Ahead of another tripartite meeting, scheduled for this weekend in Khartoum, Cairo is pushing for a breakthrough on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam via active diplomacy on the regional and international levels, reports Doaa El-Bey
The water ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are set to meet on the 4 and 5 October to discuss the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
In an attempt to break the deadlock Egypt has begun raising the issue in meetings with Arab and world leaders.
“Escalating to the international level is a positive move given bilateral and trilateral talks have been fruitless. There is no doubt Addis Ababa is using the negotiations to waste time and impose a de facto situation on the ground,” said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.
The last round of talks, he added, is the best proof of this: Addis Ababa refused point blank to discuss Cairo’s proposals.
During last week’s UN General Assembly in New York, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi called on the international community to help Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia resolve the dispute, while on the side-lines of the assembly Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri voiced Egypt’s dissatisfaction with the repeated delays in reaching an agreement.
Rakha Hassan, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, says Egypt’s new approach has been dictated by Ethiopia’s “procrastination, circumvention and evasion”.
“I cannot describe it as an escalation. What is happening is that the negotiations are moving from behind the curtains onto a stage where international parties are being involved,” he said.
Addressing the UN General Assembly, Al-Sisi said the international community should play a “constructive role” in urging all parties to be flexible in the negotiations so an agreement that achieves the interests of all parties is reached.
“Nile water is an existential issue for Egypt,” he added.
Meeting with US officials, President Al-Sisi said Cairo is expanding the domain of discussions on the dam they are no longer restricted to the bilateral or trilateral level.
He emphasised that Egypt has always been in favour of dialogue. The dam, he said, cannot be operated by the “imposition of a status quo” but according to agreement.
Shoukri raised the dam issue in bilateral meeting with his European, African and Arab counterparts and expressed Cairo’s concern over extended negotiations which have consistently failed to approach an agreement.
Shoukri told a press conference with his Kenyan counterpart Monica Juma last month in Cairo that Egypt is open to discussion and ready to reach an agreement but this should take place as soon as possible. He added that there is no room for one party to impose its will on other parties.
He briefed foreign ministers attending last month’s Arab League meeting in Cairo on the difficulties facing negotiations.over the dam
Egypt’s concerns were also raised by Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs Hamdi Loza in meetings held in Cairo last month with African and European ambassadors.
He explained the last round of talks held on 15 and 16 September failed because Ethiopia refused to discuss Egypt’s proposals for filling and operating the dam.
Loza has called on Ethiopia to “discuss Cairo’s proposals during this weekend’s tripartite meeting and try to reach a compromise that leads to an agreement that protects the interest of all three states”.
Cairo’s attempts to involve other parties seems to be having an effect. In her maiden speech before the UNGA, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde told delegates the River Nile should not be subject to competition and the dam project offered a unique opportunity for all the countries along the river to co-operate.
She stressed Addis Ababa’s commitment to reaching a deal over the dam.
Tijjani Muhammad, President of the 74th session of the UNGA, said no country has the right to deprive another of water. His statement came during a meeting with Egyptian businessman and Honourary President of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliament Assembly (EMPA) Mohamed Abul-Enein earlier this week.
Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Atti told reporters last month that, during his visit to Ethiopia in August, he had handed over a proposal outlining Egypt’s vision of the filling and operating rules of the Dam to his Ethiopian counterpart Seleshi Bekele.
Egypt officially requested the dam’s reservoir be filled over a period of seven years, and Addis Ababa release a minimum of 40 billion cubic metres of water each year.
Ethiopia rejected Egypt’s proposal as “impractical”.
A document outlining the reasons for Ethiopia’s rejection, quoted in the Ethiopian media, claimed “the Egyptian proposal… will prolong the filling of GERD indefinitely… and the proposed permanent coordination mechanism infringes on Ethiopia’s sovereignty.”
Egypt has repeatedly expressed concerns that the dam, on the main tributary to the Nile, will reduce its share of water.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.