Egypt is currently in a possibly “long” battle of negotiations on the filling and operation of the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said in his first comments about the dam since the resumption of AU-mediated talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.
In televised statements during the inauguration of a major industrial complex in Sharqiya governorate on Tuesday, El-Sisi said the state is currently exerting the utmost efforts to reach an accord on the filling and operation of the dam.
“We are in a negotiations battle that could take time. We won’t sign anything that won’t achieve our interests… interests that stipulated that we all benefit and with harm acceptable on all of us,” he said.
El-Sisi stressed Egypt's determination to reach an agreement that at least achieves interests that [Egypt] has had in the past thousands of years.
He acknowledged that Egyptians have “legitimate” worries about the GERD, and described the issue as a “matter of life.”
“I’m worried too, but I assure you on the fairness of our cause on the water issue since Egyptian civilization has always been dependent on [the Nile] water,” he said.
He said that Ethiopia has the right for development through power generation, but stressed that this would be backed by Egypt only under the condition that its water share is not affected.
The Egyptian president also rejected talk of a "military option" against Ethiopia that has been floated in some Egyptian media outlets.
“Do not sit and keep threatening others,” he said, adding that Egypt is keen to continue negotiations until it reaches an agreement that persevere its best interests.
He stressed that the military option is “not the path to serve the interests of the nation.”
El-Sisi also stressed that Egypt recognises the rights of other countries to use the Nile in development as long as it does not harm Egypt’s rights or interests.
In his speech, El-Sisi revealed that the size of investments in irrigation projects in Egypt reached nearly EGP 1 trillion until 2037, and that the state aims to save every drop of water due to the growing population.
He also added that modern irrigation systems would be adopted across the country, adding that water recycling is a priority.
El-Sisi's statements come one day after Egypt and Sudan expressed their concerns over Ethiopia's unilateral initial filling of the dam during first meeting of the second round of talks mediated by the African Union (AU) over the disputed dam on Monday.
Addis Ababa surprised Cairo and Khartoum last week by announcing that the initial filling of the dam’s reservoir had already taken place without reaching an agreement.
The filling came as the first round of AU-sponsored talks over the project ended last week without an accord, despite the leaders of the three countries agreeing in a mini-summit held later on continued discussions of the filling and operations of the dam.
Egypt said it agreed with Sudan and Ethiopia to prioritise reaching a legally binding deal on the filling and operation of the mega-dam, and the AU called on the three countries to "work expeditiously to finalise the text of a binding agreement."
However, Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said at a press conference in Addis Ababa on Friday that Ethiopia wants a guiding agreement on the GERD that is non-binding.
One day later, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi told his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa, the current AU chair, that Egypt rejects any unilateral action that may compromise Egypt’s right to Nile water
Egypt has voiced concern over Ethiopia's refusal to agree on rules regulating the filling and operation of the GERD during drought and dry years.
Cairo is also concerned about future projects on the Blue Nile, a main tributary of the Nile, and demands binding dispute settlement mechanisms, which Addis Ababa has refused to include in a deal.
Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 95 percent of its fresh water, fears the dam will significantly reduce the river’s flow, especially during the filling stages through periods of drought or dry years. Ethiopia, on the other hand, says the project is key to its development.