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Egypt’s intelligence chief heads to Sudan amid stalled Nile dam talks

Egypt’s head of the General Intelligence Service Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel visited Sudan at a time when Khartoum boycotted the recent Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam negotiations.

CAIRO — Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi dispatched the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel to Sudan on Jan. 4 to discuss regional files and developments in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations.

During his Jan. 4 visit to Khartoum, Kamel met with head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Vice President of Sudan’s Sovereign Council Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and head of the Intelligence Service in Sudan Gen. Jamal Abdul Majeed.

The meetings focused on bilateral cooperation between Egypt and Sudan in various fields and tackled the regional developments and the GERD file.

While Kamel reiterated Egypt’s keenness to continue its support for Sudan in all fields, Burhan praised Egypt’s role in supporting Sudan.

The visit came amid the faltering GERD negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, especially after the latter boycotted the last round of negotiations held on Jan. 4.

In a Jan. 4 statement, Sudan’s Ministry of Water Resources expressed its reservation over the new round of negotiations and called for holding bilateral meetings between each country and African Union (AU) experts and observers, instead of holding direct tripartite negotiations. Sudan believes the AU experts should have a greater role to facilitate the negotiation process and seek rapprochement between the three parties.

Hani Raslan, head of the Sudan and Nile Basin Countries Unit at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor over the phone that Kamel’s visit to Khartoum comes at a critical stage amid the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the mounting tension on the border between Ethiopia and Sudan. The visit also comes ahead of the second filling phase of the GERD scheduled for August.

Since the construction of the dam began in 2011, Egypt and Sudan, two downstream countries, have been seeking to reach a binding legal agreement with Ethiopia, an upstream country, on the rules for filling and operating the GERD within the framework of the Declaration of Principles on sharing the Nile waters signed by the three countries on March 23, 2015, in Khartoum.

The declaration stipulates that the three countries shall ensure fair and appropriate use of the Nile waters, shall not cause significant damage while using the Blue Nile, and shall promote regional cooperation and integration. 

The GERD has raised concerns in Egypt and Sudan over a decrease in their shares of the Nile water.

Raslan pointed out that the visit comes as part of attempts to strengthen Egyptian-Sudanese relations and create greater coordination regarding the GERD following Sudan’s recent decision to refrain from participating in the talks, which disrupts the negotiation process on the one hand and serves the Ethiopian side on the other.

He continued, “The Egyptian-Sudanese relations went through a long period of estrangement since the era of former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir until the fall of his regime [in 2019]. However, this relationship started to witness an improvement, as evidenced by Egypt’s provision of various assistance to Sudan during the period of floods that swept across Sudanese cities in August and its provision of medical aid to deal with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Egyptian-Sudanese relations have gained political momentum in the wake of the visit of the Egyptian prime minister to Sudan on Aug. 15, which was the first official visit by an Egyptian premier to this country since 2012. The improvement of relations came as the Egyptian-Sudanese views converged regarding the GERD agreement during the recent rounds of negotiations with Ethiopia.

Apart from politics, Egypt is implementing several development projects with Sudan, including the start of a feasibility study for a project to establish a railway line between Egypt and Sudan and the Cairo-Cape Town road set to cross through nine African countries. 

Also, the two countries share the Eshkeet-Qustul land port, through which about 75 trucks and 11 passenger buses pass per day, and the Arqin crossing, through which 15 cargo trucks and 60 passenger buses pass per day. 

In addition, there is an electrical linkage project between the two countries. Egypt supplies Sudan with about 300 megawatts during the first phase of the project due to be completed this year. By the end of the project, 3,000 megawatts will be provided to Sudan, according to the State Information Service website.

Heba al-Bashbishi, a researcher on African affairs at the Institute for African Research and Studies at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor over the phone that Kamel’s visit paves the way for Egypt and Sudan to issue compatible positions regarding the GERD, especially after Khartoum’s surprising unilateral position to boycott the last round of negotiations, which indicates the lack of coordination between the two countries regarding this issue.

She added, “It would have been better for the visit to take place before the [recent] round of negotiations so that the positions of both Egypt and Sudan had converged positions. They are both downstream countries and have common interests as far as the dam is concerned.”

“Each country might have been a little preoccupied with its domestic events, but I think that the coming period will witness a greater understanding between the two countries regarding many issues, chief among which is the GERD. What’s more, Kamel is admired in Sudan and his views are welcome there,” she concluded.

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