CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday opened a strategic naval base on the Mediterranean Sea close to the border with Libya.
Egypt says the July 3 base will help it protect strategic and economic interests as well as helping guard against irregular migration as it works to boost its naval presence on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
“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.
The ceremony was attended by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Libya’s unity president.
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.
The base lies some 255 kilometers (160 miles) west of Alexandria, towards the border with Libya, a country where both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have played a key military role.
A state-run newspaper reported that the base includes an airstrip and a 1,000-metre (3,280-foot) long pier. It is spread over more than 10 sq km and has a 1,000-metre naval quay with a water depth of 14 metres and also has quays for commercial shipping.
The opening coincided with the eighth anniversary since Sisi led the military ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in 2013
The eastern border has been a key security concern for Egypt as Libya slid into turmoil after 2011, though it has beefed up its presence in the area.
Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, where Sheikh Mohammed is de facto ruler, backed the eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar in the civil conflict that developed in Libya after 2014, but Cairo has increasingly thrown its support behind a United Nations-led political effort to reunify the country.
Mohamed al-Menfi, who attended the opening, is part of that process as head of Libya’s three-man presidential council.
Egypt has also experienced tensions with Turkey — which backed Haftar’s western rivals in Libya — over maritime rights in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean. However, Cairo and Ankara have taken cautious steps this year to mend relations.