Egypt backs Sudan’s call to internationalise dispute with Ethiopia

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Cairo supports the formation of an “international quartet” including the US, the European Union, the UN and the African Union to facilitate reaching a deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.
Thursday 25/02/2021
Sudan’s water and irrigation minister Yasser Abbas gives an interview at his office in the capital Khartoum on February 6, 2021. (AFP)
Sudan’s water and irrigation minister Yasser Abbas gives an interview at his office in the capital Khartoum on February 6, 2021. (AFP)

CAIRO--Egypt said Wednesday it has endorsed a Sudanese proposal to internationalise arbitration in a years-long dispute with Ethiopia over a massive dam Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Cairo backs the formation of an “international quartet” including the US, the European Union, the UN and the African Union to facilitate reaching a deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.

The dispute centres on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries would settle any future disputes. Egypt and Sudan also call for a legally binding agreement on the dam’s filling and operation, while Ethiopia insists on guidelines.

Shoukry said Egypt wants to develop the negotiating mechanism to reach a “legally binding agreement at the earliest possible opportunity.”

He announced Egypt’s position during a meeting Wednesday in Cairo with Alphonse Ntumba Luaba, the coordination of Democratic Republic of the Congo’s current leadership of the African Union.

There were no immediate comments from Washington, Brussels or the UN.

Sudan has announced its proposal earlier this year after AU-led talks failed to achieve progress. Since then, Khartoum has become vocal against Ethiopia’s plans to start the second filling during the next rainy season.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said earlier this month that the dam threatens at least 20 million Sudanese, roughly half the country’s population.

Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on the dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River. The Blue Nile meets with the White Nile in central Sudan from where the Nile winds northward through Egypt and flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

There was no comment from Ethiopia that had left a US-led attempt to mediate the dispute, alleging bias. The administration of former US President Donald Trump last year sanctioned Ethiopia over the dam’s first filling before reaching a deal with Egypt and Sudan.

On Friday, US President Joe Biden’s administration said it has de-linked the sanctions from the dam dispute.

About 85% of the Nile’s flow originates from Ethiopia. Officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023, helping pull millions of its people out of poverty.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with over 100 million people, called the dam an existential threat and worries that it would reduce its share of Nile waters. The country relies almost entirely on the Nile to supply water for agriculture and its people.