Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday opened a strategic naval base on the Mediterranean Sea highlighting its intent to project military in the region.
“It is the latest Egyptian military base on the Mediterranean, and will be focused on securing the country’s northern and western front,” the Egyptian presidency said in a statement.
Analysts noted that Sisi did not, as some expected, use the event to send direct warnings to Turkey, which keeps troops and mercenaries in Libya, or Ethiopia, which continues to challenge Egypt’s water rights by its building of a Nile dam.
The Egyptian seems to have chosen the option of de-escalation with his country’s rivals while sending an indirect message of military readiness for any contingencies through the ceremony itself, added the analysts.
The ceremony was attended by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and by the president of Libya’s Presidency Council Mohamed al-Menfi.
Conspicuously absent was Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the east-based Libyan National Army (LNA), despite reports he had been invited and was expected to attend.
The base lies some 255 kilometres west of Alexandria, towards the border with Libya, a country where both Egypt sees security challenges from Islamic militants and foreign powers, especially Turkey.
Cairo pays close attention to interests in next-door Libya. It has worked in recent months to boost ties with the new transitional executive emerged from a U.N. process that was launched in November in Tunis, then voted on in Geneva and confirmed by Libya’s parliament on March 10.
In April, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli travelled to Libya, where he had talks with interim prime minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah, in a new sign of warming ties between Cairo and Tripoli.
Dbeibah visited Egypt in February on his first official trip abroad after his election.
Sisi and his guests watched military manoeuvres involving several vessels, attack helicopters and fighter jets.
At the inauguration, two Mistral helicopter carriers acquired from France were on display alongside a German-made submarine and two recently delivered FREMM-class Italian frigates.
Naval forces performed exercises that included the firing of rockets, parachute jumps and an amphibious landing as Sisi and his guests looked on from the bridge of one of the Mistrals.
State-run newspaper Akhbar Al-Youm reported that the new Egyptian base includes an airstrip and a 1,000-metre-long pier.
The base was named “July 3” after the day eight years ago when an army-backed popular uprising removed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from power.
Egypt has three other naval bases in the Mediterranean and one in the Red Sea.
(This article was originally published in the Arab Weekly and is reproduced by permission.)