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UAE’s Ambitious Plan: Establishing a New Colony in Egypt

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The UAE’s acquisition of the Ras El Hekma region in Egypt and its complete purchase have sparked controversy and objections, amid revelations of a questionable plan by Abu Dhabi to transform the area into a colony within Egyptian territory.

The Egyptian-American space scientist and NASA researcher, Essam Hajji, disclosed that the UAE is planning to transform the Ras al-Hikma area, which it purchased from Egypt, into a commercial zone and port on the Mediterranean Sea, akin to the British colony of Gibraltar in Spain.

Hajji confirmed in his official account on the X platform: “Most of us do not know much about Ras El Hekma and some believe that it is just a coastal area like the rest of the resorts that have no strategic value.”

He said, “But with a careful look at the natural characteristics of the Ras El Hekma area, it is clear that it is planned to be a commercial area and a strategic port similar to Jebel Ali in the Emirates or the British colony of Gibraltar in Spain.”

He added that the new port “will be a maritime area competing with the port of Alexandria and will become a focal point on the navigation route to and from the Suez Canal.”

Hajji mentioned the most important features of the Ras al-Hikma area, from which “you can see the sunset and sunrise over the sea, the lowest rate of beach erosion on the entire northern coast, the fact that both the eastern and western coasts are suitable to be a port, the proximity to energy sources in Libya, and a weak population density.”

He added that the new port “will be a maritime area competing with the port of Alexandria and will become a focal point on the navigation route to and from the Suez Canal.”

Hajji highlighted the key attributes of the Ras al-Hikma area, noting that it offers views of both sunrise and sunset over the sea, has the lowest beach erosion rate along the entire northern coast, features suitable eastern and western coasts for port development, is close to energy sources in Libya, and has a sparse population density.

Last February 23, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced the signing of an agreement, “the largest direct investment deal” in its history, worth $35 billion, in partnership with the UAE, for the development of the Ras El Hekma region in the west of the country.

Last February 23, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced the signing of an agreement, “the largest direct investment deal” in its history, worth $35 billion, in partnership with the UAE, for the development of the Ras El Hekma region in the west of the country.

Madbouly explained at the time that “the first part, foreign direct investment worth $35 billion, will be transferred to the state within two months, including the first installment of $15 billion, followed two months later by the second installment of $20 billion.”

The project will include “the establishment of hotels, entertainment projects, tourist resorts, a financial and business district, and the establishment of an international airport south of the city,” according to the Egyptian Prime Minister.

A research study previously monitored the UAE’s deployment of military bases in eight countries to serve its plots to gain influence and suspicious expansion, especially in the Red Sea region.

A study by the Carnegie Center for International Peace highlighted that the UAE has established military bases in Yemen, Eritrea, Somaliland, Puntland (Puntland), Somalia, Chad, Libya, and Egypt since mid-2010.

It reported that due to the worsening security situation in the Red Sea region, caused by ongoing Houthi attacks on ships traversing this critical maritime route, there has been a growing international interest in establishing military bases and advanced protection centers to bolster control over one of the world’s most strategic waterways.

The study indicated that Abu Dhabi seeks to extend its influence in the Red Sea region and the coasts of East Africa by deploying a network of military bases that differ from their traditional counterparts and usually seek to contain neighboring powers or deter external attacks.

Reports published by the Associated Press in March covered news of the construction of a new airstrip on the “Abdul Kuri” island of the “Socotra” archipelago, located in the Gulf of Aden in Yemen.

Although no country has officially claimed responsibility for these construction activities, Abu Dhabi has emerged as a leading contender. Over the past decade, it has been notably active in establishing similar undisclosed forward military sites to advance its military, security, and economic objectives in the region.

It usually builds its military bases from scratch, expands existing facilities, or obtains a temporary use concession in allied countries.

This adaptable planning approach helps lower the material costs typically associated with these facilities and offers practical benefits, particularly in regions with widespread anti-government armed groups, such as Yemen and several African countries.

Although the UAE has not officially confirmed the existence of these bases, independent media reports, satellite images tracking Emirati activities, and UN documents verify the actions of the Gulf state.

This intense focus on secrecy might stem from the UAE’s concern about its political standing and reputation being jeopardized. This could occur either among the local populations of the countries where it is expanding militarily, who may oppose the Emirati presence, or within the international community, particularly when UAE facilities are used to support one of the warring factions in conflict-ridden regions.

The study indicated that the changes in UAE military bases abroad reflect the change in the perspective of UAE foreign policy since 2011. It is no secret that Abu Dhabi usually does not hesitate to rush to transfer its military equipment when its regional priorities change.

Following the Arab Spring revolutions, particularly between 2016 and 2019, key UAE military installations like the Al-Jufra and Al-Khadim air bases and the Assab military base were instrumental in providing the logistical support needed by Abu Dhabi and its allied forces in Libya and Yemen.

When the Emirati intervention in these wars ended, these bases were dismantled or converted to other uses, as happened in the Berber military base that was scheduled to be established in Somaliland and which was converted into a civilian airport.

The UAE’s main goal in establishing these military sites, especially in the Red Sea and western Indian Ocean region, maybe to protect the waterways from Houthi attacks, Somali piracy, and the increasing activity of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State on the eastern coast of Africa.

The UAE has growing economic interests not only in the waterways of the Red Sea but also in the eastern Mediterranean and Africa.

Therefore, it spared no effort to protect its economic and military interests alike in the face of any threat, prompting it since 2023 to deploy its military bases not only in Abd al-Kouri, Yemen but also in Kismayo (Somalia) and Am Djarass on the Chad-Sudan border, where it established an airbase, according to analysis.

The UAE is usually keen to conclude cooperation agreements and conduct joint military training with local forces in the countries in which it intends to establish its military bases.

Since 2012, it has trained Puntland’s maritime police force to combat piracy, and opened a base in the coastal city of Bosaso in 2022.

Before it began building military centers in Kismayo and Amjaras, the UAE signed two security agreements with Somalia and Chad, which include its commitment to provide military training to combat terrorism.

However, the UAE expansion in building defense capabilities carries inherent risks, including placing Emirati forces on the front lines and exposing them to targeting. This was evident last February when three Emirati soldiers were killed in Somalia by Al-Shabaab fighters at a training center in Mogadishu.

Aside from the security risks, the Emirati strategy of establishing military bases has influential geopolitical consequences, especially in the Arabian Gulf region.

UAE military activity fuels the flame of competition for power with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which share some strategic goals with the UAE, such as ensuring maritime security and providing military training.

The study indicated that the UAE and Qatar have sought, since 2011, to expand their sphere of influence throughout the Horn of Africa, an intense competitive endeavor contained in the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2021.

However, the recent defense and economic agreements between Turkey and Somalia reignited the flames of competition and caused the UAE to suspend the payment of salaries to several Somali army units in response to the agreement and to the Al-Shabaab attack against its forces.

Yemen and Saudi Arabia share different areas of military influence – sometimes in the same governorate – and both countries fund military sites run by allied local forces.

The study concluded by stating: “It appears that with the construction of the Abdul Kuri Air Base, the UAE does not intend to abandon its plans to establish military centers that will help it maintain and expand its military role in Africa and the Red Sea region, but this expansion will require Abu Dhabi to strive for a balance between its bold ambitions and its growing security responsibilities as a middle power.”