How the Sudan crisis complicates the Egypt-Ethiopia dispute over the GERD dam

Special How the Sudan crisis complicates the Egypt-Ethiopia dispute over the GERD dam
1 / 2
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in early 2022 remains a source of friction among neighboring countries. (AFP)
Special How the Sudan crisis complicates the Egypt-Ethiopia dispute over the GERD dam
2 / 2
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in early 2022 remains a source of friction among neighboring countries. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 28 April 2023

How the Sudan crisis complicates the Egypt-Ethiopia dispute over the GERD dam

How the Sudan crisis complicates the Egypt-Ethiopia dispute over the GERD dam
  • A peaceful resolution of the row over Ethiopia’s dam may hinge on who emerges victorious in Sudan’s power struggle
  • Experts say a prolonged conflict could throw both Sudan and Egypt’s water and food security into uncertainty

LONDON: In the past two weeks the world has become used to seeing photographs of Sudan’s Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, whose forces have been locked in combat with the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces since April 15, dressed in battle fatigues.

On January 26, however, the country’s de-facto ruler was wearing a dark suit, blue tie, and a broad smile, in full-on red-carpet diplomat mode as he greeted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on the runway at Khartoum airport.

It was Abiy’s first visit to Ethiopia’s northern neighbor since the 2021 coup, led by Al-Burhan, that saw the derailing of the transition to civilian rule promised in the wake of the overthrow of the 30-year regime of dictator President Omar Al-Bashir in 2019.

The two men had much to talk about, but top of the agenda for Abiy was winning Sudan’s support for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the vast $4 billion hydroelectric project on the Blue Nile, just kilometres from Sudan’s border, that has proved controversial in the region ever since work began on it more than a decade ago.

The GERD is now 90 percent complete, and the coming rainy season will see an estimated 17 billion cubic meters of water retained in the fourth filling of the massive reservoir created by the dam.

Workers are seen walking at the site of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam  in Guba, Ethiopia, on February 19, 2022. (AFP file)

For millions of Ethiopians, half of whom have no electricity and still rely on burning wood for heat, cooking, and light, the dam is a symbol of hope, pride, and a brighter future. At a ceremony on the imposing dam in February last year, Abiy ceremoniously activated the first of its turbines, which began generating power.

When it reaches full capacity and all 13 turbines are feeding into the national power grid, the dam will boost Ethiopia’s industrialization, revolutionize the living standards of millions of its citizens, and earn the country badly needed income as an exporter of power to the region.

Ethiopia's massive hydro-electric dam project began producing electricity last year after more than a decade since construction work first started. (AFP)

Speaking at the 2022 ceremony, Abiy said: “From now on, there will be nothing that will stop Ethiopia. (The dam) will not disrupt the River Nile’s natural flow.” He noted that the start of electricity generation demonstrated “Ethiopia’s friendly attitude toward the river.”

The project was, he added, “excellent news for our continent and the downstream countries with whom we hope to collaborate.”

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during the first power generation ceremony at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in early 2022. (AFP)

Ethiopia has always insisted that, as the dam was designed only to generate electricity, neither Egypt nor Sudan, although both downstream, will lose any of the precious water supplied by the Nile.

But when the plan was first unveiled, it was condemned by both Cairo and Khartoum as an existential threat — both nations are utterly dependent upon the life-giving waters of the Nile, which have flowed down from the Ethiopian Highlands since time immemorial.

 A man rides a boat on the waters of the White Nile river in Sudan's Jabal al-Awliyaa area on March 11, 2023. (AFP)

More than once over the past decade Egyptian concern over the scheme has threatened to escalate into violence.

In June 2013, several Egyptian politicians were overheard live on television discussing military options to halt the dam, with proposals ranging from backing Ethiopian rebels to sending in special forces to destroy it.

In March 2021, during a visit to Khartoum four days after signing a military cooperation agreement with Sudan, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said: “We reject the policy of imposing a fait accompli and extending control over the Blue Nile through unilateral measures without taking the interests of Sudan and Egypt into account.”

A few days later he upped the stakes, declaring that “the waters of Egypt are untouchable, and touching them is a red line.”

No one, he added, “can take a single drop of water from Egypt, and whoever wants to try it, let him try.”

Egypt relies on the Nile for its very survival. (AFP)

As recently as March this year, Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, warned that on the issue of the dam “all options are open, all alternatives remain available.”

Since then, however, Sudan’s attitude toward the dam has appeared to ease, leaving Egypt increasingly isolated in its outspoken opposition to the project.

