Suakin sits along Sudan’s Red Sea coast, a small grouping of faded buildings and historical ruins containing a proud fishing community. The town is a coastal village and the main attraction is the ancient ruins—some dating back to the fifteenth century—as well as the outer shell of a British fort that persists as a symbol of Sudan’s colonial past. In its prime, Suakin was a key transit point for African Muslims on the pilgrimage to Mecca, but with the advent of air travel the town has fallen from prominence, an abandonment only made worse by the collapse of Sudan’s tourist industry.
Yet in January 2018, Suakin was at the center of a rapid deterioration of diplomatic relations between Sudan and its northern neighbor Egypt, triggering talk of possible war between the two nations. In December 2017 Turkish President Recep Erdoğan visited Suakin ostensibly to inspect the large-scale restoration of the historical town financed by the Turkish government. Then a few weeks later, in January 2018, Erdoğan returned to Sudan to sign among many other agreements, a deal to hand over Suakin to Turkey altogether—just for tourism, both governments maintain—which Sudan’s neighbors have interpreted as an act of aggression.
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org