After al-Sisi’s visit, will Egypt establish a military base in South Sudan?

An unannounced visit, the first of its kind and for one day only, by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the nascent state of South Sudan, aroused much surprise and speculation. The visit witnessed bilateral talks between al-Sisi and the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, at the Republican Palace in Juba, followed by an expanded session of talks in the presence of delegations from the two countries. The surprise about the visit and its timing came because it was al-Sisi’s first visit to this nascent country. Observers considered it a security risk, as al-Sisi was in a country where there is armed political unrest.

Speculation has also increased, as the visit coincides with the faltering negotiations of the Renaissance Dam between Egypt and Ethiopia, especially after Sudan announced its withdrawal from the talks and in light of armed confrontations between the Addis Ababa government and rebels.

Several reports indicated that the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis imposed on Egypt to expand the scope of a political movement with African countries, hoping to restore respect to this vital circle. It explained that there are advanced discussions between Egypt, South Sudan, and the State of Sudan regarding the stalled Jonglei Canal project’s revival.

This suggestion is within the framework of solutions aimed at reducing the adverse effects of Egypt and Sudan’s shares from the Nile water due to the Ethiopian intransigence in the GERD negotiations. It is noteworthy that the Jonglei Canal project is located on the Mountain River in South Sudan, which was suspended in 1983 due to the civil war. Civil war broke out at that time between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, led by John Grange, and the canal project was stopped after drilling 260 kilometres out of a total of 360 kilometres.

Military presence

Reports by some news agencies also revealed that security and military talks have been taking place for several months between Egypt and the State of South Sudan regarding an Egyptian military presence in South Sudan. They explained that the discussions included agreement on the form of this military presence and the possibility of developing it into establishing an Egyptian military base there. It added that there is an Egyptian military and technical presence within the agreements concluded between the two countries, as part of the role Cairo plays in structuring the armed forces in southern Sudan and integrating armed militias into the regular forces.

Al-Sisi’s regime is working to provide the army in southern Sudan with light and medium weapons produced by the Arab Organisation for Industrialisation. The reports revealed that negotiations regarding the existence of an Egyptian military and logistical centre or establishing a military base in southern Sudan had been suspended during the last period after Ethiopia expressed an objection to this.

It indicated that the negotiations have now been renewed after the clashes and tensions in the Tigray region in Ethiopia, in light of fears that southern Sudan would be affected by this unrest. It is noteworthy that the Renaissance Dam is located about 40 kilometres from the State of South Sudan, and the visit comes shortly after a warning issued by US President Donald Trump that Cairo might blow up the dam due to stalled negotiations.

Besieging Ethiopia

Last June, South Sudan denied reports that Egypt had granted a military base in Pagak, Upper Nile State, near Ethiopia’s border. Al-Sisi’s visit comes at a time South Sudan is suffering from major economic, political, and security problems and it is on the way to becoming a failed state. The Security Council imposed sanctions on some officials in South Sudan and hinted at expanding its scope as long as the civil war did not stop.

For his part, the Sudanese journalist, Mohamed Mustafa Jama, said that al-Sisi’s visit is mainly related to the issue of the Renaissance Dam and the developments of the war in Ethiopia. He pointed out that the relationship of the President of South Sudan with Addis Ababa is not good since Abey Ahmed assumed the reins of power. He added in press statements that after the joint military maneuvers between Egypt and Sudan, Cairo might want to encircle Ethiopia from the side of South Sudan with a military presence through the military base.