Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has rejected as “provocative” remarks by an Ethiopian army general that Cairo cannot militarily settle a dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) Addis Abab is building on the Blue Nile, saying the statements do not lead to cooperation.
The remarks rather express Ethiopia’s insistence on imposing “a unilateral will” concerning the filling and operation of the dam, Shoukry told Amr Adib’s TV show on MBC Misr.
"We know very well what Egypt’s [water] rights are, and we know how to defend them," the top Egyptian diplomat said, stressing that in case of harm to Egypt’s interests, the state will not stay idle in defending the rights of its people.
“We always seek peaceful means, and we resort to international bodies and mechanisms,” Shourky stated.
On Friday, an Ethiopian army general said in an interview with RT channel that Egyptians would not be able to solve the GERD dispute militarily and cannot destroy the dam.
The general said that Sudan and Egypt must protect the dam, claiming that the two countries would be swept away by the floods into the Mediterranean Sea if the dam is destroyed.
“The ideal solution [to the dispute] is to negotiate through the African Union (AU),” the general said, claiming that the Egyptian side does not want to solve the problem through negotiation, and they come to the discussions and reject all proposals.
Egypt and Sudan have repeatedly affirmed that "Ethiopian intransigence" was behind the failure of the AU-sponsored GERD talks that have been initiated since last summer and stalled in April due to Ethiopia’s rejection of international mediation proposed by Sudan and Egypt to facilitate negotiations and bring the views closer.
Egypt’s Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel-Ati previously said that throughout the decade-long negotiations Egypt proposed 15 scenarios, which guaranteed the GERD would continue to generate at least 80 per cent of Ethiopia’s electricity output even during the worst droughts, but Addis Ababa rejected them all.
The Ethiopian general also stated that the Ethiopian government “has started the GERD’s second-year filling phase” and “when this stage ends, everything will be safe and everyone will come to discuss proposals for sharing water” with Addis Ababa.
Sudan has rejected Ethiopia’s proposal announced last summer to include a water-sharing deal in the GERD talks, describing it as “dangerous” and threatened to withdraw from the talks if Ethiopia insisted on that.
In April, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi called on Ethiopia not to touch Egypt's share of Nile water, warning “all options are possible,” while stressing that “cooperation is better than fighting.”
"I say to our Ethiopian brothers, [we] should not get to a point where you infringe upon a drop of Egypt's water because all options are open… cooperation is better… to build with each other is better than to disagree and tussle," El-Sisi said.
Security Council and GERD’s internationalization
Egypt and Sudan have recently sent two separate letters to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) urging the international body to intervene by holding an emergency session and to oblige Ethiopia not to proceed with filling its Blue Nile dam without reaching a legal deal with downstream countries.
On the Ethiopian claims that Egypt and Sudan are trying to internationalize the GERD issue and undermine the ongoing AU-sponsored negotiations, Shoukry said in the Friday interview that “there is no internationalization” but it “is rather about the use of the available international concerned mechanisms.”
“What Addis Ababa is saying is an allegation that has no credibility, and it is an attempt once again to evade the mechanisms that can deal with this issue,” Shoukry said.
The UNSC has all the authority to deal with any issue that the international community and members of the council consider to threaten security and peace, he said.
The UNSC have committees and its members have the abilities to establish sound technical foundations for how to manage rivers in a way that lead to benefit from them and at the same time prevent serious harm to downstream countries, the top Egyptian diplomat said.
“We have placed great confidence in the African framework,” Shoukry said, adding that after the one-year African Union efforts made by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and by DRC President Félix Tshisekedi to revive the dam talks, “we have not reached any progress in these negotiations”.
Shoukry said that “we reached a point where no progress is being made regarding the resumption of the negotiations amid the Ethiopian intransigence,” stressing his appreciation for the AU efforts.
The foreign minister added that Addis Ababa has violated what was agreed upon by the three countries to "refrain from taking any unilateral measures” during an online emergency GERD-focused AU summit last summer.
Ethiopia has also brached the 2015 Declaration of Principles, which stipulated that the upstream country will not fill [the GERD reservoir] until an agreement is reached, he added.
Thus, Ethiopia has no grounds for claiming that there is an internationalization of the issue since it was the party that violated the agreements, he noted.
While Egypt and Sudan are seeking a legally binding deal for the filling and operation of the near-complete GERD before its second-year filling, Ethiopia wants mere “guidelines” that can be modified any time at its discretion.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia intends to commence its second filling of the GERD on 22 July with or without forging a deal with both the downstream countries which reject such unilateral move and describe it as “a clear violation of international law” and “threatens regional security and peace.”
Commenting on Ethiopia’s violation of international accords by building and unilaterally filling the GERD, the Ethiopian general said the 1902 treaty “doesn’t stipulate not to build a dam”.
“The  signed agreement by our emperor at the time doesn’t stipulate not to build a dam. The agreement is that we will not stop the flow of the Nile,” he said.
The Anglo-Ethiopian treaty, signed in 1902 between the United Kingdom, representing Egypt and Sudan, and Ethiopia, represented by emperor Menelik II of Abyssinia, prohibited any Ethiopian construction on the Blue Nile that would affect the river’s natural flow. The same treaty granted sovereignty of the then Sudanese Benishangul region, where Addis Ababa has been building the controversial dam since 2011, to Ethiopia.
According to experts, if Ethiopia does not recognize the 1902 treaty, it will be the most affected due to the previous sovereignty of Sudan over the GERD’s region.
Egypt, whose 100 million-plus population is expected to increase by 75 million by 2050, is considered one of the most water-scarce countries in the world as it receives around 60 billion cubic metres (bcm) annually – mainly from the River Nile – though its needs is 114 bcm.
Egypt, which relies on the world-longest River Nile for more than 95 per cent of its renewable water resources, fears the massive hydropower project will significantly diminish its water supply, which at 560 m3 per person annually is already well below the international threshold for water scarcity.