There are signs of a growing rapprochement between Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Ethiopia is adopting on the Blue Nile, which raises questions about the two countries’ options to besiege Addis Ababa.
This rapprochement came after Ethiopia announced the start of the second mobilisation in July, prompting Egypt and Sudan to request the internationalisation of the Renaissance Dam negotiations, which Ethiopia rejected, adhering to the Declaration of Principles Agreement signed between the three countries.
The sudden, recent improvement of relations between Cairo and Khartoum is due to a common threat represented by the Ethiopian role in the Renaissance Dam crisis. In addition to the Sudanese administration’s change and the army’s assumption of power, the two personalities Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Sudan’s Sovereign Council Chief General Abdel Fattah Burhan represent the two countries’ armed forces. They are closer to each other, especially in light of the common challenges they face.
After about ten years of “deadlock” negotiations over the dam, the Egyptian and Sudanese alternatives have receded in overcoming the potential “negative” repercussions on their shares and water facilities, at a time when Addis Ababa has made significant progress in construction and is waiting months after the second filling of the dam.
Cairo has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to the negotiation track. Still, the past months have witnessed an unprecedented diplomatic and military movement between Egypt and Sudan, culminated in military maneuvers and joint security agreements at a time burdened by crises in the region, especially on the Sudanese-Ethiopian borders, in addition to a civil conflict that has not stopped inside Ethiopia. With the receding of the alternatives for Egypt and Sudan, Cairo renewed its rejection of the fait accompli policy and called for the resumption of negotiations with a specified time, in conjunction with Sudanese rhetoric about the dangerous effects of the second filling of the dam on millions of Sudanese citizens.
In a joint statement issued in Cairo, during the visit of the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maryam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, to Egypt, the two countries affirmed their adherence to Khartoum’s proposal to form an international quadripartite committee that includes the United Nations, the European Union, Africa, and the United States to mediate in the dam negotiations.
The Sudanese minister stressed that Ethiopia’s implementation of the second phase of filling the dam unilaterally would pose a direct threat to Egypt and Sudan’s water security, especially concerning Sudan’s dam operation. They also expressed their fear that the filling would threaten 20 million Sudanese citizens’ lives and would be a material breach of the Declaration of Principles Agreement concluded in 2015. However, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Dina Mufti, said that his country rejects the internationalisation of the Renaissance Dam issue and adheres to the Declaration of Principles Agreement signed between the three countries. He indicated that the Addis Ababa option is peace to resolve the border dispute with Sudan, ruling out the two countries’ war outbreak.
Terrible Effect on Sudan
The Egyptian academic professor of dams and ports engineering, Mohamed Hafez, ruled out any effect of the second filling of the Renaissance Dam Lake on his country, explaining that Ethiopia will store about 15 billion cubic metres of the coming flood, and this reservation and storage will be disbursed from Lake Nasser (southern Egypt) to compensate for it. Hafez added that every billion cubic metres that will be stored in front of the Renaissance Dam would be withdrawn from Lake Nasser. Therefore, Egypt will not feel any negative impact of the second filling because it is withdrawn from Lake Nasser’s stockpile, which will lose this amount without compensation in the coming flood.
According to Hafez, the terrible impact will be on Sudan, especially the inhabitants of the countryside and villages on the Blue Nile, starting from the Roseires Dam (near the Renaissance Dam) to Khartoum, equivalent to about 20 million people. Hafez explained that the second filling of the dam would prevent Sudanese citizens from running the Blue Nile for nearly two full months so that Ethiopia could store about 15 billion cubic metres during July and August. He explained that in this case, the citizens of Sudan need to withdraw water from the groundwater to avoid the risks of water retention.
There are two options left for Egypt to face the potential negative repercussions, the first valid only during the period from the beginning of this March to the first of next May. It is based on popular pressure on the international quartet, including the Egyptian community coming out in front of these countries’ embassies and headquarters and organisations in Egypt.
During these demonstrations, Egypt should, according to Hafez, show anger and resentment over the world’s handling of the worst problem facing the country. He expected that the popular pressure paper would send a strong message to the rulers and officials of those countries and organisations, prompting them to put pressure on Ethiopia, stressing that without this pressure, these countries and organisations would not exert pressure on Ethiopia.
Hafez added that if America and the World Bank saw a noise in Egypt, they would pressure Addis Ababa, especially as they provide it with dam technology, financing, and power lines. He demanded that his government set a specific time, the last of which was 1 May, which is the second option, in his view, so that if diplomatic and political means did not succeed, then the Egyptian army should go to Ethiopia to destroy any obstacle that prevents the natural flow from the Blue Nile from reaching Egypt.
Hafez said that the final solution may be military and requires that it come when the amount of water in front of the Renaissance Dam is as low as possible, about 3.5 billion square metres, and that will be from 1 May to 1 July. These two months Ethiopia will allow some of the existing water to escape in order to be able to drain the middle section of the dam and its lake and build on it. Hafez added that this is the best opportunity for resorting to a military solution, noting that the Roseires Dam must be completely emptied before any military strike so that the water inside the Renaissance Dam is emptied without affecting the Roseires Dam.
Escalation of Egyptian pressure
In turn, the Egyptian writer and researcher in international relations, Ahmed Mawlana, expected the escalation of Egyptian pressure, including the idea of international mediation, indicating that Cairo is betting that the Egyptian-Sudanese escalation will push regional, international parties to intervene so that matters do not reach a conflict and war between the parties. He pointed out that the international powers are not in their interest for the East African region to witness a war between Egypt and Sudan and between Ethiopia, as its repercussions will be significant in matters of migration, security fragility, and the breakdown of authority and regulations in the region, and thus it is pushing international pressure to intervene in an agreement that is acceptable to the three parties.
As for the idea of forming an international quartet to solve the crisis of the Ethiopian dam, Mawlana stressed that it is possible if the major countries feel the danger of war, they will put pressure on the three countries to reach a solution. But he warned that otherwise, the option of escalation on the Sudanese-Ethiopian border would be likely. He explained that Egypt, in this case, is keen to improve its relationship with Sudan and support it in any possible conflict under the pretext of border problems.
As for the remaining options before Egypt, Mawlana believes that Egypt has a series of other options, such as supporting the Tigrayan rebels in the face of the Ethiopian government and supporting the ethnic groups that have differences with the central government in Addis Ababa and Amhara, which is currently in control. There is also the option to support Sudan militarily in the event of a clash with Ethiopia in the coming period.
Commenting on the Ethiopian announcement of rejecting the internationalisation of the dam issue, Maulana said that it is normal and expected in light of Ethiopian intransigence, expecting that the coming period will witness more verbal escalation and the threat of military mobilisation at the borders, and calls for external parties to intervene. He considered that the option of launching an all-out war or Egypt’s direct military operation in Ethiopia is unlikely because Ethiopia has gone a long way in building the dam.