Diplomatic contacts are taking place to open negotiations that will satisfy the parties involved

Egypt and Sudan fear the advance of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

photo_camera REUTERS/TIRRSA NEGERI - File photo of the construction of Ethiopia's Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on September 26, 2019

Just over a month ago, Egypt backed a Sudanese proposal to internationalise arbitration in the dispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Dam, an infrastructure that threatens to deplete Egypt's water resources from the Nile River. 

At the time, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Cairo would support the formation of "an international quartet" comprising the European Union, the UN, the United States and the African Union, with the aim of sealing a satisfactory deal with Addis Ababa.

The water to be released by Ethiopia, for example, in the event of a multi-year drought, or dispute settlement mechanisms, are among the thorniest issues. While Egypt and Sudan are demanding a legally binding agreement, Ethiopia only wants to establish a set of guidelines. 

Mapa de África oriental que muestra el Nilo y la Gran Presa Renacentista de Etiopía

For now, Shoukry says it is essential to resolve the problem before the start of the next flood season. The Egyptian foreign minister discussed the issue with the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, in a phone call yesterday, in which in addition to the issue of the dam, they discussed other issues such as Libya and the bilateral relationship in the framework of the New Agenda for the Mediterranean, according to Borrell himself on his Twitter account. 

Shoukry insisted to the EU High Representative that Ethiopia's decision to unilaterally fill the dam jeopardises the stability of the region, with the negative repercussions that this could entail. For this reason, the head of Egyptian diplomacy calls for mediation by international actors.

Al-Sisi visits Sudan

In this context, at the end of last week, the Egyptian president travelled to Sudan for the first time after the fall of Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The reason for the visit was to discuss the economic impact of the Grand Ethiopian Dam on both countries. 

The relationship between Egypt and Sudan is in good health, as evidenced by the signing of a military cooperation agreement a fortnight ago. In addition, an air drill was launched in November. 

Shortly before Al-Sisi's visit, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam Sadek was received in Cairo by her Egyptian counterpart. It was after this meeting that they called for international mediation. 

"The water security of Egypt and Sudan will be at risk if Ethiopia continues with the second filling of the dam without reaching a legally binding agreement," they warned at the time. 

According to Sudanese government figures reported by the Emirati newspaper Al-Ruya, the second filling of the dam would endanger the lives of 20 million Sudanese living on the banks of the Nile, in addition to the Blue Nile and Main Nile drinking water stations. 

El presidente egipcio Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (derecha) reuniéndose con el primer ministro de Sudán, Abdalla Hamdok (izquierda), en la capital, Jartum, el 6 de marzo de 2021

The head of the technical department of the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources, Mustafa Hassan, told the same media outlet that the only alternative is to stop negotiations and withdraw from the Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, as a way of demonstrating the illegality of the neighbouring country's action. "Withdrawal from the Declaration of Principles cannot have negative repercussions, as this action is a consequence of Ethiopia's violation of the pact, especially since the first filling was done unilaterally, without conducting the studies specified by the Declaration, and for failing to complete the dam safety supplement stipulated by principle number 8 of the agreement." 

It called for "Sudan's participation in the management of the dam" as a possible solution "if the necessary conditions are met" and "issued under a UN Security Council resolution".

Justo en las afueras del norte de Jartum, el Nilo Azul del lago etíope Tana se encuentra con el Nilo Blanco del lago Victoria en el centro del continente y juntos forman el Nilo que termina en Egipto, que a la inversa ve la presa como un peligro para su seguridad nacional

Whatever solution is advocated, there is some haste as the second phase of filling is due to be completed by next July. The Nile, one of the longest rivers in the world, supplies drinking water and electricity to the ten countries through which it flows. The Blue Nile meets the White Nile at Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, and provides most of the Nile water that flows through northern Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean. 

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