Egypt reiterates ‘red line’ in Nile dam row with Ethiopia

Sisi’s comment came amid a deadlock in the years-long talks over the dam between the Nile Basin countries, which also includes Sudan.
Monday 12/04/2021
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) being received by Sudan’s Sovereign Council chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, March 6, 2021. (AFP)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) being received by Sudan’s Sovereign Council chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, March 6, 2021. (AFP)

CAIRO--Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry explained that the red line drawn by his country in the crisis of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is to deny “harm to its interests.”

“When Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi talked about a red line, he meant any damage caused to Egypt’s share of water,” Shoukry said in statements to local media on Sunday.

Egypt’s president last March said his country’s share of the Nile River’s waters are “untouchable” in a stark warning apparently to Ethiopia, which is filling a giant new dam on the Nile’s main tributary.

Sisi’s comment came amid a deadlock in the years-long talks over the dam between the Nile Basin countries, which also includes Sudan.

Sisi warned of “instability that no one can imagine” in the region if the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is filled and operated without a legally-binding agreement.

“No one can take a single drop of water from Egypt, and whoever wants to try it, let him try,” he said. “No one imagines that it will be far from our capabilities.”

Sisi did not name Ethiopia in his remarks, the strongest on the dam’s dispute by an Egyptian official in years.

On Sunday, Shoukry said that his country would take “serious” measures to protect water security and deal with any irresponsible move by Ethiopia regarding the dam.

“Ethiopia has to make a voluntary decision to negotiate and to (reach) tripartite agreement on filling the dam, in order to avoid harm to the two downstream countries,” Shoukry added.

Shoukry mentioned that “negotiations with Ethiopia regarding the dam have been going on for 10 years now, and a just solution must be reached to achieve regional stability while meeting the interests of all involved parties.”

He stressed that reaching an agreement with Ethiopia is not difficult, as each party knows very well how to achieve its water priorities.

Earlier on Sunday, on the eve of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Cairo, Shoukry said that his country expects Russia to play a positive role in resolving the dam crisis.

On Monday, the foreign ministers discussed trade and other ties between the two nations, with Egypt’s top diplomat urging Moscow to help settle Egypt’s dispute with Ethiopia over a massive dam project.

Lavrov arrived in Cairo on Sunday for a two-day visit. He met Monday with Sisi before his talks with Shoukry.

In a joint news conference with Shoukry, Lavrov said they discussed the massive dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile River’s main tributary, which Egypt and Sudan deem a major threat if it is filled and operated without a legally binding agreement.

“We also rely on Russia … to push parties to refrain from unilateral actions,” Shoukry said, referring to Ethiopia’s plans to start a second crucial stage of the dam’s filling during this year’s rainy season.

Lavrov said Russia was not invited to engage in the talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, but has supported an African Union-led settlement to the years-long dispute.

Last week, Sisi urged cooperation from Ethiopia, warning that “all options are open” following the failure of a fresh round of negotiation over the dam.

“I’m telling the brothers in Ethiopia, we better not reach a stage where Egypt’s water interests (are harmed), because all options are open. Our cooperation is better. It’s better to build together than disagree and struggle,” the president said.

The US State Department had earlier called on Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to enter into serious negotiations over GERD, warning against any unilateral steps in the crisis. The department also urged the three parties to continue negotiations until a solution is found.

Egypt and Sudan on Saturday rejected an Ethiopian proposal to share data on the operations of its giant dam after negotiations between the three countries in Kinshasa this week ended without progress.

Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Egypt fears will imperil its supply from the Nile. Sudan is also concerned about the impact on its own water flows.

“Ethiopia invites Sudan and Egypt to nominate dam operators for data exchange before the filling of GERD in upcoming rainy seasons,” the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry wrote in a tweet on Saturday.

But Cairo and Khartoum maintained that they are seeking a legally binding agreement over the operations of the dam, which Addis Ababa says is crucial to its economic development.

“Sudan believes that exchanging information is a necessary procedure, but that the Ethiopian offer to do so in the manner indicated by their letter implies suspicious selectivity in dealing with what has been agreed upon,” the Sudanese irrigation ministry said on Saturday.

After the Kinshasa meeting, Ethiopia emphasised that the second-year filling of the dam reservoir would be carried out as scheduled.

Sudan will hold 600 million cubic metres of water at its Jebel Awliya reservoir to “ensure the continued operation of the pump stations on the White Nile and the Nile river to meet agricultural and drinking water needs”‌ in preparation for Ethiopia’s second fill, Sudan’s state news agency SUNA reported on Saturday.

The Egyptian irrigation minister on Saturday told a local television talk show that while reserves at the Aswan High Dam could help stave off the effects of a second fill, his chief concern was drought management.

Sudan and Egypt had proposed including the European Union, the United States and the United Nations as mediators in addition to ongoing African Union facilitation of the talks. Both countries said Ethiopia rejected the proposal during the Kinshasa meeting.