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'Popular Diplomacy' initiative to form body to deal with Ethiopian dam

Opposition politicians announce plans to form 'high-level' body to deal with Ethiopian dam crisis, hoping to calm rising tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt

Ahram Online, Wednesday 5 Jun 2013
Hamdeen Sabbahi speaking at the 'Popular Democracy' press conference, 5 June 2013, (Photo: Egyptian Popular Current).
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Views: 3478

At a press conference held by the "Popular Diplomacy" initiative set up by independent politicians to resolve water disputes between Egypt and Ethiopia, opposition leader George Ishaq said the initiative plans to establish a high-level body that will include experts from Ethiopia and Uganda to resolve Egypt's current crisis with Ethiopia over the latter's plans to build a new dam.

Tensions between Egypt and Ethiopria were stoked after the latter abruptly started diverting waters of the Blue Nile — one of two major tributaries of the Nile River — in preparation for building its Renaissance Dam. Egypt had expressed fears over possible diminished water share as a result of the dam project.

Many Egyptian officials and politicians worry the dam would adversely affect Egypt's water allotment, most of which comes from the Blue Nile.

Egyptian Popular Current founder and leading opposition figure Hamdeen Sabbahi said that the correct path to resolving the issue is acknowledging the right to development of Nile Basin countries.

Sabbahi said the initiative aims to unify popular and official stances regarding the planned dam. He also implored Nile Basin countries, especially Ethiopia, to "acknowledge Egypt's historical rights to Nile River waters."

Member of the Popular Current Amr Helmy, speaking at the press conference, attacked the Egyptian government for not signing the Entebbe Agreement between Nile Basin countries.

The agreement was signed by six African countries, including Ethiopia, and aims to amend quotas stipulated in a colonial-era agreements that gave Egypt the lion's share of Nile waters.

Helmy said that the Renaissance Dam's effect on Egyptian water quotas — which still hasn't been fully assessed — "isn't as frightening as some make it out to be," saying that Egypt and Sudan (the second largest recipient of Nile water) may benefit from the dam.

The initiative decided to hold the press conference after a meeting Monday between Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and opposition politicians was marred with hostile suggestions by attendees, some of whom proposed plans to sabotage the dam. The attendees weren't aware that the meeting was aired live on television.

The meeting wasn't attended by Egypt's main non-Islamist opposition.

Former MP and vice-president of the Pan-African Parliament, Mostafa El-Guindy, who is a founding member of the "Popular Diplomacy" initiative described Monday's meeting as a "disaster."

El-Guindy insisted on holding the press conference, believing the Monday meeting with the president was sure to turn African nations against Egypt.

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