Cairo welcomed Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra this week, a visit that demonstrated the strong, decades-old ties between the two countries. The late leader president Gamal Abdel-Nasser supported Algeria’s long, just war for independence from the French in the 1950s and early 1960s. Cairo’s Sawt Al-Arab (the Voice of Arabs) radio station was practically a mouthpiece for the Algerian resistance movement in its heroic struggle, and Nasser vehemently rejected French threats and pressure to end his support for the nationalist movement in Algeria. When Nasser visited “the country of the one million martyrs” after independence in 1962, he was welcomed as a hero, and spared no effort to help Algeria regain its Arab and African identities.
Meanwhile, shortly after Algeria became indepent, its leaders earned worldwide respect for their wise foreign policy and diplomatic mediation to solve Arab and African conflicts, whether in Lebanon, during the war between Iraq and Iran or in African countries seeking independence from either French or British occupation.
In the ongoing dispute over the disastrous effects of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Egypt and Sudan’s legitimate share in Nile water, Algerian mediation can definitely benefit all three countries. Although Egypt and Sudan both strongly condemned Ethiopia’s second, unilateral filling of the GERD in early July, they continued to stress that the door remained open for reaching an agreement.
Receiving the Algerian minister confirms Egypt and Sudan’s openness to any positive effort, particularly by African and Arab countries, to convince Addis Ababa to stop its procrastination policy and reach a fair, binding agreement with both Egypt and Sudan on the conditions for filling the GERD without causing drought and other, severe damage in both countries. Lamamra, who also visited Ethiopia and Sudan before his final stop in Cairo, has a tough mission ahead of him. The skillful diplomat is seeking not just to fix Ethiopia’s relations with Egypt, but also with the majority of Arab countries who expressed understanding for Egypt’s stand, and issued a statement by the Arab League in late June calling upon Ethiopia to act in good faith and stop wasting time in endless negotiations before reaching agreement with Egypt and Sudan.
Lamamra rightly stated in his joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukri that the dispute between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over the Nile dam was “going through a critical stage.” He also noted Egypt’s success in presenting the GERD on the world stage after failing to reach an agreement with Ethiopia for more than ten years, stating that “the GERD dispute is a global issue for which the UN Security Council convened and is seen as one of the important world issues.”
Despite the sincere efforts by several friendly parties to mediate an agreement – South Africa, the United States, the European Union and the current African Union president, the Democratic Republic of Congo – Ethiopia has always rejected the outcome at the last moment, wrongly turning the GERD into a national issue in an attempt to unite the Ethiopian people behind an illusionary conspiracy they claimed Egypt was orchestrating to prevent the key African country from making the best use of its water resources.
Lamamra also expressed his belief that it was “very important for the three countries of the GERD to reach satisfactory solutions that fulfill each party’s rights and ensure transparency in their relationship.” Transparency, respect for binding agreements among the three countries on the distribution of Nile water dating back to 1902, and honouring the international laws organising cross-border rivers are exactly the key points that Ethiopia has disregarded over the past 10 years in its negotiations with Egypt and Sudan.
A decade of negotiations over the hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile have failed to ensure that water will continue to flow downstream to Sudan and to Egypt in sufficient amounts, where 100 million people are dependent on the river as their sole source of water.
Perhaps Algeria’s Foreign Minister Lamamra, might have a better chance, considering that the veteran diplomat has a long experience in Africa. His country also maintains close relations with both Egypt and Ethiopia, which might help ease Ethiopian intransigence and convince its leadership that friendly nations are also seeing the dangers of its unilateral behaviour while dealing with the GERD’s serious harmful effects on both Egypt and Sudan.
Besides the GERD, maintaining close coordination between Egypt and Algeria is also vital to restoring stability and ending the civil war in Libya, considering that both countries share borders with the war-torn nation. Egypt and Algeria also vowed to provide support for Tunisia after the latest developments there, and the decisions by the Tunisian president to suspend parliament and appoint a new prime minister in an attempt to put an end to the chaos caused by Ennahda Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Tunisian branch.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly