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Why Did Sudan Close Their Border with Eritrea?

Khartoum (GPA) — Sudan closed their border with Eritrea as long-standing tensions with Egypt begin to flare up. Ongoing disputes over territory and resources, as well as Sudan’s relations with Turkey, triggered the dispute.

On January 6th Sudan shut their border with Eritrea after fortifying it with thousands of troops. The closure comes off the heels of rising tensions with Egypt. Relations between the two nations have long been heated, but on January 4th Egypt sent hundreds of troops to a UAE base in Eritrea. Though Egypt denies having sent any troops to the base. Two days later, the Sudanese-Eritrean border was closed until further notice.

Sudan shut the border citing national security concerns. On January 11th Sudan officially announced that the deployment of troops along the Eritrean border was a result of military threats from Eritrea and Egypt. The border remains fortified.

What Caused Relations Between Sudan and Egypt to Boil Over?

Egypt believes Sudan is getting too cozy with Turkey. When the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Sudan in December, he and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir signed over a dozen agreements to boost the economies of both nations.

One agreement temporarily hands over the Red Sea island of Suakin to Turkey. The decimated and depopulated island is to be rebuilt by Turkish investors, which they say will increase tourism from Muslim pilgrims on route to Mecca.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia fear this agreement will lead to a third Turkish military base outside of Turkey, after the bases in Qatar and Somalia. Saudi and Egyptian media remain critical of the agreement. They also believe the deal to be a “Turkey-Iran-Qatar axis” plot to sabotage their self-proclaimed “Sunni moderate alliance,” consisting of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE. The Turkish government denies the existence of any such “axis.”

The 7,950 square mile parcel of land called the Hala’ib Triangle has also been a sore spot for both Sudan and Egypt. The strategically located Hala’ib Triangle is situated on the Red Sea on the Egyptian-Sudanese border. Both nations have claimed the territory since Sudan gained its independence from Britain in 1956. Egypt deployed its military in the region during the 1990’s, but the dispute has remained relatively quiet for the last twenty years.

In 2016, Cairo signed a contentious agreement with Riyadh to cede two Red Sea islands (Tiran and Sanafir) to Saudi Arabia. The deal also recognized the Hala’ib Triangle as Egypt’s sovereign territory.

In a December letter to the UN, Sudan rejected the deal. Egyptian officials condemned the letter and maintained the Hala’ib Triangle as “Egyptian territory.” In response, Sudan summoned its Egyptian ambassador from Cairo for consultations on the 4th of January.

Another source of tension is the continuing construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Cairo is afraid the dam will have an impact on its access to water from the Nile River basin. Cairo also believes Sudan is in support of Ethiopia in regards to the dam’s future. Ethiopia has already laid out an electrical grid connecting Khartoum.

Yet Sudan and Egypt’s greatest divides are ideological. Cairo accuses Khartoum of supporting a Muslim Brotherhood plan to oust Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Originally published, January 15th, 2018 at Geopolitics Alert.

Also published on Medium.

Published in Uncategorized