Egyptian political figures and parties were divided over whether to take part in a presidential meeting on Monday which will look into the impact of a new Nile dam being built by Ethiopia.
President Morsi called for the meeting to look into the findings of a report drawn up by a panel of experts on the impact of the Renaissance Dam on water supplies in Sudan and Egypt.
While some of the invitees – including a handful of opposition figures – accepted the invitation to attend the meeting, which started on Monday afternoon, others appeared to question its efficacy.
Some liberal, leftist groups agree to attend
The liberal Egypt Freedom Party, founded by political scientist and activist Amr Hamzawy, expressed its intention to take part.
"Despite our differences with President Morsi's administration and our calls for early presidential elections, the party has accepted the invitation due to its commitment to protecting the state's interests and Egyptian water security," said Hamzawy.
Other groups participating in the meeting are the liberal Al-Wafd party and the Popular Socialist Alliance.
Both Al-Wafd and the Egypt Freedom parties are members of the National Salvation Front (NSF), Egypt's largest opposition coalition.
The Strong Egypt Party announced on Monday it would not attend the meeting because party head Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh is currently out of country, and only party heads were invited to attend. The party had earlier announced plans to take part.
Citing the findings of the report, a statement by the president’s office said Ethiopia's "studies [of the dam’s impact] were not adequate for a project of this scale." The report recommended more studies of the economic and social aspects of the dam, of the security of the dam and of water resources, and of the environmental impact of the dam, the statement read.
Other opposition groups express concerns about transparency
Mohamed ElBaradei's Constitution Party officially announced on Sunday it would not join the talks, citing scepticism over the seriousness of the dialogue and concerns about a lack of information and transparency in addressing an issue of great sensitivity, according to party spokesman Khaled Dawood.
The Free Egyptians Party for its part declined on Sunday what it deemed as an "absurd" invitation, citing the incompetence of the presidency in tackling a range of national security matters. These include, according to the party, the presidency's handling of the abduction of Egyptian security personnel in Sinai in May, as well as the polarisation caused by Egypt's new constitution.
In a Sunday statement, the party stressed that the goals of the meeting were undefined, and it demanded that talks over associated risks not be held behind closed doors.
The statement went on to slam the timing of the meeting as an attempt to distract Egyptians from crucial domestic issues, citing a planned protest by judges on Monday as well as a Sunday court ruling against the constitutionality of the upper house of parliament and the constitution-drafting committee.
A difference of opinion within the NSF coalition regarding Sunday’s meeting was evident, with some members accepting the invitation to attend and others declining
Despite officially announcing on Sunday he would take part, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and member of the NSF Mohamed Abul-Ghar backtracked following dissatisfaction expressed by party members and opposition figures about his participation.
Amr Moussa, head of the Conference Party and NSF member, also reconsidered the invitation after officially announcing he would take part "regardless of his opposition to the government over domestic issues." Moussa cited reasons including maintaining the unity of the National Salvation Front, which normally boycotts talks with the president.
Both Abul-Ghar and Moussa said they would instead send a memo on the issue to the president.
Hamdeen Sabbahi, head of the Egyptian Popular Current and a founding member of the NSF, announced he would not join the meeting without citing reasons.
The group of political figures invited to look into the committee’s findings also included Mohamed El-Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Younis Makhyoun, head of the Salafist-oriented Nour Party, Amr Khaled, Islamic preacher and head of the Masr Party, Hazem Abu-Ismail, a former Salafist presidential candidate, and Ayman Nour, head of the liberal Ghad El-Thawra party.
Ethiopia began last Tuesday diverting the course of the Blue Nile, one of the Nile River’s two major tributaries, as part of its project to build a new $4.7 billion hydroelectric dam. The move has heightened concerns in Egypt and Sudan, both dependent on the world's longest river for water.
Ethiopia's officials, however, moved to dispel fears over the dam's impact, stressing it would benefit riparian countries.