In his televised address marking the seventh anniversary of the 30 June Revolution, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said that “Egypt’s national security is closely linked with the security of its regional environment. It does not stop at Egypt’s political borders, but rather extends to every point that could have a detrimental impact on Egypt’s historical rights. It is obvious to all that we live in an extremely turbulent region and that the interplay of international and regional interests in the region make it hard for any country to withdraw within its borders and simply wait for what surrounding circumstances might bring.”
“Egypt has taken stock of the magnitude of the challenges in the region, some of which may constitute concrete threats that require an absolutely firm response in order to safeguard the security and stability of Egypt and its people. Although Egypt possesses comprehensive and far-reaching power in its regional environment, it has always been inclined towards peace. It extends its hand in good will to all, and it never intervenes in others’ affairs. But, at the same time, it takes all necessary precautions to protect its national security.”
That evening, Egypt presented its case concerning the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) to the UN Security Council. This crisis is a clear example of the threats that Egypt faces today. The Security Council session marked a diplomatic victory for Egypt and an international acknowledgement of the danger this crisis has come to represent to international peace and security as a result of Ethiopia’s persistent evasiveness and intransigence in the deadline it has set to implement its threat to begin filling the GERD reservoir in the absence of a legal agreement with Egypt and Sudan.
Egypt has made it clear to the international community that any unrestrained control over a major water resource such as the Nile could have extremely grave repercussions, to the point of exposing entire societies to lethal drought and dehydration. At the same time, the other side’s plea that it does not have sufficient electricity for its people is unconvincing, coming as it does from a country that abounds in rainwater and other river systems.
As Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri has pointed out, Egypt is situated in the most arid part of the Nile Basin and is the most water-deficient nation on Earth. “This harsh reality has confined us to seven per cent of our land and to a narrow green strip along the Nile and a fertile Delta that are home to millions. With 560 m3 of water per year per capita, Egypt is on the list of countries that suffer from water paucity as defined by international criteria,” he said.
Ethiopia, by contrast, is blessed with up to 936 billion m3 of rainfall per year, plus 11 other river basins, some of which it shares with neighbouring countries. “Such resources open up innumerable opportunities for regional cooperation and integration,” Shoukri said, stressing Egypt’s continual support for the development of fellow African nations. “We are committed to working indefatigably towards the realisation of prosperity together with our brothers in the African countries and especially in other countries of the Nile Basin, including Ethiopia. Testimony to this can be found in the long history of constructive collaboration between Egypt and these countries in carrying out various development projects, such as the construction of dams, rainwater harvesting projects, the digging of wells and the removal of vegetation obstructing the flow of rivers.”
The international community has placed its trust in the African Union (AU) mechanism for promoting a just and equitable agreement over the filling and operation of the GERD. The AU Commission must therefore act quickly, in keeping with the sentiment of the majority of UN Security Council members, who have expressed their opposition to unilateral actions, to forestall the commencement of further work on the GERD that could threaten the security of the entire region. Ethiopia, for its part, must also remain committed to this principle and reiterate its pledge not to undertake any unilateral steps to fill the GERD reservoir before reaching an agreement with Sudan and Egypt.
As Shoukri pointed out, there can be no other understanding or interpretation of this pledge, which Addis Ababa also made during the online summit convened by South African President and AU Chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa last week. If Ethiopia once again acts counter to it, the only possible explanation would be that it still lacks the political will to reach an equitable agreement and continues to harbour the intention to impose an unacceptable de facto reality on the downstream nations. Such behaviour would render any future negotiations futile.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly