Will the Arab League stance help or worsen the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam negotiations?


In a statement issued on February 2, 2021, the Arab League called on Ethiopia to respect the historic right of Egypt and Sudan and to refrain from disrupting negotiations between them. It recently reaffirmed its position on the event even while the current political crisis between Sudan and Ethiopia is exacerbating, rather than the Renaissance Dam. In light of this, the argument remains as to whether the League is assisting in the negotiations between these countries or igniting differences of opinion.

The Arab League was founded in 1945. The main objectives of the league are to safeguard the sovereignty of member states, to strengthen their ties, and to work hard in the interests of the Arab world. The league is known for negotiating on issues with in the Arab world as well as for its decision to suspend non-compliant countries in accordance with the league agreement. 

Since the establishment of the institute focuses solely on Arab affairs, it defends the interests of member states in their relations with other countries. Although, over time, flexibility has been observed in some positions, it has always been to ensure the interest of the Arab state. For example, Egypt’s withdrawal from the Arab League in 1979 was due to an agreement reached with Israel, which was not repeated in the United Arab Emirates’ agreement with Israel in 2020. However, such a position is not applicable to other types of negotiation.

The Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project is a good example for this. The League has seldom been appropriately flexible in the GIRD negotiations to streamline relations between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan inreducing political differences and establish good interaction. As a representative of the common interests of the Arab world, the organization has repeatedly shown solidarity with Egyptian right. This act indirectly plays a role in spoiling harmonious relationships rather than  narrowing the situation. While the member state wants to use the organization to exert political and economic pressure on other countries, the organization is also playing its role in making the issue a global phenomenon.

The Arab League is an intergovernmental institution of Arabic-speaking countries in Africa and Asia. The institution is neither continental as African Union nor regional as IGAD. It is an influential entity that connects the major economies of middle east and Africa, facilitates social and political interaction. As a result, even the most influential states in the region’s politics will abandon their unilateral agreement and continue with the idea of ​​the league. The recent renewed friendship between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia with Ethiopia can be raised as example. Although their relationship with Ethiopia is strong, they do not comment on the league’s decision on Ethiopia’s matter as strong culture of political solidarity built in the intuition.

This approach let the league to exclude continental, regional and international issues on the relation of the Arab state with other. The Arab League has met several times since the Sudan requested it to intervene in the construction of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in 2013.However, the league’s role in the Nile issue has not been effective since then. In reviewing the League’s stance on the case in November 2017, it  said Ethiopia was not cooperating, and in a letter to the Ethiopian government in 2019, the Arab Parliament duplicated the resolution on the Renaissance dam crisis continues to support Egypt’s historic water rights and, in July 2020, a few months ago, requested Ethiopia to delay filling the water. This is further illustrated by the recent release on February 2 in which the league has warned Ethiopia about water rights in Egypt and Sudan.

Why is the organization still fighting for Egypt and Sudan? Is the position of  Egypt and Sudan justified under international law or it is protecting the solidarity? The League has never tried to investigate the stance of Egypt or Sudan through ongoing negotiations, but has continued to blame Ethiopia for the frequent breakdown of negotiations. During all this time, no attempt was made to reconcile the interests of the three countries, which is at the root of the failure of the negotiations. Now the fundamental question is what role an organization governed by such a political philosophy can play in regional negotiations.

This approach will only derail or delay the negotiation process between the three countries.  The Arab League needs to reconsider its position on this regional issue. If it cannot be balanced, it must be neutral. Otherwise, the ongoing negotiations could be hampered. The Arab League will not be able to assist in matters related to Egypt’s grievances and Sudan’s roar unless it conducts a proper investigation.

Chen Xi, PhD
Chen Xi, PhD
Lecturer in the School of International and Public Affairs of Jilin University


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