With His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, attending, the Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi opened Barnis Military Base (BMB) on the Red Sea coast on 15 January 2020. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed appreciated the base and equipment as a vital addition to Egyptصs military capabilities, a means to support free and secure navigation in the Red Sea and a facility to serve development projects.
The base is located on the Red Sea coast near the southern border east of Aswan and accommodates two naval and air bases, a military hospital, a commercial quay, a passenger terminal station, multi-purpose quays, new parking aprons, hangars, and container storage, in addition to Barnis International Airport and a salt water desalination station. Barnis, which took one year to build, is the largest base in the Red Sea area. Before BMB, the Safaga Military Base (SMB) used to be Egypt’s main naval base on the Red Sea.
BMB is one of three military bases Egypt has been building: East Port Said Naval Base and Jarjoub Base in Al Negeela being the others. BMB comes to join Egypt’s many military bases such as those of Ras Al Teen and Abu Qeer in Alexandria, Port Said, Suez, Safaga and Matrouh bases, in addition to military quays at the harbors of Damietta, Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, Mohammed Naguib Military Base in Al Hammam, Mersa Matrouh, the largest-ever in Africa and the Middle East, which opened in 2017 with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan attending.
The opening of Barnis military Base holds strategic significance for the following reasons:
The Red Sea is strategically significant, since it connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean across the Gulf of Aden, and controls the Suez Canal and Bab Al Mandab, two of the most important marine straits. The new military base, hence, helps secure international navigation in the Red Sea and neutralise the dangers of piracy and terrorism, especially with threats by Yemen’s Houthis to Bab Al Mandab Strait. Great strategic importance is attached to this Strait for world economy and international trade: it is the fourth largest waterway (after the Straits of Hormuz, Malaga and Suez Canal) in the world and fourth largest waterway in terms of oil barrels passing on daily basis. More than 21,000 vessels representing 7% of international navigation pass through the Red Sea annually. It is particularly important for Egypt considering the fact that 98% of goods and ships crossing the Suez Canal pass through the Red Sea.
Accordingly, protecting the Red Sea, securing free navigation and neutralising any threat to the waterway serves Egypt’s interests in terms of national security. Barnis Military Base is capable of providing this protection, citing its geographical proximity to the Red Sea.
Great significance is attached to Barnis Military Base which is part of Egypt’s military “Southern Fleet”. It was built in 2017 to tighten Egypt’s grip on its marine borders and territorial waters by the northern fleet in the Mediterranean Sea and the southern fleet in the Red Sea. BMB will also help provide military protection to development projects in the Rea Sea area, notably the harbors of Safaga and Arqeen. Before the opening of BMB, Egypt used to have Safaga Base as the only one in southern Red Sea. So, another base was imperative to alleviate pressure on Safaga Base and render the southern fleet more effective.
The opening of this huge military base represents a strategic move on the part of Egypt to counter threats to it and the Arab world by the Turkish and Iranian presence in Africa in general and the Horn of Africa in particular. Turkey opened a military base in Somalia in September 2017. The base, the largest Turkish military base outside the country, overlooks the Indian Ocean and is not far from the Gulf of Aden and the Bab Al Mandab Strait. In addition to Turkey, Iran is taking a big interest in securing a foothold in the Horn of Africa by using its economic and cultural relations in the region, which is a sure threat to Egypt’s and Arabian national security. Israel, on its part, is working to secure economic, military and security presence in the Horn of Africa, which connects the Red Sea and Israel’s Port of Ilat in the northern Red Sea.
There is an important message in the timing. The Barnis Military Base (BMB) opened just when tension is rising between Cairo and Ankara because of the situation in Libya. The Egyptian message is that it can counter the Turkish project in the Arab area, either in the Red Sea (where Turkey keeps presence in the Horn of Africa) or in the Mediterranean Sea (where Turkey intervenes in Libya and is trying to build coalition with Tunisia and Algeria). The same thing applies to Iran, as the opening of BMB coincides with tension rising in Arab-Iranian relations, coupled with the Houthi threat to disrupt navigation in the Bab Al Mandab Strait.
Rock-solid Emirati-Egyptian Coalition. One of the most important outcomes of BMB is showing the strength of the UAE-Egyptian pact, which reflects the commitment of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to attend the opening ceremony and sit side by side with the Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi. Also attending the opening ceremony were His Highness Prince Khaled bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense, His Highness Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, representative of His Majesty the King for Charity Works and Youth Affairs, Chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports and President of Bahrain Olympic Committee. This reflects the strength of the UAE-Egyptian-Saudi-Bahraini coalition.
» By: Nermin Abdul Hamid (Researcher in Political and Strategic Affairs)