Why have Egypt-Somalia relations suddenly become tense?

Without notice, Somalia has canceled the educational cooperation protocol between Somalia and Egypt, which sparked widespread debate about why they took this surprising step. The decision was shocking for Egypt, which is keen to increase missions and scholarships in a number of African countries, including Somalia as an Arab African country. Somalia is also strategically located with long coast lines that are considered the main outlet for an important country like Ethiopia.

The New Somalia website said that this decision at the present time raises many unanswered questions about Somalia’s relations with some neighbouring countries and their influence on this decision. The site pointed out that the Somali decision to cancel the Egyptian educational protocol was motivated by politics rather than simply the procedural matters mentioned in the press, and described the decision as a “diplomatic war.”

Observers considered that it is not possible to ignore the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis and the conflicts it has sparked in the African ocean, especially the dispute with Egypt and the change in attitudes of some countries supporting its position, including Somalia.

Some observers believe that the Egyptian-Ethiopian rapprochement cast a shadow over Egyptian-Somali relations, and the educational cooperation protocol was one of the victims of this.

Somali media officials indicated that the decision to stop the protocol came after the visit of the Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister for African Affairs, the Ambassador Abu Bakr Hefni, to Somalia and his meeting with President Mohamed Farmago. Hefni delivered a message from General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Egypt’s position on the Renaissance Dam.

Over the past years, Ethiopia has significantly increased its support for Somalia and has pushed military and economic support for the fragile regime there in the face of armed movements. Egyptian support has been nowhere near the Ethiopian level; on the contrary, some viewed Egypt’s decision to send the Egyptian assistant foreign minister there as underestimating Somalia.

Al-Sisi usually sends the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Shoukry, to Arab countries. The Director of General Intelligence, Abbas Kamel (with the rank of minister), has also been sent to other African countries, but al-Sisi only sent an assistant minister to Somalia.

According to Somali reports, canceling this protocol means that more than 1,000 Somali students in Mogadishu will lose their educational opportunities, which shocked many, including Somalis as well. Many expressed their frustration and anger with this decision, including Deputy Elias Hassan, a member of the Senate in the Federal Parliament, who considered this decision shameful and one which contradicts the historical relationship between Egypt and Somalia.

According to Somali websites, Senator Elias Hassan accused the Somali government of waging a diplomatic war against Egypt to please Ethiopia. But Somali analysts said that such an important decision would not have been taken just because of Somali bias in solidarity with Ethiopia.

Somali analysts say the main reason behind this is the dispute between the central government in Mogadishu and the government of Puntland. The territorial government made direct understandings with the Egyptian Ministry of Education about establishing Egyptian-funded schools in Puntland.

The protocol included the operation of Somali schools by Egypt, according to the Egyptian educational curriculum, which means that the regional government will not adhere to the Somali federal curricula, which the Mogadishu government demands all Somali schools adhere to.

The central government in Somalia considered that this agreement is a violation of that, as the territorial government negotiated with a foreign country and concluded understandings with the territorial government, then started implementing them without any consideration for its policies.

What increased the central government’s suspicion is that it has not yet ended a severe crisis with the Emirates (the important regional ally of the Egyptian regime), because the UAE ignores the central government in Mogadishu and makes direct agreements with the regional government.

The Mogadishu government considers the issue of direct agreements with the government of Puntland or Somaliland without reference to it a very sensitive issue, and it is seen as feeding hopes for secession in that region.

Observers say that the Egyptian regime knows this well, and that its relations and expertise in dealing with Somalia are not new, and that the big crisis with the UAE is still present, which means that the Egyptian regime may have done so on purpose.