Sudan’s new Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi has laid out her country’s foreign policy towards relations with Egypt and the tripartite talks that involve both states and Ethiopia over Addis Ababa’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Al-Mahdi was appointed as Khartoum’s top diplomat in January in Abdallah Hamdok’s new, 20-minister cabinet. Her family has a long history of political participation in Sudanese politics. Al-Mahdi’s father is Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, a former prime minister of Sudan and leader of Al-Umma Party.
Speaking on Thursday at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) — a meeting that was attended by Al-Ahram’s Chairman Abdel-Mohsen Salama, ACPSS Director Mohamed Fayez, the editors-in-chief of Al-Ahram’s publications, and political experts — Al-Mahdi said she was glad to visit Al-Ahram, praising the way in which the leaders of Egypt’s oldest media institution had welcomed her. She described the visit as “an opportunity to seriously and frankly discuss Egyptian-Sudanese relations and means of developing it in a manner that suits the scale of joint interests.”
Al-Mahdi called for creating an Egyptian-Sudanese dialogue to discuss means of developing relations between both states in the coming years. “My first trip was to South Sudan, my second was to Egypt,” stressed Al-Mahdi, adding that Sudan’s relations with Egypt “are strategic to the security of the region”.
“Egypt and Sudan are both signatories to many agreements. Moreover, both of us share African and Islamic identities, part of the Nile Basin group of states and members of the international community. We will deal with Egypt on this basis,” she said.
Despite believing that both states will continue to have “agreements and disagreements”, Al-Mahdi said Egypt and Sudan need to “activate their agreements” and speak positively about each other while addressing the public in the two countries. “[ACPSS] experts like you have to play a role in this process and inform the people about its importance,” stated Al-Mahdi. Al-Mahdi also highlighted the role that the media and popular diplomacy in both countries can play “to overcome the state of polarisation that threatens their ties”.
In terms of the GERD talks, Al-Mahdi said Sudan “was wrong” to keep dealing with the Egyptian-Ethiopian negotiations as a “mediator” for a very long time, describing Ethiopia’s expected second filling by July of the dam as a “threat”. Al-Mahdi noted that Sudan understands that both Egypt and Ethiopia deeply need the Nile River and their positions during the negotiating process.
“We want the dam to serve as the basis of developmental cooperation between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The first filling made Sudan suffer thirst amid floods and not stopping the movement of Nile water. The second one is alarming.”
Al-Mahdi expressed her country’s support for the diplomatic efforts of the African Union, European Union and the United States, saying that Egypt has a similar position on this matter.
But she warned against the political and security implications of the second filling. “If the second filling happened, Sudan would be in thirst, and it would be hard to count on diplomacy for some time until we respond, and our response would be an angry one,” she warned.
Al-Mahdi said she hoped to reach the stage in which both the Sudanese-Ethiopian border dispute and the GERD crisis would be diplomatically resolved.
Al-Mahdi’s visit to Al-Ahram followed her meeting with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri on Tuesday in which both expressed their concern about water security in Egypt and Sudan if Ethiopia proceeded with the second filling of GERD. Shoukri stated that Cairo backs Sudan’s suggestion and called for international mediation that includes the UN, the AU, the EU and the United States in order to reach a legally binding deal with Ethiopia.
He said that “we are not coming to an important stage after the past rounds of negotiations” and rejected any “unilateral actions” that are fait accompli, stressing that they may lead Egypt to abandon positive foreign policy. Shoukri also called on Ethiopia to show goodwill to participate in the talks, arguing that it is not possible to maintain the state of “endless” negotiations.
“The second filling of the GERD endangers the lives of 20 million Sudanese citizens,” Al-Mahdi said during her meeting with Shoukri.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly