Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri this week embarked on a regional tour to clarify Egypt’s position on negotiations regarding the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Ethiopia. The tour was prompted by the failure of Ethiopia to show up for the last round of negotiations on the GERD in Washington last month.
“Egypt has embarked on a tiring negotiating process with Sudan and Ethiopia since 2014. Its negotiating position has always been based on the good intention to reach a fair and comprehensive agreement that meets the joint interests of the three states concerned and realises the ambitions of Addis Ababa for development without harming the water interests of Egypt or Sudan,” Shoukri said in an address to an Arab League meeting in Cairo last week.
Shoukri’s tour had two main aims. The first is related to diplomatic initiatives, Rakha Hassan, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Shoukri expressed Egypt’s appreciation for the support of the states concerned during last week’s Arab League ministerial meeting.
“He is carrying a message from President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to the heads of these states to brief them on the latest developments related to the dam,” Hassan said.
The second aim of the tour was to make use of the good relations between Ethiopia and these states, especially the Gulf states, to persuade the former to sign the agreement reached last month in Washington. This “does not encroach on Addis Ababa’s rights to build the dam or to generate electricity,” Hassan added.
Shoukri’s tour, which began on Sunday, took him to Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Bahrain.
After the support that most of the states showed to Egypt in last week’s Arab League meeting, Ali Al-Hefni, former deputy to Egypt’s foreign minister, said it was useful to hold further consultations and exchanges of views with the Arab states.
“A network of joint interests links the Gulf states and the African countries in general and Ethiopia in particular. That network can help in resolving the present situation regarding the dam and concluding the agreement that was drafted by the technical committees of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan,” he said, adding that the visits to Jordan and Iraq would serve to coordinate further in the framework of trilateral cooperation.
The heads of government of Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq held two trilateral summits last year in which they affirmed their commitment to maintaining strategic cooperation and coordination among the Arab countries to ensure regional stability and reach solutions to various crises.
Shoukri’s tour this week also gave room to discuss other important regional issues, namely the Palestinian cause, the situation in Iraq, the crises in Libya and Yemen, the Turkish interference in Libya, and the Iranian role in the region, Al-Hefni said.
In the Arab League meeting last week, Arab foreign ministers expressed their rejection of any attempts to harm Egypt’s historical rights to Nile River water by the construction of the GERD.
“The water security of Egypt is an integral part of Arab national security,” read the draft resolution issued at the end of the meeting. It came in response to Shoukri’s request for the Arab states to support Egypt in its fair demands in his address to the Arab League meeting.
Both Ethiopia and Sudan reacted angrily to the resolution, however. In a statement issued by the Sudanese foreign ministry on Sunday, Sudan voiced reservations regarding the draft resolution.
Expressing its disappointment at the Sudanese stand, Egypt explained that it had been keen to inform the Sudanese representative at the Arab League about the draft resolution since 1 March.
“Nevertheless, it [Sudan] did not send any comments to the Egyptian authorities. Besides, at Sudan’s request, the Egyptian delegation removed Sudan’s name from the draft resolution,” Spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry Ahmed Hafez said.
Amendments suggested later by Khartoum sought to weaken the draft resolution, he added.
Hassan also noted the disparity in Sudan’s stand. Chief of Sudan’s ruling military council Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan called President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi this week to discuss bilateral relations and issues of mutual concern, but at the same time Sudan refrained from signing the final agreement and criticised Egypt for trying to assert its historic water rights.
“That could be ascribed to the fact that Sudan wants to appear as if it is taking an independent decision regarding the dam or that the US did not exert enough pressure on Khartoum to sign the agreement,” he said.
The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry criticised the Arab League’s stance on the dam.
In a statement issued last Friday, Ethiopia rejected the resolution in its entirety as giving “blind support to a member state without taking into consideration key facts at the centre of the GERD talks,” the statement said.
However, Egypt “categorically” rejected the statement as inappropriate, undiplomatic, and “constituting an unacceptable affront to the Arab League and its member states.
“This resolution adopted by the Arab League reflects dismay at Ethiopia’s track record throughout the endless rounds of negotiations on the GERD, particularly since the conclusion of the 2015 Agreement on Declaration of Principles [DoP],” read the statement.
It described Ethiopia’s position during the negotiations as revealing “its intent to exercise hydro-hegemony and to anoint itself as the unchallenged and sole beneficiary of the Nile.” It also criticised Addis Ababa’s insistence on filling the GERD unilaterally in July 2020 without reaching an agreement as “a material breach of the DoP”.
In another development Shoukri met African ambassadors to Egypt last week to inform them of achievements made during Egypt’s presidency of the African Union (AU) in 2019 in addition to the latest developments on the dam and Egypt’s efforts to reach a fair and balanced agreement for the three parties concerned.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly