Ahmed Adel, Researcher, IGSDA, Gehad Fathy, Researcher, IGSDA and MajGen (Ret. Sayed Ghoneim, PhD in Political Science, Chairman IGSDA.

Fourth lecture;

ROLES and IGSDA online seminar, Friday, 22-01-2021. ‘New Great Game for the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa: RCAST Security Webinar Series #1’

University of Tokyo


The Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region formed the focus of attention of many regional and international powers, due to geopolitical and strategic considerations. Major powers and Middle Eastern powers contributed to the intensification of international and regional rivalry on of influence in the region. What complicates the general scene in recent decades is the contribution of geostrategic transformations in the world making the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea as an arena for rearranging the balance of power between powers, to consolidate influence and establish their presence with military and economic mechanisms.


  1. The Importance of The Horn of Africa & The Red Sea Region for The Regional Actors

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) https://www.sipri.org/news/2019/sipri-launches-reports-new-external-security-politics-horn-africa-region

  • The geographical location of the Horn of Africa, as one of the focal areas in the world, and as a gateway to the African continent linking Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and the meeting point of the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean, which is witnessing an escalating competition between powers. Its geographical location of The Horn of Africa and The Red Sea region shows its great importance. It also overlooks the Bab al-Mandab Strait, one of the most important maritime trade and energy transport routes in the world, as 25% of global exports and 30% of oil bound to the west pass through it, with annual trade exceeding $ 700 billion, 25,000 ships, and nearly two billion A barrel of oil passes annually through the strategic strait.
  • The Horn of Africa and The Red Sea Region is considered a cantonment of seaports that can be economic and militarily used by regional rivaling countries.
  • The region is a key component of the global strategies. It’s located in the heart of the “China’s Belt and Road Initiative”, and it’s considered a part of the “Africa-Asia Growth Corridor” project to be launched by Japan and its partners. This urges the regional allies of both sides to search their roles in their global projects.
  • The political and diplomatic weight embraced by the Horn of Africa, represented by the headquarters of the African Union in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in the same country, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Djibouti, which gives an opportunity to the regional rivaling powers to communicate with African leaders influencing the policies of their countries.
  • The strategic positioning of the state of Djibouti makes it a natural guardian of the Bab al-Mandab, which gives it a strategic maritime asset that makes it a basic pillar in the rivaling countries’ policies to enhance influence, as evidenced by its embrace of seven military bases for international powers on its territory.
  • The region is considered a fertile ground for investments with the weak economic capabilities of the countries of the region, which represent a large market, and weak infrastructure. Which drives it to welcome these investments to address the economic crises that they are suffering from. In return, the region is considered an ideal theatre for regional rivalry.
  • The maritime domain of the Red Sea and Horn of Africa  is the scene of conflict between rival powers in the Horn of Africa. Accordingly, all acting powers seek to assert their maritime influence in the region and emerge as major maritime powers, by extending their influence on the Bab al-Mandab Strait, one of the most important strategic waterways in the world.


Regional level here is referring to eight specific countries Israel, Iran, Turkey Ethiopia, KSA, UAE, Egypt and Qatar. The reason of our choice here is due to their various capabilities and strong wills for influence to achieve their interests in the region; and how they effect on the regional security and stability.

a. Regional actors’ goals;


  • Secure the international shipping traffic to the port of Eilat.
  • Follow up and monitor any development of hostile capabilities that harm Israeli interests in the region.
  • An attempt to establish a joint link that would allow the acquisition of an economic share for maritime trade traffic between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea


  • The ability to influence the Bab al-Mandab strait.
  • Secure the lines of communication with agents and the informal network of interests in the region in a way that allows strengthening the capabilities of these parties.
  • Permanent presence allows for greater opportunities to expand the network of relationships and influence in various parties in the region.
  • Create a region of competition with the Gulf states, far away from the borders and interests within Iranian territory directly.


  • Impose the Turkish influence on the shipping corridor extended from East Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. This will support the Turkish military bases and its military existences Tripoli, Mogadishu and potentially in Port Sudan.
  • Obtain a share of the volume of maritime trade on one of the most important shipping lanes in the world through various concessions for managing ports overlooking along the international shipping corridor.
  • Take advantage of the natural resources of the countries of the region by pumping Turkish investments to control the utilization of those resources.
  • Secure a virgin market that absorbs Turkish production to boost Turkish exports.


  • Secure several seaports in the region to ensure a sustainable and economically rewarding foreign trade, especially with Djibouti.
  • Seek to make Ethiopia a vital center for the economies of the Horn of Africa.
  • Strengthen international cooperation steps to make Ethiopia the key to the Horn of Africa for all international and regional partners.


  • Maintain a secured South West strategic depth and preventing the expansion of Iranian influence in any of the Horn of Africa, similar to the previous Iranian base in Eritrea.
  • Secure the ongoing military operations in Yemen.
  • Food security with preserving and expanding of agricultural investments, mainly in Ethiopia.


  • Increase investments, especially in seaports.
  • Secure the international shipping corridor passing through the region, which is a vital hub in the UAE’s foreign trade.
  • Securing the military presence in the region to enhance regional security and support the military operations of the Arab coalition in Yemen.
  • Maintain strong influence in front of Qatar, Turkey and Iran on one side and drain any sources of armed Islamic groups, especially which proscribed as terrorist in Somalia and Yemen on the other side.


  • Security of the navigational corridor at Bab El-Mandeb strait to protect investments in the Suez Canal economic zones.
  • Promote economic integration with the countries of the region, especially Djibouti, to become the gateway to trade with the African continent.
  • Restore the strength of the strategic relations between Egypt and the countries of the region to gain their support in the water issue against Ethiopia.
  • Maintain strong influence in front of Qatar and Turkey.


  • Seek to increase political influence in a way that suits the size of the country, through grants and aid, especially in Somalia and Ethiopia.

Regional Frame of Relations in the Region

Three powers (non-Arab state):

  • Iran and Turkey: Two Regional Powers with Past Empires.
  • Israel: a nuclear small state representing a third regional power in the region.
  • Competition and convergence of interests and influence between the three powers.

Four Arab acting states and Ethiopia:

  • KSA, UAE, Egypt and Qatar.
  • With intersecting relations with the three regional powers.
  • KSA, UAE, and Egypt are allies with big strengths; but have differences in some matters. They’re in good relations with Israel, but in rivalry/ tension towards Iran, Turkey and Qatar.
  • Qatar is an acting microstate, in tension and competition with KSA, UAE and Egypt.
  • The only acting state country that has good relations with (Israel, Turkey and Iran).
  • Ethiopia is an acting state in the Horn of Africa. In Tension with Eretria and Egypt, but in good relations with Israel, Turkey, KSA and UAE.
  • It seeks for windows overlooking the Red Sea.

Hotbeds of Regional Rivalries in Regions

Fields of Regional Rivalry In region (Turkey, Iran and Israel)

  Turkey Iran Israel
Economic-Politico Turkey is seeking to increase its investments in the Horn of Africa, especially since the trade balance is in its favor, as it represents the first investor in Ethiopia with about 3 billion dollars. Besides, its important investments in Somalia, in which it controls the seaport and the airport of Mogadishu through its companies that obtained a 20-year concession for management. In addition to the economic zone in Djibouti near the Doraleh port, which aims to benefit from the region’s capabilities commercially and to consolidate relations with Ethiopia, which relies heavily on Djibouti for its maritime trade. Vocational training and the influence of Iranian businessmen. Also, the utilization of the natural resources of the region, especially in Kenya such as uranium from Somalia and other several resources in Kenya. Defender of The Shiite Faith and belief System, etc.The Iranian Red Crescent institutions and the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, which are particularly active in Kenya and South Sudan, in addition to other African countries such as Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. Hi-Tech and agriculture markets.Assistance in the agricultural and water fields, and it is considered the center of activity in the Horn of Africa, represented in Ethiopia and Kenya. This includes the efforts of Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV) specially in Ethiopia, Kenia and Eretria.
Military Military base in Somalia.Military industry “sales” & brokerage.Training.Military alliances in Somalia camp TURKSOM since 2013Somali-Turkish task force “African Eagle”. Brokerage of arms sales proxies in Yemen.Participation in anti-piracy operations and undeclared relations with Al-Shabaab Mujahideen Movement in Somalia. Training the presidential security in Kenya and Ethiopia.Military collaboration with Kenya. Arms sales South Sudan, Ethiopia.exporting small weapons to Djibouti police since 2006.Financing and training South Sudanese guerrilla groups in the past.
Information Environment Younus Emre institute in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia & Somalia.Neo-Ottomanism Propaganda.Drama industry Diriliş: Ertuğrul Marketing Tour in South Africa 2019. Spreading religious beliefs as the protector of The Shiite sect.The Iranian Cultural Center, the Al-Bayt Center and the Al-Mustafa Association in Djibouti. In addition to the scholarships for Iran, where it reached 950 Somali students in the past two years. Spreading stories based on Ancient Jewish Myths (Lost Tribe-Ethiopian Dynasty was Related to King Solomon).

Fields of Regional Rivalry In region (KSA, UAE and Egypt VS Qatar)

  UAE, KSA and Egypt Qatar
Economic-Politico UAE builds its vision on the network of integration within the region through the strategy of seaports (Aden and Mukalla in Yemen, Assab in Eritrea, Ain Sokhna in Egypt, and Berbera and Bossaso in Somaliland). It also helps Ethiopia to secure the movement of these seaports, such as depositing $ one billion in the Central Bank to bridge the deficit and create a safe investment environment in the Horn of Africa.The Saudi “NEOM” project in the Red Sea. It also works on the navigation link between Djibouti, Jeddah and Jizan, and secures the Ethiopian market, which is ranked third, for Saudi investment in the field of agriculture and livestock, in addition to humanitarian movements through the Saudi Fund for Development, in addition to the King Salman Center for Humanitarian Work in the region in general.The Egyptian Agency for Partnerships for Development represents the Egyptian economic arm in the African continent, and Egypt seeks to link development to East Africa in an integrated manner through agreements between the Suez Canal Authority and the Djibouti Port Authority, and it seeks to establish a logistical zone in Djibouti alongside Eritrea and Somalia. In addition to the fields of trade, medicine, technical support for land and sea transport, assistance in building dams and drilling wells, and the establishment of an Egyptian-Sudanese-Ethiopian investment fund to benefit from Egypt’s expertise in water, health and security. These moves aim to enhance the values of Egyptian integration among the people of the same continent.Egypt Work on Pan Africanism RevivalUAE Great at dealing with Both Central & Local Rulers Both the Federal Government & Somaliland Local Government.Saudi Arabia: Presidency of the Council of Arab and African States bordering the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, resolving the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict and seeking a solution to Djibouti and Ethiopia. Signing an agreement in 2019 to build the port of Habya in Somalia and rehabilitate the infrastructure in that region.Air transport bilateral cooperation agreements with Djibouti, maritime transport agreement with Somalia, an agreement related to the prevention of double taxation with Somalia, and bilateral cooperation agreements in the sectors of tourism, infrastructure and investment with Ethiopia.Strengthening cooperation with Ethiopia in the medical field in various specialties.
Military Emirates: Assab seaport and military airfield, which represents a major focal point in the Emirati military movements, whether in the theater of operations in Yemen in particular or the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in general.Egypt: Technical support in combating piracy with Somalia, in addition to enhancing military cooperation with Eritrea and transferring Egyptian expertise.  
Information Environment Egypt started to broadcast in Amharic language  (main language in Ethiopia). Multi-language media, such as “Al-Jazera”.


  • Along with the three major powers (USA, Russia and China) we find at the regional level three non-Arab states (Israel, Turkey and Iran) work to formulate the regional order of Middle East. Also, three Arab Gulf states (KSA, UAE and Qatar) seek to be in the game with them. Egypt is also there mainly for Bab El-Mandab Strait and Renaissance Dam issue.
  • This creates theatres of rivalry including other regions, mainly the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea.
  • Crack in the Arab league and the GCC escalate the level of regional rivalry for influence, but levels of rivalries are different although they are intersected. This difference of levels of rivalries leads to what I may call it as (lack of influence management).
  • Lack of influence management threats the regional security and increases the instability and chaos in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea.
  • Turkey is a very strong player not only in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea but internationally.


  • The politics of ports in the Horn: War, peace and Red Sea rivalries.


  • The Bab el-Mandeb Strait: Regional and great power rivalries on the shores of the Red Sea


  • Gulf state rivalries in the Horn of Africa: Time for a Red Sea policy?


  • SIPRI launches reports on the new external security politics of the Horn of Africa region


  • Djibouti: Playing the great game


  • The United Arab Emirates in the Horn of Africa


  • The great game in the Horn of Africa


  • Red Sea Rivalries: The Gulf States Are Playing a Dangerous Game in the Horn of Africa


  • Israel’s Comeback in the Horn of Africa




  • The Horn of Africa and the Gulf: Shifting power plays in the Red Sea


  • The strategic extension of the United Arab Emirates: Determinants, objectives and some implications for the Horn of Africa.


  • Personal multinational networks and relations.
  • Other open sources.