In late December 2017, Turkish President Erdogan and his Sudanese counterpart al-Bashir signed a number of bilateral agreements, including one providing for the temporary lease (for a period of 99 years)  by Sudan of the Suakin island to Turkey, for development by Turkish investment projects.

Located in a bay of the coast of Sudan on the Red Sea, the island of Suakin has archaeological sites dating back to the Ottoman era, and has also a port mostly used for carrying commodities and passengers to Saudi Arabia on the opposite side of the Red Sea.

This bilateral agreement is reached in a context of tense relations between Egypt and Sudan on the one hand, and Egypt and Turkey on the other hand. There is in particular a long-standing sovereignty dispute between Egypt and Sudan over the border region known as the Hala’ib Triangle, which is currently under Egyptian ‘administrative’ control, and has been again recently claimed by Sudan as part of its territory.

International legal issues

Although the text of the agreement has not been disclosed, it is likely that the deal qualifies as a ‘territorial lease’ in the meaning of international law, that is, an agreement by which a State grants another State, the right to use and exercise control over part of the former’s territory. Territorial leases raise complex international law issues, in particular in terms of sovereignty over the leased land (or territory) and international responsibility. It is unclear at this stage whether the Turkish military would be allowed under the agreement to use the port facilities at Suakin.