In Sudan in January, in addition to meeting Al-Burhan, Abiy also sat down for talks with Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, the leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, with whom the head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council is now locked in a bloody power struggle.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (R) walks alongside Sudanese Army Chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan at Khartoum Airport during a welcome ceremony on January 26, 2023. (AFP)

A statement issued by the council after the meeting welcomed the fact that Abiy had “confirmed that the Renaissance Dam will not cause any harm to Sudan but will have benefits for it in terms of electricity.” The two countries, it added, were “aligned and in agreement on all issues regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.”

But even as he worked to allay Sudanese fears over the dam, Abiy was walking a diplomatic tightrope between Al-Burhan and Dagalo.

Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, right, and paramilitary leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo after the signing of a 2022 truce. (AFP)

In December, a framework agreement outlining a two-year transition to democracy was signed between the two generals and some Sudanese pro-democracy groups. On his visit to Khartoum in January, Abiy had supported the agreement, tweeting that he was “pleased to come back again and be amidst the wise and vibrant people of Sudan,” and adding that “Ethiopia continues to stand in solidarity with Sudan in their current self-led political process.”

But a prescient commentary in February by the head of a Khartoum think tank highlighted the tensions between the two generals.

A prolonged conflict in Sudan has the potential of posing a risk on the country's ties with Ethiopia. (AFP)

Kholood Khair, the founder and director of Confluence Advisory, told Africa Report: “When Abiy Ahmed visited Khartoum, he lent his support to the framework agreement, which favors Hemedti.

“By doing so, he is trying to get both generals on board ... they have diverging foreign policies, they have diverging income streams, they have diverging political constituencies domestically that they play to.

“Because you have that inherent divergence between the two generals, you get different and unpredictable sorts of power plays.”

Those power plays have now exploded into a conflict which Jordan-based Jemima Oakey, associate in Middle East and North Africa water and food security at London-based consultancy Azure Strategy, said has serious implications for the future management of the dam.

Jemima Oakey. (Supplied)

“Informal discussions were looking pretty positive,” she told Arab News. “From recent reports, Sudan certainly seemed to be coming to an arrangement with Ethiopia, while Egypt had begun to accept its new water reality and had begun developing adaptation measures through increasing the number of desalination plants and rehabilitating its irrigation networks.”

Now, she said, all-important regional cooperation on the management of the dam, for the benefit of Sudan and Egypt, as well as Ethiopia, may hinge on who emerges victorious from the current struggle.

In addition to generating electricity that could be supplied not only to the 60 percent of Ethiopians who currently have no access to mains power, but also to Sudan and Egypt, the dam promises to maximize agricultural yields, in Sudan especially, by ending the destructive cycle of floods and droughts caused by the seasonal variations in the flow of the Nile.

Proponents of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam argue that it could stop the destructive cycle of floods and droughts caused by the seasonal variations in the flow of the Nile in both Egypt and Sudan. (AFP)

But the only way this is going to work, Oakey noted, was “through a data-sharing agreement where water availability and water releases from the dam are clearly laid out and fairly divided between the Nile’s riparians, both through droughts and periods of high rainfall.

“(Right now) we have no idea of what the position of Hemedti on territorial disputes in the Al-Fashaga region in northern Ethiopia might be, if he might try to claim that region for Sudan, or whether he would lend support to rebel militias in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

“Any of that could derail any agreements or understandings over access to the dam’s water flows, and really damage Sudan’s access to both water and electricity,” she added.

Ethiopian refugees gather to celebrate the 46th anniversary of the Tigray People's Liberation Front at Um Raquba refugee camp in Gedaref, eastern Sudan, on February 19, 2021. (AFP)

And she pointed out that such a development could also have serious consequences for Egypt.

“Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Egypt has been trying to expand its agriculture sector in order to become more self-sufficient in wheat production and make up for lost Ukrainian wheat imports, so they really need that water, and they need a reliable supply of it,” Oakey said.

“That’s why an agreement for water access and monitoring availability is so crucial.

“But if there’s a prolonged conflict in Sudan, that could really throw both Sudan’s and Egypt’s water and food security into massive uncertainty.”

One scenario, according to Oakey, was as unlikely as it was unthinkable, whatever happens in Sudan’s internal conflict: military action being taken by either side against the dam.

“Over the past few years there has been alarmist speculation in the media that GERD could be attacked in order to prevent its completion, but I seriously doubt that either side in the Sudan conflict would ever consider using this to secure a military advantage,” she said.

“There are now almost 73 billion cubic meters of water behind the dam. To destroy it and unleash that volume of water would inundate most of southern Sudan with catastrophic flooding, so no, no one is going to try that.”

A satellite image obtained courtesy of Maxar Technologies on July 21, 2020 shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the Blue Nile River. (AFP)

But some experts hope that nature gets the same memo.

