As US Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer finished his regional tour to promote a diplomatic resolution to the ongoing dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Egypt sent a letter to the UN Security Council (UNSC) expressing its opposition to Ethiopia’s unilateral filling of the dam’s reservoir for the third year in a row.
The letter, sent by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to the president of the UNSC last week, serves two purposes, says Rakha Hassan, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs. It asserts Egypt’s objection to the third filling, and underlines Egypt’s right — under the UN Charter — to take all the necessary measures to protect its national security against Ethiopia’s unilateral actions.
According to Deputy Foreign Minister Mohamed Hegazi, the letter also underlined, in a clear, balanced language, the importance of abiding by international law while stressing that Egypt cannot accept any infringement on its water security.
In the letter, Shoukri characterised the filling as a clear violation of the 2015 Declaration of Principles Agreement and of international laws regulating transboundary rivers.
Egypt’s top diplomat stressed that while Cairo remains committed to reaching an agreement on GERD that achieves the common interests of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, it will not tolerate any encroachment on its water security or threat to the Egyptian people.
He called on the UNSC to assume its responsibilities and intervene to ensure the implementation of the presidential statement issued last year by the council calling on Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia to reach an agreement as early as possible.
Shoukri also called on Addis Ababa to comply with international law and the principles governing transnational waterways, pointing out that Egypt holds Addis Ababa fully responsible for any significant harm to Egyptian interests that may result from violations of its obligations.
Egypt’s letter came in response to a letter from Ethiopia on 26 July in which it stated that it would continue filling the reservoir during the current flood season.
Both letters were sent during Hammer’s visit to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Ethiopia.
One aim of Hammer’s visit, according to a statement issued by the US State Department, was to promote a “diplomatic resolution” to disagreements over GERD that achieves the interests of all parties. The tour started last week, and concluded on Monday.
As envoy to the Horn of Africa, Hammer, explained Hassan, must deal with developments across the region, including in Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan, as well as ongoing conflict in Ethiopia. “The question is, now that the third filling is a reality, will the US press for holding the fresh negotiations, and will they lead to a legally binding agreement or a unilateral statement that Ethiopia can change or amend at any time?”
“It all depends on whether the US administration is ready to take a stronger stand.”
In Cairo, Hammer said his visit was an opportunity “to hear from our Egyptian partners about the critical issues posed by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and to better understand Egypt’s water needs”, and said Washington is actively engaged in “supporting a diplomatic way forward under the African Union’s auspices that arrives at an agreement that provides for the long-term needs of every citizen along the Nile”.
Commenting on the outcome of the visit, a diplomat close to the negotiations said Hammer’s statements were non-committal and suggested “the dam issue is not a priority for the US administration.”
“Ethiopian domestic issues took precedence during his visit to Addis Ababa. The dam was hardly mentioned there.”
In Ethiopia, Hammer held talks with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen. They discussed the “need for continued progress on ensuring unfettered humanitarian assistance delivery, human rights accountability, and political talks to end the conflict and achieve a lasting peace,” said the US Embassy.
Egypt has already referred the GERD case to the UN twice. In 2021, Egypt and Sudan petitioned the UN Security Council over the dam file. During a meeting last July Tunisia — the only Arab (non-permanent) member of the Council — submitted a draft resolution calling on Ethiopia to negotiate in good faith and setting a timetable of six months to reach an agreement under the umbrella of the AU. The session concluded without a vote.
The Security Council did, however, issue a presidential statement two months later urging Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt to resume negotiations under the auspices of the AU and “finalise the text of a mutually acceptable agreement on filling and operating the dam within a reasonable time frame”.
Egypt first sent a letter to the UNSC in June 2020 objecting to the first filling and calling for the resumption of tripartite negotiations.
Hegazi believes that raising the issue in international meetings, including during President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s recent trip to France, Germany, and Serbia, may contribute to finding a peaceful resolution to the dam issue.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.