Egypt seeking Arab support in dispute over Nile dam with Ethiopia

Egypt, analysts said, is intent on pursuing all legal channels to protect its water rights, including involving more international parties.
Sunday 15/03/2020
Reaching out to friends. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (L) and Saudi Minister of State for African Affairs Ahmed Kattan (R) attend the consultative meeting on the sidelines of the 153rd Arab Foreign Ministers annual meeting at Arab League headquarters in Cairo, March 4. (DPA)
Reaching to friends. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (L) and Saudi Minister of State for African Affairs Ahmed Kattan (R) attend the consultative meetingat the Arab Foreign Ministers meeting at Arab League headquarters in Cairo, March 4. (DPA)

CAIRO - Egypt has begun rallying Arab, African and international support for its position on Ethiopia’s Nile dam after Cairo and Addis Ababa were unable to reach an agreement on filling the reservoir.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry toured seven Arab countries, including Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to explain Egypt’s position on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The 3-day tour came as Addis Ababa insisted it would begin filling the dam reservoir in July, even if a deal had not been reached with Egypt.

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan had reportedly been close to a deal on the multibillion-dollar dam February 29 but Ethiopia’s delegation failed to appear at a meeting and requested more time for consultations.

Egyptian Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty called Ethiopia’s move “shocking.”

“It showed that Ethiopia did not want to sign anything binding,” he said March 9 in an interview with the Saudi broadcasting company MBC.

The US administration asked Addis Ababa not to fill the dam reservoir before signing the deal. Ethiopia accused the United States of following an “undiplomatic course” by trying to influence the outcome of dam talks.

The GERD is viewed as a major threat to Egypt, which relies on the Nile as its water source. The gigantic structure, which Ethiopia began constructing in 2011, will hold 70 billion cubic metres of water and is planned to generate 6,000 megawatts of power annually.

Addis Ababa said the project is necessary for its economic development, having made plans to sell electricity surpluses to neighbouring countries and become Africa’s next electrical power hub.

Egypt, however, said the dam threatens to deprive it of a sizeable amount of water from the Nile. The water shortage could harm farmlands, reduce electrical power generation at the High Dam in southern Egypt and cause social unrest, experts fear.

“These are effects Egypt is far from ready to face,” said water expert Nour Abdel Monem.

Egyptian parliament Speaker Ali Abdel A’al, described Nile water as a “life or death” issue for Egyptians.

“We have confidence in the ability of the political leadership to protect Egypt’s right to the Nile water,” Abdel A’al said. “This is something that Egypt cannot do without.”

Egyptian, Ethiopian and Sudanese negotiators spent most of the four months of the US- and World Bank-sponsored talks negotiating the period during which Ethiopia would fill the dam reservoir.

Egypt sought assurances that Ethiopia would not withhold water during droughts.

“In the worst of cases, Ethiopia would have been able to generate 75% of the amount of electricity it wants to generate in normal conditions,” Abdel Aty told MBC.

Ethiopia cannot fill in the dam reservoir without approval from Egypt because of a 2015 declaration of principles signed by Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. However, Ethiopia has insisted it will go ahead with the project even without Cairo’s approval, putting Egypt in a corner.

On March 3, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi asked Egyptian Army commanders to be ready to carry out missions to defend Egypt’s national security.  A week later, Sisi sent his intelligence chief, General Abbas Kamel, to Sudan amid growing concerns that the country was aligning itself with Ethiopia.

On March 5, Sudan expressed reservations over an Arab League resolution backing its position and Egypt’s position on the GERD.

Kamel met top officials of the Sovereign Council of Sudan, including council Chairman Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Kamel also travelled to Juba, South Sudan, only kilometres away from the Ethiopian border and the GERD site, and met with President Salva Kiir and other South Sudanese officials.

Egypt, analysts said, is intent on pursuing all legal channels to protect its water rights, including involving more international parties.

“By insisting not to sign a binding deal, Ethiopia demonstrates its desire to cause harm to Egypt,” said Diaa al-Qousi, another water expert. “This is why Egypt should ask help from all international institutions, including the United Nations and the African Union.”

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