The possibility of a catastrophic failure of the dam has been raised in several academic papers over the past few years. These have highlighted “the high risk of soil instability” around the GERD site which, as one recent study by Egyptian civil and water engineers pointed out, was “located on one of the major tectonic plates and faults in the world.”

Around that fault, they added, about 16 earthquakes with a magnitude of 6.5 or higher had occurred in Ethiopia during the 20th century.

The first and largest of the sequence of devastating quakes that struck Turkiye and Syria in February, killing tens of thousands of people and causing widespread damage, had a magnitude of 7.8.

Hesham El-Askary, professor of remote sensing and Earth systems science at Chapman University in California, told Arab News that seismic risks, rather than the current conflict in Sudan, were the real threat to the dam that the world should be focused on.

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

“What really bothers me now is the possibility of tectonic moves in Ethiopia, which is the most tectonically active nation in Africa,” he said.

There was, he added, also evidence that dams could “exacerbate tectonic activities and slippage.

“We saw what happened in Turkiye, when dams were opened to ease water pressure on the crust.

“With the changing climate, what Ethiopia is doing is really serious and, with the situation in Sudan, no one can guess how this will all end up.”


Battle for the Nile
How will Egypt be impacted by Ethiopia filling its GERD reservoir ?





After Pakistan alert, WHO likely to issue wider warning on contaminated J&J cough syrup

After Pakistan alert, WHO likely to issue wider warning on contaminated J&J cough syrup
Updated 7 sec ago

After Pakistan alert, WHO likely to issue wider warning on contaminated J&J cough syrup

After Pakistan alert, WHO likely to issue wider warning on contaminated J&J cough syrup
  • The UN health body said it puts out global medical product alerts to ‘encourage diligence’ by authorities
  • The WHO this week sent out alert on five batches of contaminated cough syrup ingredients found in Pakistan

LONDON: The World Health Organization is likely to issue a wider warning about contaminated Johnson and Johnson-made children’s cough syrup found in Nigeria last week, it said in an email.

Nigeria’s regulator recalled a batch of Benylin paediatric syrup last Wednesday, having found a high level of diethylene glycol in the product during routine testing.

The contaminant, alongside another closely related toxin, ethylene glycol, has been linked to the deaths of more than 300 children in Cameroon, Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan since 2022, though there is no evidence that these incidents are linked with the latest recalls.

The UN health body said it puts out global medical product alerts to “encourage diligence” by national authorities and was likely to do so in this instance, “subject to confirmation of certain details from parties.”

The recalled batch of Benylin syrup was made by J&J in South Africa in May 2021, although Kenvue now owns the brand after a spin-off from J&J last year.

J&J has referred requests for comment to Kenvue. In an emailed statement on Friday, Kenvue said it had carried out tests on the batch recalled by Nigeria and had not detected either diethylene or ethylene glycol.

“We continue to work closely with health authorities and the WHO and are engaging with NAFDAC to understand their test results, including verifying the authenticity of the sampled product, the testing methodology used, and results reported by the agency,” the statement added.

Since Nigeria’s recall, five other African countries have also pulled the product from shelves — Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa, where the drug was made.

South Africa’s regulator has also recalled another batch of the syrup, which is used to treat coughs, hay fever and other allergic reactions in children.

Diethylene glycol is toxic to humans when consumed and can result in acute kidney failure, although there have been no reports of harm in the latest incident.


In the 2022 cases, the contamination in the syrups came from the raw materials used by manufacturers in India and Indonesia.

The WHO said it was collaborating with both the manufacturer and regulatory authority in South Africa to investigate the Benylin paediatric syrup, and had information on the source of the ingredients used. Kenvue has previously said it tested its ingredients before manufacture.

The agency said the possibility that the syrup was counterfeit was also “under consideration as part of investigations.”

Earlier this week the WHO sent out a separate alert on five batches of contaminated cough syrup ingredients found in Pakistan that appeared to have been falsely labelled as Dow Chemical products.

It was the first alert the WHO has sent on excipients — elements of a medicine other than the active pharmaceutical ingredient — rather than finished products, the agency confirmed on Friday.

The batches of propylene glycol were contaminated with ethylene glycol.

“It was critical for WHO to also alert manufacturers that may have been procuring this material to exercise more caution,” a WHO spokesperson said by email.

Propylene glycol is not an ingredient in Benylin paediatric syrup, a Kenvue spokesperson said on Friday.

