Uncertainties surround fate of Egypt, Sudan efforts at UN over Nile dam crisis

Egypt and Sudan are left now only with the option of seeking the Security Council’s help, when it meets, Thursday.

Wednesday 07/07/2021
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (R) participates in a virtual mini-summit meeting of the Bureau of the African Union Heads of State and Government to discuss the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. (DPA)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (R) participates in a virtual mini-summit meeting of the Bureau of the African Union Heads of State and Government to discuss the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. (DPA)

CAIRO - It remains uncertain how  UN Security Council positions could affect Egyptian and Sudanese plans to pressure Ethiopia and  prevent it from beginning the second phase of the filling of its Renaissance Dam, analysts say.

The French delegate to the United Nations, Nicolas de Rivière, said he believed  the Security Council is unable by itself to find a solution to the issue of the dam, calling on the three countries to return to negotiations to express their concerns and find a solution.

The French delegate’s message made it clear that there is no solution outside the negotiated track, which is likely to strengthen Addis Ababa’s stubborn position and weaken Cairo’s bet on a neutral intervention that could indirectly help its international efforts in dealing with the crisis.

After years of difficult talks between the three parties, Egypt had first hinted at the possibility of taking action in the dam crisis, without specifying what type of action it meant. Then, Egypt changed tack and the Sudanese followed suit in talking about lodging a complaint with the UN Security Council or the International Court of Justice.

Egypt and Sudan have spared no effort to reach a solution to the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis. They are left now only with the option of seeking the Security Council’s help,  when it meets, Thursday, to discuss the crisis even though there are no indications that the UN body will take a decisive decision on the issue.

Cairo received a great shock from Addis Ababa, when the latter informed it that it had started the second filling of the dam, in a sign of defiance and indifference to Egypt’s approach of the UN Security Council. Ethiopia is working on the basis that the members of the Council will not exert strong pressure upon it.

Egyptian diplomatic sources said that Cairo is not waiting for the UNSC to pressure Addis Ababa because of the interests that major powers have in Ethiopia. They add that what Egypt expects is the issuing of a statement that will convince it either to continue talking or to stop searching for a negotiated solution.

The sources told The  Arab Weekly  that the major powers are well aware of this predicament and will be keen to find a formula that opens the door for negotiation and forecloses the costly military solution that Egypt has threatened more than once.

The Vice-President of the Egyptian Council for African Affairs, Ambassador Salah Halima, said that the Egyptian request is clear regarding the necessity of the Security Council’s intervention, as the situation constitutes a threat to peace and security in the region. Moreover, Egypt holds the Council responsible for preserving peace by taking appropriate measures to stop Ethiopia’s unilateral behaviour which seeks to impose a fait accompli, violating international law and agreed principles by undertaking the second filling without prior agreement.

Talking to The Arab Weekly, Halima added that Cairo’s demands are the subject of consultation among the members of the Security Council and it is assumed that there will be a decision or at least a statement that supports the search for an agreement that prevents any threats to peace and security.

If this does not happen, the three countries must reach a consensus-based solution; and if this is not achieved, Egypt will have the legitimate right to defend its water rights by the appropriate means.

The Egyptian government finds itself in a dilemma and with very few options. If the negotiation track is blocked, Egyptian citizens would expect a move towards a military solution to defend the nation’s dignity and security.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had previously warned against violating Egypt’s water rights, saying firmly, “We do not threaten anyone, but no one can take a drop of water from Egypt … Otherwise, the region will witness a state of instability that no one imagines.”

Cairo is still committed to returning to new talks and hopes to open new horizons through the UN Security Council if the latter decides to endorse and oversee negotiations in cooperation with the African Union which until now has been the sole platform for negotiation.

This formula may be satisfactory for the three countries, as it fulfils one of the important conditions for both Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia also will not object to it after having embarked on the second filling unilaterally but without causing damage yet to the two downstream countries, because the filling will not be complete for now considering the technical problems that prevent the storage of the full amount (13.5 billion cubic metres).

This  option would achieve Ethiopia’s moral goal, remove from Egypt the argument of material damage, encourage Sudan to avoid supporting any hard power options and provide major powers with the opportunity to intervene calmly to achieves their interests with the three countries at a low cost.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Sudanese counterpart, Maryam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, affirmed their categorical rejection of Ethiopia’s announcement of starting the second filling of the Renaissance Dam, as it represents an explicit violation of the provisions of the Declaration of Principles Agreement signed between the three countries.

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The Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that the two ministers met in New York to continue coordination and consultation on the developments regarding the Renaissance Dam issue and to prepare for the Security Council session, which they will  attend together.

The Egyptian minister of water resources and irrigation had received an official letter from his Ethiopian counterpart informing him of the start of the process of filling for the second year of the Renaissance Dam reservoir. The Egyptian minister responded by rejecting this unilateral measure and sent a copy of his reply to the president of the Security Council to inform him of this development.

Everything indicates that the three parties will look for a face-saving option that spares the countries of the region a direct military showdown between Egypt with Ethiopia.