Egypt and Maritime Security in the Red Sea

Egypt and Maritime Security in the Red Sea

On the twenty-first of December 2023, during a press conference with his British counterpart David Cameron, Mr. Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, commented on the threats to maritime navigation in the Red Sea and proposed measures to secure it, stating, ‘We share the principles regarding maritime navigation and the necessity of preserving it in the Red Sea, where the coastal states bear responsibility for its security.’

He added, ‘We continue to cooperate with many of our partners to provide suitable conditions for freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and facilitate access to the Suez Canal.’

The reality is that Egypt plays a pivotal role in securing maritime navigation in the Red Sea, whether related to international regulations governing freedom of navigation or considering Egyptian maritime capabilities and Egypt’s long-term vision regarding the impact of regional conflicts on maritime security or regional power balance.

Regarding international regulations governing freedom of navigation, Egypt insists that the Red Sea region remains within the regional security framework. Egyptian objections to proposals raised during initial discussions to formulate the Djibouti Code of Conduct for the Suppression of Piracy and Armed Robbery in 2008 and 2009 were evident until its adoption in 2017 by 21 countries, including Egypt. Egyptian objections included demanding the exclusion of the Red Sea from any anti-piracy arrangements and requiring Egypt to specify the steps to track pirates in areas facing such threats. These objections underscore Egypt’s commitment to ensuring freedom of navigation while safeguarding national security interests. The territorial waters defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea within a 12-nautical-mile limit are an integral part of the state’s territory and under its full sovereignty. Simultaneously, Egypt ensures the security of navigation through the Egyptian Suez Canal in accordance with the Constantinople Convention of 1888.

In terms of Egyptian efforts to secure maritime navigation, there are numerous examples, such as in 2015 when threats to maritime navigation in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait emerged from the Houthis. Sources indicated that four naval vessels were dispatched to secure the strait, along with statements from the then-commander of the Egyptian Navy affirming daily monitoring of the Yemen situation and its impact on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. He stated, ‘Any threat to Egyptian national security will be dealt with according to the situation,’ emphasizing the readiness of the Egyptian Navy to protect territorial waters, economic interests, and Egyptian coastlines in all directions. This reflects Egypt’s policy of deterrence, with its growing naval capabilities.

Concerning Egyptian efforts to secure maritime navigation, examples include establishing two naval bases: the first being the Berenice Naval Base in southern Egypt in 2020 aimed at securing Egyptian coastlines and protecting maritime navigation in the Red Sea, and the second being the Mohamed Naguib Military Base in Marsa Matrouh on Egypt’s western border in 2017, which is the largest in Africa and the Middle East. While one of its objectives is securing Egypt’s western borders amid regional unrest, protecting maritime borders and gas conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean are also among its goals, signifying the importance of these bases in protecting natural resources and deterring threats to Egyptian national security according to international law.

On a parallel level, Egypt collaborates with regional and international powers aimed at securing maritime navigation in that region. Egypt is a member of the Council of Red Sea littoral states, established through a Saudi initiative in 2020, comprising eight countries. Among its goals is coordinating the efforts of the Red Sea littoral states to protect maritime navigation in that vital trade route, particularly the Egyptian Suez Canal, given its connection to the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb strait. In December 2022, Egypt assumed leadership of Joint Task Force 153, one of the International Maritime Task Forces established in 2002, consisting of 38 countries. This force specializes in combating smuggling and addressing illicit activities, especially terrorism, in the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb, and the Gulf of Aden. Additionally, the Egyptian navy participates continuously in numerous maritime exercises with regional and global partners.

Despite the significance of international proposals for securing maritime navigation in the Red Sea, regional powers have concerns associated with three main issues. Firstly, there are concerns that the Red Sea could become a new arena for regional conflicts, posing significant challenges for maritime security due to the difficulty of attributing responsibility amid technological advancements. Secondly, there is a possibility of some regional and international parties exploiting the issue of maritime navigation threats to enhance their presence near waterways, as evidenced by numerous military bases in the Horn of Africa region. Thirdly, while the Red Sea region is vital for global navigation, global dynamics and conflicts elsewhere, including proposals for alternative economic routes, pose potential threats that cannot be overlooked, imposing complex choices on regional parties.

In conclusion, regional states will remain a fundamental pillar for protecting maritime navigation in the Red Sea, whether through alliances or other forms of collaboration. Resolving regional conflicts will continue to be essential for maintaining maritime security.

Note: This article has been automatically translated.

Source: Akhbar Alkhaleej

Dr. Ashraf Keshk, Senior Research Fellow

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