The complicated issues to be discussed by United States Special Representative Jeffrey Feltman with United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt are as big challenge as one can imagine but the stakes are high for all involved. The discussion will be pointed to finding peace in Northern Ethiopia between Tigray and the Ethiopian government but will also have to include stalemates in water use agreements of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and trying to resurrect the nuclear arms treaty with Iran. While visiting the three named countries discussion involving and perhaps under the radar are also likely to go on with Israel, Eritrea, and Iran.
Saudi Arabia and UAE continue to fight a proxy war in Yemen supporting government forces against Iranian backed Houthi insurgents which seems to be stuck in constant famine and civilian death but no resolution. This could be repeated in Ethiopia if no negotiated peace comes.
The United States has maintained targets for negotiation to fruitfully begin including Tigray forces withdrawal to its borders, Eritrea withdrawal from Ethiopia, free flow of food, medicine, and fuel to Tigray and the other regions of Ethiopia. It has asked for a clear and comprehensive investigation of human rights violations including those against women in Tigray and Northern Ethiopia by all parties by an unbiased body.
The United States has considerable power to negotiate as Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Iran would want to escape further sanctions which could be devastating. Egypt and Sudan are at the point of hostility to the point that they are not in a serious discussions with Ethiopia. Offering Iran a chance to re-enter markets may sway its selling of weapons to Ethiopia. The United Arab Emirates enjoys its sovereignty but its closeness with the United States is more vital then supplying Ethiopia weapons. Being good negotiators they no doubt will want some favorable concessions.
Ethiopia needs to decide if it wants to stay as a favored nation to the United States and Western democracies are move to the China, Russia, Iranian axis. With debts approaching $80 billion and no agreement in sight with China on repayment there is no doubt that many years of austerity lay ahead for Ethiopia even if it wins “victory” soon cutting its future economic development severely. Without negotiation there is a risk of civil instability going on for years with the consequent limited international interest in investing in Ethiopian development.
On the other hand Tigray will have make a promise to stay within its borders in return for guarantees of security from the United States and Western democracies. Tigray needs friends but that comes at the price of forgetting to attempt an overthrow of the Ethiopian federal government. No doubt what to do with Western Tigray will be a major contention.
In the ideal world, the GERD controversy, Sudanese-Ethiopian land dispute, and Tigray war could be tied up with less sanctions for Iran and Eritrea. Not everyone would get all they want but more war could be averted. We can only hope reason will reign over passion for all groups.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit Secretary General of the League of Arab States was quoted in Arab News saying that Ethiopia will “pay the price” for constructing the Renaissance Dam, which has caused a growing urgent crisis between Addis Ababa and Cairo as well as Khartoum. The Arab League is expressing complete support for Cairo and Khartoum in this matter. Increasing tensions are now extending beyond just Egypt and Sudan to include other Arab nations. He was at the Mediterranean Dialogues in Rome this week.
They are also seeing other countries supporting Ethiopia’s military efforts as being complicit. The Secretary General further explained that “It is a dam of ruin for two Arab countries (Egypt and Sudan),”, adding that the “tragic situation” facing the Arab world in recent times has given Turkey, Iran, Israel and Ethiopia an opportunity to interfere in the region’s affairs.
Founded in 1945, the Arab League is a loose alliance of nearly two dozen Arab countries that have pledged to cooperate on economic and military affairs, among other matters.
In June 2021 it sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council asking for intervention because of Ethiopia’s noncooperation with negotiations on water use from Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam to which Ethiopia objected. At that time the Arab League warned Ethiopia’s statement could undermine the friendly and cooperative relations between the league and the African Union.
A quoted source said that Ethiopia’s message contained many inaccuracies, but “the most dangerous thing was the clear attempt to drive a wedge between two regional organizations that have maintained close and solid relations.”
The complete lack of Ethiopian cooperation on Nile water usage is now Egypt’s greatest security threat. No Pan-Africanism sentiments here as Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Atti in his speech at the Planet Budapest 2021 Sustainability Expo and Summit on Thursday said “Ethiopian side deliberately issued false statements and managed the dam unilaterally, which caused great damage to the two downstream countries [Egypt and Sudan],” he added. Sudan, as a result of the unilateral filling last year, suffered from a severe drought, followed by a flood, he clarified. He pointed out that the Egyptians and others along the Nile have shown “great flexibility” in trying to work out a deal with Ethiopia. Abiy Ahmed has avoided meeting or discussing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam with Egypt since the start of Ethiopia Tigray conflict.
He and others in the Egyptian government have stated that the Nile River flow is a “matter of life and death” for Egyptians. They add the increasing demand for water while is it becoming a scare resource demand that agreement by all users of the Nile must be bilateral. Climate change and this scarcity are causing a crisis. Egypt is looking at sea water desalination and improving the efficiency of using water resources in domestic, industrial, and agricultural applications but this does not negate the absolute need for Ethiopian cooperation.
