Egyptian diplomats left red-faced after Nile dam meeting broadcast live

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 4 Jun 2013

Political and religious figures attending the meeting called for by President Morsi suggested sabotage and political interference as solutions to the dam crisis

Egypt presidency, opposition figures discuss Ethiopia dam 'crisis' (Photo: President Morsi's official Facebook page)

“The trouble was not that the meeting was broadcast on air but rather that some of the participants decided to assume the role of ‘James Bond’ and spoke accordingly, rather than offering a cohesive political proposal on how to move forward with a crisis as crucial as that of a potential cut of Egypt’s share of the river Nile,” commented Amr Hamzawy, political scientist and leader of the Free Egypt party.

Hamzawy was responding to questions from Ahram Online on a meeting hosted by President Mohamed Morsi yesterday, which brought together a wide range of political figures to discuss the Ethiopian construction of a mega dam over the Blue Nile.

On Monday, President Morsi called a meeting to discuss the new dam project, which hit headlines in Egypt last week after part of the Blue Nile was diverted in Ethiopia in preparation for the dam’s construction.

The tributary of the Nile provides Egypt with over 80 per cent of its annual 55.5 billion cubic metres a year of Nile water.

The meeting, which was broadcast live on Egyptian television, was full of what some Cairo-based African diplomats described as a condescending Egyptian reflection on Africa. Some suggestions heard from participants included sabotaging the dam, interfering in internal political disputes in Ethiopia, or bribing local tribes, with the aim of prohibiting any potential reduction in Egypt’s annual share of the Nile waters.

Confronted with public furor over their public statements, some of the participants chose to suggest that they were unaware that the meeting was being broadcast live. Some suggested that they were told only that edited excerpts would be aired later in the course of official news coverage.

On her Twitter official account, presidential advisor Pakinam Sharqawi offered “apologies for any unintentional inconvenience for any of the participants who were erroneously un-informed that the meeting was put on air.”

Hamzawy said that he was “well aware, of course, that the meeting was being broadcast.”

“I had made it clear that my participation was conditional on having the meeting on air, to avoid having any inaccurate leaks about the positions offered at the meeting.”

According to Hamzawy, the crucial thing now is to formulate a working group that should address the key political concerns “through a serious and composed political plan of action away from the unsolicited rhetoric that could only further complicate an already complex situation.”

The task of the proposed group is perhaps even tougher today, according to diplomatic and intelligence sources who share “grave concerns” over some of the “unbelievable and outright ridiculous statements” that were made during the controversial meeting.

“This meeting has caused a huge harm to our case – both politically and legally,” said a senior government official.

“Up until that meeting we were in a very strong position as a country that suffers from serious water poverty and is being faced with a unilateral decision of an upstream state to further cut at its legally stipulated share of water; today we are the country that is openly masterminding political unrest and maybe even a military offensive against neighbouring states; this could have some serious legal and political ramifications.”

Egyptian diplomats in Addis Ababa and Khartoum have faced a particular struggle, trying to preempt the anger by offering reassurances to the respective host governments that the unfortunate views offered at the controversial meeting were not adopted by the president, who was simply listening to the participants.

“I could not believe myself when I was following the meeting; I called Cairo to inquire about the purpose behind airing such a discussion but was offered no good excuse. It is very unfortunate; we should have acted wisely rather than to put ourselves on the weaker side of the equation,” said an Egyptian diplomat in Addis Abeba.

The invitation to attend the meeting was declined by many political figures, including some of the leadership of opposition coalition the National Salvation Front. Some leaders of the group sent written proposals to the president’s office in place of attending.

Hamazawy, however, chose to take part in the meeting “out of a realisation that this goes beyond our internal political disagreements to a very serious national interest matter.” 

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