Egypt backs Sudan’s new proposal on Nile River Dam

Egypt announced its support for the Sudanese proposal to develop the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam negotiations mechanism, by forming an international quartet for mediation and that observers believe aims to pressure Ethiopia to make concessions in the negotiations and sign a binding agreement between the three parties.

al-monitor Sudan's Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yasser Abbas (C) participates in a videoconference with his Egyptian and Ethiopian counterparts (unseen), Khartoum, Sudan, Nov. 1, 2020. Photo by Ebrahim Hamid/AFP via Getty Images.
Ahmed Gomaa

Ahmed Gomaa

@AhmedGomaa252

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Water Issues

Mar 2, 2021

CAIRO — Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry announced Feb. 24 Egypt's support for the Sudanese proposal to improve the negotiations mechanism over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) by forming an international quadripartite committee for mediation, which would include the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the African Union (AU).

Shoukry met with the coordinator of the concerned work cell at the presidency of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alphonse Ntumba, on Feb. 24, where he noted that the main goal of Egypt's support for the Sudanese proposal is to move forward with the negotiations process and to help the three countries — Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia — reach the desired agreement at the earliest opportunity.

On Feb. 6, Sudan called for expanding the GERD negotiations umbrella, to include the United States, the EU, the UN and the AU, so their roles as observers can turn into mediators.

The tripartite GERD negotiations are still stalled. The last round of negotiations took place Jan. 10, but it failed to achieve any progress.

Egyptian Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Aty told El-Watan News Feb. 24, “Negotiations came to a halt after the last meeting following the disagreement over procedures and the role of the AU and its experts, and since South Africa no longer heads the AU.”

Abdel Aty explained that Egypt is discussing the next step in the negotiations process, since the United States, the EU, the AU and the UN will assume the role of mediators.

Former diplomats, analysts and observers told Al-Monitor that Egypt's support for the Sudanese proposal to develop the GERD negotiations mechanism aims to pressure Ethiopia to accept the new quartet mediation, and finally sign a binding agreement between the three parties.

Mona Omar, former assistant to the foreign minister for African affairs, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt backs the Sudanese quartet mediation proposal, hoping to bring about a change in the recent stubborn Ethiopian position.”

She said, “We need a solution to the Ethiopian stance; the interests of other countries and peoples must be taken into account. [Ethiopia] needs to be convinced of the importance of agreeing to a binding agreement that fulfills the interests of all parties. Cairo always adheres to the negotiations option as a basic solution to this crisis, regardless of the difficulties it faced so far, especially from Ethiopia, which continues to work on the dam without consensus.”

Omar noted, “Addis Ababa could refuse to introduce new mediation in the negotiations, or could simply keep at the method of stalling. The mediation would thus lead nowhere.”

Atiya Issawi, an analyst specializing in African affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor, “The Sudanese proposal is good. Egypt had called for the same so that the negotiations are not limited to African observers — because Cairo has doubts that the African observers will succeed in proposing solutions that Ethiopia could accept and thus end the dispute.”

Issawi stressed, “In any case, Ethiopia needs to agree to the new proposal; it would be as if we have done nothing if it does not end up agreeing.”

Article 10 of the Declaration of Principles signed between Addis Ababa, Cairo and Khartoum in 2015 defines the mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes, stipulating, “The three countries commit to settling any dispute resulting from the interpretation or application of the declaration of principles through talks or negotiations based on the goodwill principle. If the parties involved do not succeed in solving the dispute through talks or negotiations, they can ask for mediation or refer the matter to their heads of states or prime ministers.”

Issawi added, “Given Ethiopia’s current circumstances, be it internally or in its border dispute with Sudan, it will not agree to the new proposal on the quartet mediation.”

He noted, “Theoretically the Egyptian support for the Sudanese proposal is supposed to put pressure on the Ethiopian government to agree because it means that there are two parties against one. Ethiopia would thus be the one impeding a settlement to the crisis — but in fact, Addis Ababa does not care about this.”

Riccardo Fabiani, North Africa project director at the International Crisis Group, told Al-Monitor, “Cairo hopes to exert pressure on Addis Ababa by accepting the mediation proposal called for by Khartoum, but the problem is that Ethiopia has so far proven completely resistant to external pressures.”

He added, “Egypt is resorting once again to international mediators to solve the crisis because it knows that Ethiopia will go ahead with the second stage of filling [the GERD] regardless of whether or not an agreement has been reached. The only hope is that international pressure can push Addis Ababa to make some concessions and sign an agreement.”

Fabiani noted, “The Egyptians are counting on the new US administration, as well as on the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the new AU head, to play a role in resolving this crisis.”

US mediation efforts between the three countries had failed in 2020 after Ethiopia accused the United States of favoring Egypt.

However, Christiaan James, spokesman for the US State Department, told Sada Elbalad Feb. 9 that the United States will renew diplomatic efforts to solve the GERD crisis.

On Feb. 20, the United States announced revoking former President Donald Trump's decision to suspend aid to Ethiopia against the backdrop of the GERD, expressing hope for a diplomatic solution to this crisis.

Issawi said, “The [Joe] Biden administration could intervene to resolve this crisis for fear of it blowing up and disturbing the situation in the Horn of Africa, which would affect US and Western interests.”

Omar concluded, “We will remain hopeful until we reach the end of the tunnel and sign an agreement. We should not lose hope in the course of negotiations to ensure the whole process does not fall apart.

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