Polish flag carrier LOT cancels Friday flights to Tel Aviv and Beirut, PAP reports

Polish flag carrier LOT cancels Friday flights to Tel Aviv and Beirut, PAP reports
Updated 19 April 2024

Polish flag carrier LOT cancels Friday flights to Tel Aviv and Beirut, PAP reports

Polish flag carrier LOT cancels Friday flights to Tel Aviv and Beirut, PAP reports
  • Decisions about future flights would be made on an ongoing basis

WARSAW: Polish national airline LOT canceled flights on Friday to Tel Aviv and Beirut due to the unstable situation in the region, a spokesperson was quoted as saying by state news agency PAP.
“Today’s flight 151/152 to Israel from Warsaw and to Beirut 143/144 have been canceled,” Krzysztof Moczulski told PAP. He said decisions about future flights would be made on an ongoing basis.

French police arrest man who threatened to blow himself up at Iran’s Paris consulate

French police arrest man who threatened to blow himself up at Iran’s Paris consulate
Updated 47 min 25 sec ago

French police arrest man who threatened to blow himself up at Iran’s Paris consulate

French police arrest man who threatened to blow himself up at Iran’s Paris consulate
  • Police verifying man’s identity and trying to determine whether he had weapons

PARIS: A man who had threatened to blow himself up at Iran’s consulate in Paris was arrested by police, a police source said.

French police earlier cordoned off the Iranian consulate, Reuters reporters saw, and did not immediately confirm finding any weapons.

A police source told Reuters the man was seen at about 11 am (0900 GMT) entering the consulate, carrying what appeared to be a grenade and explosive vest.

A Paris police official told The Associated Press that officers were verifying the man’s identity and trying to determine whether he had weapons.

Police earlier said they were at the scene and asked the public to avoid the area but provided no further details.

Service was interrupted on a nearby metro line for security reasons, the RATP metro company said.

A police cordon remained in place on Friday afternoon, but traffic was resuming in the area.

A person at the Iranian embassy who responded to a call from Reuters declined to provide any information on the situation.

It was unclear whether the incident had any link to the escalating tensions between Iran and Israel.

Earlier on Friday, explosions echoed over the Iranian city of Isfahan in what sources described as an Israeli attack, but Tehran played down the incident and indicated it had no plans for retaliation — a response that appeared gauged toward averting region-wide war.

The incident also comes as Paris is gearing up to host the summer Olympics.

* With Reuters and AP

Blinken says US ‘not involved in any offensive operation’

Blinken says US ‘not involved in any offensive operation’
Updated 19 April 2024

Blinken says US ‘not involved in any offensive operation’

Blinken says US ‘not involved in any offensive operation’
  • ‘All I can say is for our part and for all the members of the G7 our focus is on de-escalation’

CAPRI, Italy: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday refused to comment on reports of an attack by Israel on Iran, beyond saying Washington was “not involved in any offensive operation.”

Speaking to journalists after a meeting with G7 counterparts in Italy, he declined to answer repeated questions about explosions in Iran, and reports that Israel had carried out retaliatory strikes.

“I’m not going to speak to these reported events... All I can say is for our part and for all the members of the G7 our focus is on de-escalation,” Blinken told a press conference on the island of Capri.

“The US has not been involved in any offensive operation,” he said.

Speaking to reporters earlier, G7 host Antonio Tajani, the foreign minister of Italy, said Washington had been informed in advance of the strikes, without giving details.

“The United States were informed at the last moment,” he said, adding that “it was just information” passed on — without saying who by.

The reports dominated the G7 Friday, with Tajani forced to change the agenda, but little public information emerged.

In its final statement, the Group of Seven ministers said: “In light of reports of strikes on April 19th, we urge all parties to work to prevent further escalation. The G7 will continue to work to this end.”

Israel had warned it would hit back after Iran fired hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel almost a week ago, in retaliation for a deadly strike — which Tehran blamed on its foe — that levelled Iran’s consular annex at its embassy in Syria.

Indians head to the polls in world’s biggest election

Indians head to the polls in world’s biggest election
Updated 19 April 2024

Indians head to the polls in world’s biggest election

Indians head to the polls in world’s biggest election
  • Polling takes place in phases over the next six weeks, with results expected on June 4
  • Over 968 million people are registered to vote, with 168.6 million casting ballots on Friday

NEW DELHI: Indian voters headed to the polls on Friday for the first phase of the world’s biggest general election, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aiming for a rare third consecutive term.

More than 968 million people are registered to vote, with polling taking place over the next six weeks, as results are expected on June 4.

After April 19, the other voting dates will be April 26, May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25 and June 1, with some states completing the process on a single day, and others having it spread out in several phases.

