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Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia: The Dangers of the Gray Zone

Have Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia entered the so-called “gray zone” between war and peace, following the failure of the Kinshasa negotiations? Egypt and Sudan reported last week that the latest round of talks with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam ended with no agreements. The question of what will happen next looms in the air, especially given the international community’s lack of involvement in the dispute. The only county that expressed interest in the talks is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has taken a clear and explicit stance on the grave danger threatening 100 million Egyptians and 20 million Sudanese, who may find themselves in a drought. This goes without mentioning the potential risk to the African continent as a whole, which will have to deal with the repercussions and spillover effects of this situation. There is no doubt that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi demonstrated admirable leadership and resilience in his handling of this issue. El-Sisi repeatedly acknowledged Ethiopia’s right to development, growth, and prosperity – but demanded that this won’t happen at Egypt’s expense. On the Sudanese side, the statements of Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas did not differ much from what el-Sisi said. Abbas indicated that all options are on the table for Sudan, from going to the UN Security Council to the use of force. The statements issued by Ethiopia confirm the intentions of the Ethiopians to proceed with the Dam’s second-filling phase, without the slightest consideration of the numerous warnings headed their way. The Ethiopian mentality seems to revolve around the idea of unilateral action with no consideration to others. If people get hurt as a result of their project, so be it. Ethiopia was never interested in reaching a fair and just resolution with Egypt and Sudan. During ten years of futile marathon negotiations, Addis Ababa took advantage of the political turmoil brought about by the Arab Spring in order to promote its own interests. It rejected all efforts for effective mediation, including those proposed by the African Union, United Nations, European Union, and the United States. The Ethiopian intentions are clear and not hidden from anyone. The recent televised statements made by the Ethiopian foreign minister exposed Ethiopia’s plans to provoke Egypt and Sudan even further by selling the excess Nile water to other countries once the dam is fully filled. But whether Ethiopia acknowledges this or not, the fact remains that no one will benefit from a flare-up of the situation. The only way to avoid a full-fledged war is to work together towards a common solution that is mediated by regional and international players. A look at the recent crisis in the Suez Canal should suffice in reminding us just how disastrous a catastrophic dash into the unknown could be for the region and, indeed, for the world. –Emil Amin (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)