For a whole year, the negotiations of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam did not stand still, as Cairo announced in early November that there was no consensus on the methodology for completing the negotiations, and this was followed by a Sudanese decision to suspend participation until further notice, while Ethiopia is proceeding with building the dam.
One of the most prominent stops of the dam file was during 2020, last October, when US President Donald Trump called for talks about a “military solution” without an official comment from Cairo in exchange for an Ethiopian condemnation.
Sudan’s position since the dam was inaugurated in 2011 has been fluctuating, as its officials have always enumerated its great benefits, before the recent shift in talks about negative consequences that threaten its water facilities.
In this report, Al-Jazeera Net answers questions that haunt the Egyptians in this critical file, most notably what the negotiations have reached, possible scenarios, and the position of international mediators and Arab allies.
The first question: Where did the negotiations arrive?
The train of negotiations stopped last November, after Cairo declared that there was no agreement on the methodology for completing it. Sudan also announced a few days ago that it would not accept the second filling of the dam without an agreement, hinting at the internationalization of the issue as a last resort if no “binding and just” agreement was reached.
The failure of the African Union’s sponsorship of negotiations last August was preceded by Ethiopia’s announcement of the end of the first filling phase of the dam, after its rejection in early 2020 of the outcomes of trilateral talks sponsored by Washington.
Despite Egypt’s objections to the filling without an agreement, former Ethiopian Prime Minister Haili Mariam Desalegn revealed that the Declaration of Principles Agreement on the Renaissance Dam signed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in 2015 stipulated that the first filling of the dam would be in parallel with the construction, and that Egypt concluded the agreement knowing that.
The second question: What are the implications of the dam on Egypt?
From a technical perspective, the Egyptian academic Mohamed Hafez, a professor of dams and coasts engineering, summarized in statements to Al-Jazeera Net, the repercussions in two stages:
First: The rapid storage phase (3 years, according to Ethiopia’s assurances), and its effects will be until the end of 2023, and are represented in:
- A severe shortage of imports from the Blue Nile (it contributes about 48.5 billion cubic meters of 84 billion divided between the shares of Egypt and Sudan, in addition to 10 billion that goes to evaporation and losses annually).
- Withholding water in front of the dam implies a similar deficit in water imports in Lake Nasser, southern Egypt.
- When the storage lake in the dam reaches its maximum volume (74 billion cubic meters + losses), Lake Nasser will have reached approximately 150 meters above sea level, which is the dead storage level at which the High Dam turbines stop, noting that Ethiopia rejected an Egyptian request to maintain the level of 165 meters. Enough to keep turbines running and thus generate electricity.
Second: Post-storage effects:
The dam expert explained that Egypt will depend on the flows that reach it from other tributaries of the Nile, such as Atbara, Subat and the White Nile, sufficient to provide about 36 billion cubic meters annually to Lake Nasser.
Hafez indicated that the flows of the Blue Nile will be almost non-existent for reasons, the most important of which are:
- Ethiopia has cut 17.5 billion cubic meters to irrigate the vast agricultural lands surrounding the dam.
- The rest of the Blue Nile flows will not come out in the form of summer floods, but will be small amounts daily.
- These quantities will be seized by Sudanese and Gulf farmers who have bought millions of acres on the banks of the Blue Nile.
- Depriving Egypt from the flows of the Blue Nile implies a deficit in the Egyptian quota, estimated at at least 33 billion cubic meters.
- Therefore, it is expected that there will be at least 5 million feddans in Egypt.
- The course of the Nile turned into a small course during the winter period.
- The disappearance of the fish wealth due to the high acidity of the lack of sufficient water in the water course.
- The electricity of the High Dam has stopped completely, and the tyranny of salt water on the groundwater level in the northern delta.
The third question: What are the Egyptian scenarios?
Dams expert Hafez confirmed that the 2015 agreement of principles wasted Egypt’s rights and granted Ethiopia international recognition for building the dam, pointing out that Sisi’s refusal to present the agreement to parliament raises questions about its interpretations and annexes.
As for possible Egyptian solutions, Hafez stressed the need to leave the agreement of principles, and to resort to international forums and the Security Council instead of the African Union.
He also said that those options could enable Egypt to obtain its minimum rights in the flows of the Blue Nile, and to stop Ethiopia’s plan to establish a water bank for the purpose of selling it to Egypt.
The fourth question: Where are the mediators and allies?
Egyptian journalist Yahya Ghanem believed that the American mediator under the Biden administration and the Democratic Party would not be positive, especially in light of their bias towards black Americans and brown Africa.
Ghanem explained that Washington, despite the close relationship between Trump and Sisi, did not exert real pressure on Ethiopia, after it sponsored the negotiations last year.
As for the African Union, he said, “It is an entity practically controlled by African countries, and has biases for Ethiopia as the headquarters country.”
As for the Arab Gulf states, he emphasized that they finance, encourage and financially support the Ethiopian file, including those who rented vast lands in Ethiopia to be cultivated with regular irrigation as one of the results of the construction of the Renaissance Dam.
Ghanem considered that the Gulf’s dealings with the fateful Egyptian issue as an “investment issue represent death and devastation for Egypt, and therefore these cannot be described as an ally, at least for this project.”
The fifth question: What are the repercussions of the Ethiopian conflict on the construction of the dam?
According to Ghanem, the conflict in Ethiopia is actually taking place in the Tigray region, which is not geographically far from the dam, but it is not adjacent to it.
He added that it is possible that the conflict will affect in the medium term, as a result of severe injustice on the rights of the Tigrayans, but it will have an effect in terms of operation and not construction, especially since the dam has ended most of its construction operations that make it qualified for work.
The Egyptian journalist stressed the difficulty of military dealing with the dam as a building and a physical entity once it starts operating, indicating that the Egyptian position is committed to underlying causes and a lax position in dealing seriously with the dam.
The sixth question: Why did Sudan’s position swing?
The writer Ghanem attributed what he described as the fluctuation of the Sudanese position to 3 reasons, namely:
- A large part of the Sudanese collective consciousness and culture sees the history of their country and Egypt as an occupation and not an organic relationship organized in the form of one state.
- Conflict over the issue of priorities and circles of belonging, as the African consideration has become advanced and growing at the expense of the Arab circle over the past two decades.
- Sudanese experts have promoted that the dam will bear more positive than negative results, and this is “a very short view, as the damage to Sudan is not as light as it is promoting.”