Egypt and Sudan military chiefs meet in Khartoum as Nile dam crisis looms

Gen Mohammed Farid Hegazy and Sudan’s Gen Mohammed Othman Al Hussein met at an air base

The chief of staff of Egypt's army and his Sudanese counterpart have held talks in Khartoum, Sudan’s armed forces said in a statement early on Thursday.

Gen Mohammed Farid Hegazy and Sudan’s Gen Mohammed Othman Al Hussein met at an air base in the Sudanese capital late on Wednesday night, the statement said, but did not divulge the content of the talks.

Gen Hegazy stopped in Khartoum on his way back home from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which currently chairs the African Union.

Egypt and Sudan have forged close military ties in recent months, signing a co-operation agreement and holding a series of joint war games. Gen Hegazy has been a frequent visitor to Sudan.

The two have long been locked in a bitter dispute with Ethiopia, Sudan’s eastern neighbour, over a massive hydroelectric dam Addis Ababa is building on the Nile less than 20 kilometres from the Sudanese border.

Egypt says the dam could deeply cut its share of the Nile waters, wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs in its agriculture sector and threatening its food security.

Sudan has warned that Ethiopia must co-ordinate on the operation and filling of the dam to prevent flooding in its eastern region and ensure its own power-generating Nile dams function normally.

Separately, Sudan and Ethiopia are at loggerheads over a border dispute in which Khartoum claims that Addis Ababa is occupying an enclave of fertile farmland where it has allowed farmers to settle under its protection. The dispute led to deadly clashes late in 2020 and early this year.

The growing military co-operation between Sudan and Egypt has meanwhile fed speculation that the two allies were prepared to resort to military action to resolve the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD.

Egypt, which has a far larger and better equipped military than Sudan, has warned of “unimaginable instability” if it was denied a drop of its share of the water. President Abdel Fatah El Sisi also said no one should think they are out of the reach of his country’s powerful military.

But Egypt has not publicly raised the prospect of military action since April.

Sudan has ruled out military action, but wrote to the UN Security Council this week asking that the GERD issue be discussed by the 15-member body.

Ethiopia insists the GERD is key to its development, arguing that the 6,000-megwatt dam will lift millions of its people out of poverty. It has often claimed over 10 years of fruitless negotiations with Egypt that the GERD is an issue of national sovereignty.