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Saudi-Ethiopian relations strained by Nile dam dispute

Saudia Arabia favors the downstream nations Egypt and Sudan in the yearslong Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis.
People hold placards to express their support for Ethiopia's megadam on the Blue Nile River.

On July 6, Saudi Arabia announced its support for the water rights of both Egypt and Sudan and backed a solution to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) dispute, which has engaged both the Arab League and the African Union. This statement, which came just one day after Ethiopia began its second filling of the dam’s reservoir, added to the atmosphere of rising tension between Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. In June, 40,000 Ethiopian migrants returned home from Saudi Arabia in a two-week period, as they were forced to contend with a “hostile Saudi policy” toward Ethiopian guest workers.

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to undermine its relationship with Ethiopia by openly supporting Egypt and Sudan in the GERD dispute can be explained by two factors. First, this position aligns with Saudi Arabia’s broader principle of Arab solidarity during regional security crises. Abdalla Mosa Altayer, the chairperson of the London-based Gulf Futures Center, told Al-Monitor Saudi Arabia’s Arab League membership forces it to align with other Arab states. This explains Saudi Arabia’s support for Egypt during the Doha meetings on the GERD and Arab League efforts to adjudicate the dam dispute in the UN Security Council. Altayer also noted Saudi public opinion strongly favors an alignment with Egypt in the GERD dispute.

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