Ethiopia is of significance for connecting the African continent with the Arab world through both its geostrategic and geopolitical position. Despite historical and religious ties as well as proximity, the country’s decades-long dispute with Egypt over scarce water resources in the region, resembling itself in dam construction on the Nile, has left the bilateral relations at an impasse. As the UAE’s interest in East Africa has grown significantly in the last decade, Mohammed Dahlan was tasked with mitigating the tension between Ethiopia and Egypt while consolidating the UAE’s economic presence in the country.
“All of what is happening between Ethiopia and Egypt now is Abu Dhabi’s good work.”
Mohammed Dahlan visited Ethiopia in 2015 to mediate an agreement among Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt over the Nile dam project. While the mediation attempt was interpreted as one of his efforts for the Palestinian Authority presidency, it mainly served to preserve the UAE’s interests in the region. He was considered successful in managing to convince the rival sides to a meeting. The UAE ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, wrote in a leaked email that “All of what is happening between Ethiopia and Egypt now is Abu Dhabi’s good work.”
Dahlan was also involved in reducing tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan. In his visit to Ethiopia in January 2021, which came immediately after his talks with coup leaders in Sudan, Dahlan appeared together with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, inspecting the border. His visit follows Sudan’s coup leader, Abdelfattah al-Burhan’s statement that the Sudanese army captured its ‘lands,’ occupied by Ethiopia.
During this visit, it had been claimed that Dahlan checked regions like Koysha, situated around the critical Omo River. This region is considered to have the potential for luring investors from the Gulf, should the dispute with Sudan and Tigray community be resolved.
The UAE used Dahlan to negotiate disputes between nations over the complex and expensive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Egypt felt betrayed by the UAE’s gesture. Sudan continues to battle Ethiopia over how much water will be withheld to fill the massive reservoir. In 2014, Dahlan was invited by Ethiopian leader Hailemariam Desalegn at the request of Egyptian President Abdelfattah el-Sisi, to mediate the talks. The main effect would be to project the exiled Palestinian as a peacemaker. The talks ended in 2019 with Sisi calling for an invasion of Ethiopia. “We are fed up with Ethiopian procrastination. We will not spend our lifetime in useless talks” an Egyptian official told The Associated Press.
Uganda’s leader Yoweri Museveni has offered to intervene in the negotiations. The Ethiopian-funded GERD project is hotly disputed although it will enhance the nation’s economy. The UAE had previously tried to negotiate a 2020 border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia and gave up. It appears that the UAE created more problems for themselves than they solved. Ethiopia was the recipient of $3 billion in currency support and investment from the UAE, just before the country plunged into civil war after the assassinations of senior generals. The UAE then began supporting Prime Minister Abiy Abed’s war against the Tigray region by flying in tons of weapons and arms, including lethal drones.
It was also rumored that Dahlan facilitated Israeli involvement in the dam crisis. Reportedly, Egypt was displeased with Dahlan’s mediating role as well as his invitation to Israeli technology companies to be involved in the construction. Israel and Ethiopia have long had positive relations, as the former pledged support to Addis Ababa in its fight with Eritrea in the 1990s besides providing military equipment, including air defense systems.
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