Egypt has pledged support to Chad as the north-central African state struggles to prevent rampant terrorism in the Sahel and Sahara region from seeping out of the region and into it.
During a meeting with Chadian President, Idriss Deby, in the southern Egyptian city of Aswan on December 11, Egyptian President Abdel al-Sisi, said his country would back Chad’s economic and social development efforts.
Egyptian companies operating in Africa, Sisi said, could participate in N’Djamena’s efforts to perk up its economy.
“Egypt can also offer training to more Chadian professionals, within the Egyptian capacity-building program for Africa,” the Egyptian leader said.
Sisi’s meeting with Deby, which was held on the sidelines of the first edition of the Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development, an African gathering aiming at functioning as a meeting point between African government officials, on one hand, and experts in all fields, on the other, was their third this year.
The Egyptian leader last met Deby in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi on October 23, on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa summit. He also met him in Cairo on April 22.
Egypt has never attached such great importance to its relations with Chad, but it is doing this now for a good reason, analysts said.
“Chad is strongly connected with the Egyptian national security,” said Adel Nabhan, an independent specialist in African affairs. Chad is an important bridge between the Sahel and Sahara region and North Africa. The terrorist organizations that suffered defeats and lost territories in both Iraq and Syria are now relocating to the Sahel and Sahara, exploiting poor security preparedness in the states of the region, and rampant poverty and unemployment.
Terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda are taking root and growing in the Sahel and Sahara. Groups like ISIS-leaning Boko Haram and the al-Qaeda-leaning al-Shabaab were already active in the region in the past years.
Egypt’s fear, analysts say, is that these groups will be able to team up with other terrorist organizations active in Libya and in other North African states. In March 2016, Egypt gathered Sahel and Sahara defense ministers in the Red Sea coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh to coordinate counterterrorism measures and approve effective mechanisms in the fight against the terrorist organizations that started to gain footholds in the African continent.
Egypt has also constructed a command center for counterterrorism operations in the Sahel and Sahara region in the new capital it is constructing in the desert between capital Cairo and Suez.
Nevertheless, all these efforts are a small detail in the large picture of Egypt’s attempts to return to Africa, a continent it neglected for decades in the past, a mistake it paid dearly for.
Paralleled only by revolutionary leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in paying attention to relations with Africa, incumbent Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the first Egyptian leader to work that hard to retain ties with African states in decades.
Since coming to power in mid-2014, Sisi paid a huge number of visits to African states and met dozens of African leaders inside the continent and outside it. Egypt holds the rotating presidency of the African Union for 2019 and over this year it worked hard to open new channels of cooperation between the continent and major world powers Europe, China and Russia. It also worked to promote African solutions to African problems, including an initiative proposed by Sisi earlier this year for ending conflicts in the states of the continent.
Called “Silencing the Guns”, the initiative works to bring an end to conflicts in Africa by 2020 through a series of diplomatic mechanisms, including mediation for settling armed conflicts.
“The initiative uses diplomatic means to end conflicts and predict them before they erupt,” said Heba al-Bishbishi, another African affairs specialist. “Settling conflicts is a very important issue if Africa will move ahead.”