Is the Egyptian-Sudanese maneuver a prelude to strike the GERD?

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There is no new solution to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam issue, which has been stalled for years. However, the Egyptian-Sudanese military maneuvers have renewed questions about the options of how to deal with the GERD and whether it can be struck or destroyed.

This question’s answer is not known to politicians, analysts, and perhaps decision-makers in Egypt and Sudan. This option began to escalate with the failure of negotiations and the escalation of statements between the parties to the crisis, and Addis Ababa’s insistence on the second filling of the GERD lake without waiting for the results of the negotiations. The joint training programme, called “Protectors of the Nile,” involves members of the land, sea, and air forces in Egypt and Sudan. According to official statements, it aims to confirm it is ready for challenges.

Observers’ estimates varied regarding these moves, as some considered it the beginning of a military decision. In contrast, others considered it a mere tactic of deterrence, and it would not reach the point of directing a strike. Observers wished that it would deter Ethiopia so that Egypt would not actually strike the GERD. As soon as the announcement was made that Egyptian forces would be sent to Sudan, a state of joy prevailed among activists who considered that the military institution corrects the confused political messages.

Commenting on the troop dispatch, Professor of Political Science and a media figure close to the authority, Moataz Abdel Fattah, broadcast live on Facebook to say that the drums of war began to beat, calling on the Egyptians to rally around the flag, the army, and national institutions. He returned and softened his tone through his TV programme, saying that the forces did not go without a goal but instead took their positions in anticipation of an emergency.

This comes after days of controversy sparked by contradictory statements by Egyptian ministers about the GERD, as Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry spoke about the lack of risk of the second filling of the GERD. These statements seemed to contradict the speeches made by the Egyptian authorities over the past two months, which focused on warning of damages to the water barrier on the historical rights of Cairo in the Nile River.

Hours after Shoukry’s statements, the Egyptian Minister of Irrigation reaffirmed that filling the GERD is a shock because it will reduce the amount of water that comes to Egypt, especially if this coincides with drought. He explained that Ethiopia intends to store approximately 13.5 billion cubic metres of water during the second filling. Shoukry himself had to return to his statements and said that the second filling of the GERD without reaching an agreement “would be contrary to the agreement of principles concluded between the three countries in 2015,” and that “Egypt has always declared that it will not be complacent in defending its interests and its share of water.”

Activists demanded that the dam be struck because Egypt has no option today and not tomorrow, except for legitimate self-defence by destroying the Ethiopian dam and stopping the second filling forever. “There is no compromise; destroying the dam or destroying Egypt,” said former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, a current opponent of the authorities. “Let us learn from the heroes of Palestine the difference between the honour of resistance and the humiliation of surrender.”

Political science professor Hassan Nafaa also confirmed that the Egyptians had not forgotten the Ethiopian dam crisis despite their natural preoccupation in recent days with the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people. He expressed his belief that the overwhelming majority of Egyptian people still believed that the success of Ethiopia in completing the second filling without an agreement would enable it to control the waters of the Nile and thus the lives of Egyptians forever.

As for the military researcher and analyst Yazid Sayegh, he considers that the Egyptian military move (by sending forces to conduct training with the Sudanese army) is “nothing more than a maneuver that includes hinting at military action against Ethiopia.” Sayegh, a researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut and author of the book The Officers’ Republic in Egypt, continues that we could also interpret the military moves as indicating an Egyptian willingness to assist Sudan in defence when needed, given the current tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia. Sayegh adds, “Besides, I do not think that Egypt has useful military options against Ethiopia concerning the Renaissance Dam.”

In turn, political and security analyst Ahmed Maulana explains the recent Egyptian military moves by saying that the regime is aware of the disaster that will result from the dam, so it is “trying to scare Ethiopia and push it to negotiate through steps such as organising joint maneuvers with Sudan or concluding military agreements with Uganda.” Mawlana believes that the Egyptian officials’ reassuring statements regarding the dam’s concerns “reflect the Egyptian fear of the international community’s reaction to launching any attack on the dam.” “If Ethiopia was not deterred, then the matter is left to assess the situation. Either the regime fears the veto of the major powers, or it will advance Egypt’s interest over any other interests.”