By Pranava Pakala
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the first Head of State to have visited Sudan since it’s independence in 1956. This visit is historical for obvious reasons and has been closely watched by scholars, analysts and common people. It was a part of Erdogan’s tour of Africa. He continued to Chad and Tunisia later. This visit by Erdogan was basically made to advance bilateral ties between both the countries and from the looks of it, they seem to have made momentous progress.
Dawn of hope and co-operation
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir held long talks with his Turkish counterpart to advance ties in all fields. Sudan and Turkey signed 12 agreements, in total to boost economic, military and cultural co-operation. Ankara and Khartoum have also agreed to set up a joint Strategic Cooperation Council chaired by the two heads of state.
“This (Erdogan’s visit) is a historic visit as it is the first time for a Turkish president to visit Sudan. It is also distinguished given the great accompanying ministerial delegation,” said Bashir at a joint press conference with Erdogan following the talks. Bashir described the talks to be incredibly fruitful and the beginning of a new era in the bilateral relations between Sudan and Turkey. For his part, Erdogan reiterated Turkey’s enthusiasm to boost economic ties between both the countries. He stressed that Sudan and Turkey expect to increase their trade volume from 500 million US dollars at present to ten billion dollars. He further thanked the Sudanese people for backing Turkey in the foiled coup attempt in July 2016. Erdogan also applauded Sudan for overcoming it’s difficulties as the United States lifted its economic sanctions on the country. He also sympathised with them by saying that they were treated unfairly.
The greatest and the most significant highlight of the visit is one particular agreement. Sudan has temporarily agreed to hand over the Red Sea Island of Suakin to Turkey. This was done to basically promote tourism. Turkey would rebuild the ruined, sparsely populated Ottoman island to increase tourism and create a transit point for pilgrims crossing the Red Sea to Islam’s holiest city of Mecca. This move has caused major concerns in the African continent. Egypt and Turkey have been at loggerheads for a long time. This follows Turkey’s condemnation of the ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected President, Morsi. Egypt alleges that Turkey supports the banned outfit, Muslim Brotherhood. It happens to be a strong ally to Middle East’s most infamous country Saudi Arabia.
Egyptian and Saudi media have harshly criticised Turkey’s latest move and have claimed that Ankara intends to build a military base in the Ottoman island, a claim strongly denied by Turkey. They say that this move would compromise on the security of the Middle East. Sudan has maintained that Suakin belongs solely to them and no one could take it away from them. Egypt responded by sending its troops to Eritrea, which shares borders with Ethiopia.
Eritrea and Ethiopia have had strained relations for the longest time and have fought two wars in which close to 80,000 people lost their lives.
What lies ahead
Egypt has had uneasy and tense relations with these countries over the years which was magnified by Ethiopia’s decision to build the continent’s largest hydroelectric project over the Nile. This was evidently unacceptable to Egypt which fears inadequate access to the river water. Cairo accuses Sudan of supporting the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project, while Khartoum accuses Egypt of supporting rebels in Sudan.
Will the pressure exerted by Egypt affect Turkey from giving a green signal to this ambitious project? Only time will tell.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons