Burundi joins Nile Basin pact opposed by Egypt

Ahmed Eleiba , Thursday 10 Mar 2011

Burundi signing the Nile Water agreement poses a new challenge to Egypt at a critical ‎time, and the Foreign Ministry says it is seeking legal recourse


Two weeks ago, a new crisis erupted in political and diplomatic circles when Burundi signed the Entebbe framework agreement. Egyptian and Sudanese diplomatic circles are trying to deal with this development to some extent, especially in light of the current political conditions. Over the past five years the issue has exemplified Egypt’s failed foreign policies and the poor performance by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry under the previous regime. According to diplomats and legal counsel on this issue, Egypt is studying the legal response to these developments.

Amr Al-Hamzawi, political science professor at Cairo University, believes that Burundi signing the Entebbe framework agreement represents a seriously detrimental step. Hamzawi says that both Egypt and Sudan are going through decisive moments, whether it’s the partition of Sudan or transformation to democracy in Egypt. He argued that the move by Burundi is a result of Egypt’s recent ineffective and failed foreign and regional policies.

After Burundi’s signature, the issue revolves around reducingEgypt’s share Nile water share by 15 billion cubic meters, which Hamzawi explains will be negotiated between member states and a number of international organisations and the superpowers that fund them. He added that while international agreements stipulate not harming the interests of Egypt, what is being discussed is decreasing Egypt’s share and increasing the water quotas of these states, as well as the large amount of Nile water being wasted.

Hamzawi asserted that the biggest challenge now is how to defend Egypt’s interests and national security on all fronts. He is most concerned that other powers will manipulate the situation to secure their own interests at the expense of Egypt, in light of the fact that the Egyptian army is preoccupied with domestic matters.

Ambassador Reda Bebars, who is in charge of the issue at the Foreign Ministry, told Ahram Online that matters are not as alarming as reported and that Egypt is moving forward on several planes, most prominently in the diplomatic and legal arenas. Bebars doubted that military intervention would be needed to resolve the issue.

Some experts on the matter suggest that the position of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is precarious, making it difficult for the army to take a decision that could be construed as military. However, sources close to the SCAF said that the hands of the council are not tied in this issue, which is also likely to be dealt with through diplomatic channels.

Major General Sameh Seif el-Yazel, director of the Political and Security Studies Centre, says the decision by the five countries to cut 15 billion cubic meters of water from Egypt’s share is a perilous development. Seif el-Yazel says that while the agreement only needs to be ratified by the parliaments of signatory states to become effective in mid-May, this is a procedural step that these states could manipulate amid the upheaval in Egypt and Sudan.

Seif el-Yazel, whose prominent diplomat father signed the 1959 agreement that specified Egypt’s current quota, added that current unstable conditions are an opportunity for these states. He suggested that South Africa and China, who are influential on the African continent, should participate in the dialogue of Nile Basin countries. He doubted the participation of EU states would be sought because some of these countries are assisting Ethiopia in building dams.

Seif el-Yazel emphasised the need to focus diplomatic efforts and seek multilateral or unilateral negotiations, and rejected the notion of temporary solutions. He noted that if an agreement cannot be reached, then Egypt will seek international arbitration or appeal to the UN in order to continue receiving its share of Nile water.

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