into the pitfalls that African leaders fell for in the past. Precisely, he must be inspired by Sisi’s rule, which does not rely entirely on brute force as some say.”

Lombardi stressed, “Like Sisi or even Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, who understood the problem of their respective countries, Deby will have to modernize the economy of his country and especially fight corruption."