Flurry of Egypt-Sudan exchanges amid rift over Ethiopia's dam

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Egypt and Sudan exchanged a flurry of high-level exchanges over the past week, suggesting the neighbours are seeking to resolve a public rift over the dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile river.

Sudan was perceived to be favouring Ethiopia after failing to sign a US-brokered agreement on sharing the river's water and the operation of the giant structure. Egypt signed the accord last month but Ethiopia also refused, saying it wanted to reach a deal with the two downstream nations without foreign interference and that it needed more internal consultations on the issue.

As well as not signing the deal Sudan, which hopes to receive cheap power from the dam, last week insisted that its name be removed from an Arab League resolution admonishing Addis Ababa for not signing the accord in Washington last month. It said the resolution would create confrontation between the Arabs and Ethiopia and that it was not consulted before the resolution was drafted.

A phone call between Sudan’s transitional head of state Gen Abdel Fatah Al Burhan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi last week was followed by a visit to Khartoum by Mr El Sisi’s close confidant and intelligence chief Abbas Kamel. Over the weekend, Gen Al Burhan’s second in command, Gen Hamdan Dagalo, visited Egypt and met Mr El Sisi.

Official statements on the meetings made only passing reference to discussions about the dam amid flowery language on the relations between the two Nile basin nations. However, the intensity of contacts over a relatively short period of time suggests that an earnest effort was being made to bury the hatchet or at least narrow the gap between them.

A general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

A general view of the construction works at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

Workers are photographed at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

Construction workers stand next to a big rock wall at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

Workers walk next to a power shovel at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

A general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

A general view of the Saddle Dam, part of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Ethiopia, near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

A worker walks with a piece of wood on his shoulder at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

Construction workers work at night at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

Workers at the turbines construction site at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

A construction worker looks at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

A general view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

Workers perform measurements at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

A general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. AFP

Separately, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has been on a diplomatic offensive over the dam issue this month. He went on a nine-nation tour, mostly to Arab nations but also to Paris and Brussels, to brief leaders on where Egypt stood and to complain of Addis Ababa’s “intransigence”.

“Egypt has always been at the forefront in defending Arab national security. We expect our Arab brothers to rise in the defence of Egypt’s position,” Mr Shoukry told a television interviewer this week.

“Pressure must be exerted on the [Sudanese] transitional government to amend its position,” said Hany Raslan, a Sudan expert at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

Egypt and Sudan are bound by historical ties dating back to pharaonic times. But Egypt’s colonial expansion in Sudan during the 19th century and its hand in Britain's suppression of a pro-independence movement against Turkish-Egyptian rule in the late 1880s and the subsequent occupation of the vast country have hung over Cairo’s ties with Khartoum.

Relations have been on a rollercoaster since Sudan gained independence in 1956, with the neighbours often at odds over a wide range of issues, including a border dispute, Cairo’s support for many of Sudan’s authoritarian rulers and what many Sudanese see as its patronising policies and sense of superiority.

Sudan has been drawing closer to Ethiopia in recent years as Addis Ababa’s influence in east Africa has grown. Its border dispute with Egypt, meanwhile, leads to frequent bouts of tension as Egypt refuses to put the issue to international arbitration.

The dam dispute has been compounded by the absence of any prospect for future negotiations. An offer by Uganda to host a summit of Nile basin nations to resolve the matter has yet to make headway.

Updated: March 16, 2020 08:56 PM

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