A recent deal to lease the Sudanese Red Sea Suakin island to Turkey for development raises concerns in Cairo and other Arab capitals.
In late December, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir signed an agreement to temporarily lease Sudan's Suakin Red Sea island to Turkey for development by Turkish investment projects.
Suakin Island is located on the western coast of the Red Sea in eastern Sudan. It covers an area of approximately 20 km2, 66 meters above sea level, and is 560 kilometers away from Khartoum.
In medieval times, the name of Suakin was mentioned in the writings of Arab travelers, such as Ibn Battuta, whose name was associated with the escape of many Umayyad princes from the Abbasid state.
In the sixteenth century AD was conquered by Ottoman Sultan Salim I and became the center of the Ottoman fleet in the Red Sea. The port included the seat of the Ottoman governor of the southern Red Sea.
Sudanese Foreign Minister
Turkey will rebuild a ruined Ottoman port city on Sudan's Red Sea coast and construct a naval dock to maintain civilian and military vessels, Sudan's foreign minister said on Tuesday Dec 26.
The restoration at Suakin was agreed during a visit to the ancient port by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said.
The countries also agreed "to build a dock to maintain civilian and military vessels," Ghandour told reporters, adding that they had signed an agreement "that could result in any kind of military cooperation".
The agreements come three months after Turkey formally opened a $50 million military-training base in Somalia as it exerts increasing influence in the region.
While explaining why he is paying so much attention to this island that the Sudanese call "the gate to Africa," President Erdogan used the metaphor of "reincarnation."
Suakin lost its stature and fell into ruin when Port Sudan was built 30 miles to the north between 1905 and 1909. Erdogan accused Western countries of turning Suakin into a "ghost island."
"They razed it to the ground... This is in their nature," Erdogan said Dec. 25 during a speech at Khartoum University. "Your razing of this place is like us shaving our beards. We will rebuild and reconstruct it in such a way that, like a shaved beard, it will regrow much more abundant."
"Suakin island deal complies with the Turkish strategy to increase its presence in Africa in general and in the northeastern part of the continent in particular," Ayman Shabana, deputy director of the African Research Institute of Cairo University, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
He expressed his belief that the announced purposes of the island deal, including Turkish development projects, archeological restoration and cultural revival, are only meant to cover Turkey's real purpose of establishing its presence southern Egypt, opposite to Saudi Arabia and near the Gulf region.