While trying to induce sympathetic feelings of Pan-Africanism from other African countries, Abiy Ahmed lead Ethiopia continues to stumble badly when dealing with fellow African countries, Sudan and Egypt. Their relationship with the Ethiopian Prime Minister is deteriorating severely. If anything they may be increasingly inclined to help the Tigray.
Leading Egyptian news source, Al-monitor, today reports that Egyptian Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Aty has stated that Egypt is increasingly finding the current Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam lack of agreement untenable. Despite numerous meetings with the African Union representatives, United Nations representatives, and leading world powers Abiy Ahmed has simply refused to talk further. There seems on the part of Egypt a growing call to act before the damn filling proceeds further. On the contrary, Tigray Presidential Advisor, Getachew Reda, held an internet video meeting with an Egyptian television network which warmly greeted and praised the Tigray.
In conversations with personal friends with connections in Egypt I am hearing that many in Egypt think there is a problem with the GERD. For the past two years Abiy Ahmed has promised electricity generation but it has not happened. Experts looking at the damn have informed Egyptian government officials that there is a fault in construction which will prevent it from reaching full capacity. This perceived fault and the potential for the Tigray to prevail in the current Ethiopia Tigray conflict have prevented military action by Egypt so far even though President Trump famously told Egypt to “bomb it”. Opinion polls in Egypt in 2020 carried out by Gallup polls show that 70% of Egyptians are concerned that GERD will affect their vital supply of water.
Earlier this year Sudan and Egypt signed a joint defense treaty and had war games in a show of force to Ethiopia. Sudan complains that uncontrolled water control has and will lead to further mixes of drought and flooding.
This year there has been growing incidents occurring on the Sudanese Ethiopian border known as al-Fashaga. Abiy Ahmed negated previous agreements for land sharing with Sudan leading to Sudan expelling Ethiopian farmers in December 2020. Ethiopia complains that Tigray Defense Forces have tried to enter from Sudan through this route. This week another clash happened with a disputed number of casualties suffered by Sudan when Amhara and Ethiopia as well as Eritrean forces entered al-Fashaga.
Even though there is current unrest in Sudan this damn dispute could act as a unifying factor for taking more action against Ethiopia. Many note that the relationship between Sudan and Ethiopian war partner, Eritrea, has been also damaged by Eritrea’s support of uprisings at the Port of Sudan. Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, has sponsored meetings and organization for opposition groups to Isaias Afwerki, leader of Eritrea, this past year. The defense pact with Egypt is a significant factor as well as some have theorized although not proven that Egypt is providing support to the Tigray military forces. Nizar Manek and Mohammed Kheir Omer noted authorities predicted in Foreign Policy that Sudan might ultimately align with the Tigray in November 2020 at the beginning of the conflict.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s problems with Sudan and Egypt are only getting worse by the day. Ethiopia remains in severe disagreement with Sudan, Egypt, and by alliance with much of the Arab league over who has sovereignty over Nile water use relating to construction of the Grand Renaissance Damn in the northeast west region of Ethiopia known as Beningshagul. Abiy Ahmed’s Eritrean alliance and land disputes with Sudan are also playing a big role in creating an increasingly adversarial crisis.
In July 2021, former Egyptian Minister of Irrigation Mohammed Nasr A’llam told the Al-Monitorthat Egypt was closely following developments of the GERD. They believed that the damn had some technical problems otherwise they might have considered military action against the dam at that time.
Tigray Peoples Liberation Front close advis0r to elected President Debretsion Gebremichael of the Tigray State recently appeared on an Egyptian Television interview to discuss the Ethiopia Tigray conflict and other issues. It appears he met a receptive and sympathetic audience in Egypt. Personal sources close to Egyptian leadership have told me that Egypt opted out of military action for two reasons, one that they believe there may be technical problems limiting the filling and secondly they look forward to a Tigray victory that will make for better negotiations.
The United Nations Security Council has discussed the issue without resolution for months. Apart from saying that Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia should have a binding agreement, in effect, giving standing to all three to which Ethiopia disagrees. Now it has referred the case to the African Union for resolution.
It is notable that President Debretsion was once the head of the Ethiopian Electrical Power Corporation and oversaw much of the GERD construction. Additionally it is now known that Tigray Army units have progressed northwest of Gondar in the direction of the Beningshagul region which has seen uprisings sympathetic to the same cause as the TPLF. Many speculate that the Tigray intend to open a supply route via Sudan.
Widely respected journalist Bashir Hashi Yussuf has suggested that Egypt is secretly supplying arms and aid to the Tigray via Sudan. This has also been raised as possible by Foreign Policy and other analysts. Sudan now has a joint defense treaty with Egypt. Additionally Ethiopia has demanded that Sudan remove its soldiers occupying a disputed region called al-fashaga which had been claimed by Ahmara expansionists supporting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Sudan claims the fertile farm area as its own.
Eritrean opposition groups to Esaias Afwerki, leader of Eritrea and ally of Ethiopia in the Tigray conflict met in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to discuss how they could remove the Eritrean government. They may also be forming an armed movement as well based in Sudan. Sudan has long standing problems with the Esaias regime regarding his support of the Grand Renaissance Damn and respect of Sudanese sovereignty.