On the weekend, Egyptian President Abdel Fettah El-Sisi and the Head of the Sudanese Transitional Council (STC) Abdel Fettah Al-Burhan called for the enhancement of trilateral, regional, and international efforts to reach a definitive deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with Addis Ababa. According to a statement made by the Spokesman of the Egyptian Presidency Bassem Rady, both leaders underlined once again the need for an international quartet group initially proposed by Sudan, which includes the US, the European Union, the UN, and the African Union, in order to mediate talks between the two countries and Ethiopia, that has stalled for the past two months.
The Egyptian President traveled to the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Saturday to meet with the Head of the STC, which is the first time since El-Sisi has visited the country since the formation of the transitional council in August 2019. Initial statements prior to the meeting indicated that the summit will see discussions over means to cooperate and boost bilateral relations on the military, security, and economic levels, as well as talks about regional developments, most notably the GERD negotiations, security in the Red Sea, and Sudan’s border dispute with Ethiopia in the Al-Fashaga region.
El-Sisi’s visit to Khartoum comes at a time when Egyptian-Sudanese relations have been witnessing serious bilateral developments. Last week, Cairo and Khartoum signed a military cooperation agreement, stressing the intent of the military cooperation agreement to strengthen bilateral cooperation in security issues and preserve the national security of both countries. The visit also comes less than a week after Mariam Sadek Al-Mahdi, Sudan’s newly-appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, traveled to Cairo where she, along with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, called for international mediation on the GERD issue with Ethiopia, ahead of the second filling of GERD in July 2021.
Previously, in the last round of GERD negotiations mediated by South Africa, the former chair of the African Union, talks were stalled due to Khartoum’s objection to the methodology upon which the talks had been held. The recent change in Sudan’s approach has drawn Cairo and Khartoum together as Ethiopia unilaterally seeks to begin the second filling of the controversial dam. As a result, both countries warned that the water security of Egypt and Sudan will be at risk if Ethiopia goes forth with the second filling of GERD without reaching a legally binding agreement. Both countries have perceived the issue as a matter of national concern as they rely heavily on the flow of water coming from the Nile.
On the other hand, Ethiopia has argued that negotiations do not require the involvement of foreign bodies and that the African Union’s mediation, under the chairmanship of DR Congo, would be compromised. Some have seen this stance from Addis Ababa as a way to keep the GERD issue as a regional concern to be solved within the region itself, especially considering Cairo’s close relations with Washington as a geostrategic partner.