Friday’s polling was held in 21 states and union territories, including the most populous ones such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra, as well as smaller northeastern states and the northern Himalayan territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

In Kashmir, this is the first election since its special autonomous status and statehood were scrapped through the Indian government’s controversial constitutional amendment in 2019.

Chief Election Commissioner of India Rajiv Kumar told reporters on Friday that 168.6 million people were expected to cast their ballots on Friday.

“The preparations started, actually, two years back. Wide range of preparations … It’s a tremendous exercise,” he said.


More than 2,600 political parties are registered in the marathon election and 543 contested seats in the lower house of Parliament. The party or coalition that wins at least 272 is going to form the government.

Modi is targeting 400 seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014.

He is challenged by an alliance of two dozen opposition parties — the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, or INDIA, led by the Congress Party, which has ruled the country for close to 45 years since its independence in 1947.

The key leader of the opposition coalition is Rahul Gandhi — the son of Rajiv Gandhi, a grandson of Indira Gandhi, and a great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, all of whom served as prime ministers of India.

While the opposition is trying to appeal to Indian youth with promises to tackle unemployment, free education and medical facilities, the BJP has deployed the same tactics as in previous polls — by mobilizing voters through majoritarian Hindu sentiment, despite constitutional provisions that make it a secular state.

Opinion polls show Modi as frontrunner, with 48 percent of respondents in the most recent survey released by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies last week naming him as their choice for the prime minister. Gandhi was second, preferred by 27 percent.

“Modi has created an image of a powerful leader, a leader who is not only popular in India but outside too. He has also created an image of not pandering to Muslim communities in India … This image of a leader who does not appease the Muslim sentiments appeals to the Hindu masses. Politics of polarization helps Modi to build an image and aura among a large section of the Hindu voters,” Prof. Venkat Narayan, political analyst and commentator, told Arab News.

“Then the use of social media and the mainstream media is also there to create an image and broaden Modi’s appeal. The media plays a great role in creating this image, they are soft towards Modi and do not ask critical questions.”

If Modi wins the election, he will become the second prime minister, after Nehru, to succeed in three consecutive polls.

“Modi is leading in the polls as he has created an image of doing a lot for different sections of the society. Besides, he projects himself as squeaky clean. People also think that as he has no children, he has no reason to be corrupt or be on the take,” Sanjay Kapoor, analyst and editor of the English-language political magazine Hardnews, told Arab News.

“There are other reasons for his popularity, which include adroit use of media and social media that control all criticism against him. Then there are issues of raising India’s global profile and pursuing an independent foreign policy.”


Whoever wins the election, the foreign policy direction is likely to remain broadly unchanged, except for India’s orientation toward Israel and Palestine.

Support for Palestine and Palestinian statehood was once an integral part of India’s foreign policy, but in recent years, under Modi’s rule, New Delhi has become closer to Tel Aviv, despite civil society protests breaking out across the country against Israel’s deadly war on Gaza.

“If the INDIA alliance comes to power, then we may see a change in our policy towards Israel and Palestine. The INDIA alliance is sympathetic to Palestinians,” Kapoor said.

“We expect that the INDIA alliance will also restore ties with neighbors like Pakistan, (and) revive SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation).”

The member states of SAARC — a regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asia — are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

The last biennial SAARC summit was hosted by Nepal in 2014. Pakistan was to host the summit in 2016, but it was stalled after India refused to participate, following an attack on an Indian army camp in Kashmir that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based militants.


According to the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies survey, unemployment emerged as the top concern for 27 percent of respondents.

Some 62 percent also said it has been more difficult to find a job in the last five years — during Modi’s second term in office.

“The biggest concern remains inflation and unemployment. The possibility of getting a job decreases if you study more. People are forced to leave India in search of jobs. Some have even gone as far as Russia and Israel,” Kapoor said. “The situation is really dismal.”

Rising prices and inflation were also a major issue — the top concern for 23 percent of the people surveyed by the CSDS.

“Women and the middle class are concerned about the rising prices. Modi is trying to divert attention from these main issues by talking about religion and temples,” said Shashi Shekhar Singh, associate professor at Satyawati College at the University of Delhi.

The CSDS pre-poll also revealed that despite the ruling party’s narrative promoting Hindu nationalist dominance to establish a majoritarian state in India, only 11 percent of respondents saw India as solely for Hindus.

But there were fears the reality on the ground could change if the BJP tried to amend India’s liberal and democratic constitution.

“Indian secularism and the very idea of a plural democracy is at stake,” Singh said.

“There is a fear that if the BJP comes to power with the thumping majority, the liberal and secular democracy will breathe its last. The BJP might lead the nation further down the path of a Hindu majoritarian state.”