INTERVIEW: Egypt-Ethiopia strategic ties need sustainability: Cairo’s envoy

Ahmed Eleiba , Thursday 14 May 2015

While strained of late, relations between Egypt and Ethiopia have taken a positive turn and need to be further bolstered by commercial, cultural and political exchange, says Egypt's ambassador to Addis Ababa

Mohamed Edris
Egyptian Ambassador in Addis Ababa Mohamed Edris (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Despite decades of turbulent relations between Egypt and Ethiopia, mainly under longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian officials now say ties with Addis Ababa have improved yet still fall short of target.

Relations between the two African states have been strained over the past three years with Ethiopia’s contested Grand Renaissance Dam project which Cairo fears would greatly diminish its water supply.

But Egypt has more recently taken steps towards strengthening ties with the Horn of Africa country on political and economic levels. Still, the question arises whether the shift in mutual ties is temporarily until the dam crisis — deemed a national security issue  is settled, or if there is a new strategic vision Cairo and Addis Ababa are developing for their bonds.

Ahram Online talked with Egyptian Ambassador in Addis Ababa Mohamed Edris, on mutual relations, cooperation and other issues.

How do you see Egyptian-Ethiopian ties?

Relations between Cairo and Addis Ababa are witnessing a remarkable improvement on many levels. A joint committee between both countries has been convening more regularly — three times over the past two years. Also, there have been several visits by premiers and ministers from countries, as well as presidential summit talks, besides popular diplomacy efforts.

Do you think that this is only a temporary line of action for the current phase?

Egypt’s current approach is to bolster strategic ties in Africa in general and with Ethiopia in particular. That is our choice and responsibility for now, and we can do that.

Relations between countries are like an organism that needs to be nurtured continuously, so that they could improve and not be temporary or dependent on a certain phase. We seek a strategic transformation in our mutual bonds.

Why do you think Egyptian-Ethiopian relations have deteriorated in the past?

Relations between both countries have been neglected over the past three decades. But things are different now. We have laid the cornerstone of a new relation and we have the potential and capacity to cement this relation.

This will require concerted efforts from the Egyptian authorities, given the various cooperation opportunities available with Addis Ababa in agriculture, arts and culture.

I’d say we have set our feet on the right track, looking to a future that brings the best interests of both countries.

Ethiopia has sensed a positive change in Egypt’s political tone; we thus need to reinforce this feeling that we believe will serve our interests.

What do you think of Egypt’s role in the freeing last week of a group of Ethiopians who had been kidnapped in Libya, given that one of them said the men had only been held up by Libyan immigration, as reported by Reuters?

The freeing of Ethiopians in Libya after intervention by the Egyptian authorities sends a message that both states work in liaison, are putting in effect what they agreed on, and that our interests and sources of pain are the same.

We were traumatised when the Islamic State group murdered Egyptians in Libya and we do not want to see the same tragic incident affect any of our brotherly nations.

Egypt has helped its brothers to prevent such a disaster from reoccurring and was driven by cordial relations and responsibility towards its brotherly nations and neighbours. And the Ethiopian authorities and the Ethiopian people have shown great recognition for that role.

What is Egypt’s role in other pressing issues in Ethiopia, namely the controversial Renaissance Dam project? 

We have been giving the dam project priority and great attention, but we cannot address it separately. We cannot take steps on the dam issue without bolstering general political, economic and commercial ties. Even religious institutions and grassroots entities have a role to play in this regard.

There are some upcoming events that will bring together Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and will provide a good opportunity to bolster relations between these states.

This includes June’s COMESA tripartite summit in Egypt, followed by an African Summit in Johannesburg in the same month and the opening of Egypt’s new Suez Canal in August.

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