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Friday, April 23, 2021

Egypt president El-Sisi visits Sudan amid rapprochement

CAIRO: Egypt’s president arrived in Sudan on Saturday, his first visit to the country since a popular uprising led to the military’s overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in 2019.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi landed at Khartoum international airport and headed to a meeting with Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling Sovereign Council, at the presidential palace. There, they inspected a military guard of honor.

The Egyptian leader was scheduled to discuss with Sudanese officials an array of issues, including economic and military ties and the two nations’ dispute with Ethiopia over a massive dam it is building on the Blue Nile, Egypt’s presidency said.

The visit came amid a rapprochement between the two governments. Egypt has in recent years sought to rebuild ties with its southern neighbor, an effort that has intensified since Al-Bashir’s ouster in April 2019. Top civilian and military officials from both nations have exchanged regular visits. The countries signed an agreement last week to strengthen their military cooperation.

During Al-Bashir’s era, relations between Sudan and Egypt suffered from sporadic tensions. These included the revival of a longstanding dispute over a border territory, the Halayeb Triangle, which is held by Egypt and claimed by Sudan.

Though decade-long negotiations, the two countries have repeatedly failed to reach a three-party deal with Ethiopia over its massive dam.

Cairo and Khartoum have recently called for internationalizing the dispute, to include the US, the European Union, the UN and the African Union to facilitate reaching a deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.

Khartoum has become vocal against Ethiopia’s plans to start a second filling during the next rainy season. Sudan’s government has said that the dam threatens at least 20 million Sudanese, more than half the country’s population, if Ethiopia started to fil and operate the dam without coordination.

Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on the dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River. The Blue Nile meets with the White Nile in central Sudan. From there, the Nile winds northward through Egypt and flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with over 100 million people, has called the dam an existential threat and worries that it would reduce its share of Nile waters. The country relies almost entirely on the Nile to supply water for agriculture and its people.

About 85% of the Nile’s flow originates from Ethiopia. Ethiopian officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023, helping pull millions of its people out of poverty.

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