Paris(ANN)A new regional council involving eight countries in the Red Sea corridor was launched this week with Saudi Arabia at the helm as a way to tackle piracy, smuggling and other related issues. The council aims to enhance stability in the region, but regional rivalries and notable exclusions from the initiative remain a key sticking point.

“It seems for the moment that the piracy/maritime security angle is a good way to initiate cooperation between the countries of the region while staying outside of the political issues that may divide them,” said Camille Lons, research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Middle East in Bahrain.

Foreign ministers from countries including Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan signed the charter of the Council of Arab and African Coastal States of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden on last month. All border the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden, but left Somaliland with a handful of players .

The regional grouping was initially slated to focus on a number of topics, including economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, and environmental issues, Lons told RFI.

“Under the Saudi leadership it has been re-centred around security issues,” she added.

At the council charter signing in Riyadh on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said that this new regional body would not create an entirely new defense force.

The idea for the council was initially announced in 2018 as a joint Egypt-Saudi initiative, as Saudi emerged as the lead after a juggling of interests, according to Ahmed Soliman, Africa Programme research fellow at Chatham House

“This is borne out of increasing engagement across the Red Sea, and interests from the Gulf states and others in territories across the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa region,” said Soliman, referring to the number of port projects that have started or are planned in Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somaliland.

The Red Sea corridor spans 2250 kilometres at its widest point, a key waterway that separates the Mediterranean from the Indian Ocean and beyond to Asia, as billions of euros in shipping trade pass through its waters each year. The fishing industry in the Red Sea is also a competitive one.

This key strategic waterway also retains an important political dimension, said IISS’ Lons.

New port projects in Red Sea corridor for Sudan, Somaliland as Arab backers jostle for position.

Radio France Internationale

By Laura Angela Bagnetto ,