First Saudi Then Qatar Bigwigs to Ethiopia in Just Three Days Difference

asmarahutWhat is that inevitable for Eritrea?

By Teweldeberhan Gebre

According to Ahram Online Qatar’s foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani is in Ethiopia to meet “with Ethiopian president, prime minister and foreign minister to discuss the latest regional and international developments”. This is happening in just three days after the high-level delegation led by Ahmed Al-Khateeb, senior advisor to the Saudi royal court and board chairman of the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) has concluded its official visit to meet Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn in Addis Ababa and the ‘unplanned’ visitation to the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam.

The Qataris-Egyptians relationships is always strained except for the brief periods of the ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Efforts by the Saudis to reconcile the differences between Qatar and Egypt miserable failed. Given Egypt’s position on the Syrian crisis and following Egypt’s vote in support of the Russian drafted resolution in October, Saudi Arabia joined Qatar’s position against the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt. In just less than a month the following diplomatic shuttles have been reported by the Media:

  • 28-30 October, at the invitation of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President Isaias visited Cairo;
  • On the 18th of December, at the invitation of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt visited Uganda;
  • 14-18 December, a high-level delegation, led by the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Court senior advisor and Saudi Development Fund Board Chairperson, Ahmed Alkhateeb, visited Ethiopia; and
  • Now, the Qatar’s foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani is in Ethiopia to meet Ethiopian officials on regional and international developments.

All these high-level delegations have taken place amid the tense relationships between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Egypt is expressing its concern on the Saudis action, particularly the Kingdom’s plan to open a military base in Djibouti and now due to the possible co-funding of the financially starved Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam project. Egypt considers the above actions of Saudi Arabia as threats for its national security. What is next?

Egypt believes that it has every rights to defend its national security including the security of the Southern Red Sea international gateway and the Nile River. That said, if Egypt is convinced that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are going to put their money into the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam project, for sure it might consider to exercise its military mighty against Ethiopia including the bombing of the Dam. Knowing the consequence, the Saudis deny any funding to the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam project. Another window for Egypt to exercise its military mighty is through Yemen’s Houthi militias to destabilize the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

However, for Egypt to be able to stretch its military mighty it needs Eritrea and the Sudan. Not by their own admissions but according the medias both Eritrea and the Sudan are financial recipients of the Saudis and Qataris for their involvement in the Yemeni crisis. Both Eritrea and Egypt want to dislodge the minority regime in Ethiopia although for different reasons. The position of Sudan is not clear when it comes to the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam. In this regard, the Saudis and Qataris know that Eritrea is the backbone for Egypt both in the security of the Bab el Mandeb and the Nile Water, at least in theory. For Eritrea it will be a tough choice which way to go-the Saudi-Qatari way or the Egyptian ways. Egypt has already expressed its concerns over the Saudi’s military base plan in Djibouti and now Egypt suspects Saudi Arabia’s financial role in the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam.

Hence, Egypt is left with no choice but to use its military mighty to secure its share over the Nile Water. The question is though on whose ground?  Recently, Eritrea has unofficially sent a serious message to both Ethiopia and the world that it is going to exercise its right to self-defense via the Eritrean Center for Strategic Studies director, Dr. Ahmed Hassen Dehli. If Eritrea triggers a war with the TPLF regime Egypt might use the opportunity to dislodge the regime in Ethiopia. So, time is clicking against Egypt, particularly if the Saudis and Qataris put their monies into the ongoing Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam project that speed up the completion of the dam. Reportedly, 75% of the dam is completed. So, no time is left for Egypt.

Beyond the news headlines about the visits of the high-level delegations of the Saudis and Qataris, one possible scenario of the said delegations’ agenda could be mediation between Eritrea and Ethiopia so that to weaken Egypt’s influence in the region. Surely, Eritrea will not negotiate on The Hague’s ruling by the EEBC (Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission). If so, the only chance for the Saudis and Qataris to help peacefully end the Ethiopia-Eritrea border impasse is to pressure Ethiopia to unconditionally vacate from Eritrean territories awarded by the EEBC. It is well reported that the TPLF regime has repeatedly called for dialogue before demarcation takes place. I don’t believe the original long dialogue lists by the late prime minister of the TPLF regime are still valid and in place anymore.

One precondition, perhaps the most important, for the TPLF to advance before the demarcation begins could be for Eritrea to disarm the Ethiopian armed groups based in Eritrea. But, can Eritrea accept this precondition by the TPLFites? Very unlikely. It is improbable for Eritrea to give up supporting Ethiopian armed groups who are the major threats to the TPLF government together with the popular uprising inside Ethiopia. Eritrea has made it clear time and time again that the decision by the EEBC is “final and binding”. Hence, the only chance for TPLF is to vacate from Eritrean territories and wait for a favor from Eritrea if any. Under these circumstances any mediation between Eritrea and Ethiopia by the Saudis and Qataris will be challenging. Certainly, Egypt will not wait until the Ethiopia-Eritrea border issue is settled and the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam project comes to its end.

Let’s wait and see what the diplomatic clambering will bring about to the boiling Horn Region.