Last-ditch intervention

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 23 Jun 2020

Egypt’s decision to ask the UNSC to intervene in the Nile dam crisis is welcomed by politicians, MPs and analysts, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Egypt’s Parliament

In an information request directed to Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri on Sunday, independent MP Osama Sharshar asked: “What if Ethiopia refuses to abide by any UN Security Council [UNSC] resolutions on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam [GERD]? What legal and political moves does Egypt intend to take in such a case? Are we going to resort to the International Court of Justice in response to Ethiopia’s bullying moves, or take other measures?”

After negotiations over GERD ground to a halt Egypt opted to refer the file to the UNSC. During a visit to a military air base on 20 June, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said the decision demonstrated that Cairo remains committed to finding a diplomatic and political solution to the dispute. “I hope that the Ethiopian leadership and people will get this message because we need to move quickly to finish the negotiations and reach an agreement,” he said.

Parliamentary Spokesperson Salah Hassaballah told Al-Ahram Weekly that Egypt’s decision to formally refer the GERD file to the UNSC aims to show the world that it wants a peaceful solution to this issue. “The problem is that Ethiopian officials insist on imposing a fait accompli on Egypt and Sudan. This is why Egypt has asked the UNSC to intervene to help resolve the crisis.”

Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew told the Associated Press on 19 June that “for us, it is not mandatory to reach an agreement before starting filling the dam… we will commence the filling process in the coming rainy season,” and added his government wants to make it clear that Ethiopia will not beg Egypt and Sudan to allow it to use its own water resource for its development.

“This is a very arrogant and provocative statement,” insists Hassaballah, “and shows ill intentions on the Ethiopian side.”

Article 35 of the UN Charter gives member states the right to alert the Security Council to potential crises that might endanger international peace and security. “So what Egypt did was a very correct move. The Nile water file could be an explosive one, and in this respect we expect the UNSC to move quickly to take all the measures necessary to help reach a peaceful solution to this issue,” says Hassaballah.

He believes Washington might intervene to press Ethiopia to reach a binding agreement with Egypt and Sudan.

The US National Security Council (NSC) said on 17 June it is time to reach a deal over the disputed GERD before Ethiopia starts filling the dam’s reservoir.  Some “257 million people in East Africa are relying on Ethiopia to show strong leadership, which means striking a fair deal.”

“The technical issues have been resolved,” the NSC said, “and it is time to get a GERD deal done before filling it with Nile River water.”

According to Hassaballah, “the NSC statement is very strong and came in time to remind Ethiopia that the US is closely following the issue and it can pressure Ethiopia to reach an agreement with Egypt and Sudan before filling the dam.”

The parliamentary majority Future of Homeland Party issued a statement on Sunday saying that for Egypt GERD “is not just a national security issue, it is rather a matter of life and death, and this is what the Ethiopians do not want to understand.”

Alaa Abed, deputy chairman of the party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “the UN has previously asked Ethiopia not to fill the dam before reaching an agreement with Egypt and Sudan.”.

“The US, Russia, France, the African Union, the World Bank and South Africa were all closely following the GERD negotiations and all agree that Ethiopia should not take unilateral action to fill the dam.”

Tamer Al-Shehawi, deputy chairman of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee, said Egypt’s policy in the coming period is based on involving the international community to help resolve the GERD crisis.

“Egypt wants the US, Russia and the World Bank to exert pressure on Ethiopia.”

Al-Shehawi believes Washington might play a strong role in this respect after Ethiopia refused to sign the agreement reached in January after months of strenuous negotiations brokered by the US Secretary of Treasury.

Tayseer Matar, head of the Will of a Generation Party, told the Weekly that “Egypt’s resort to the UN Security Council offers Ethiopia a last chance, after which Egypt will be free to do what is necessary to preserve its rights in the Nile water.”

Matar heaped praise on Sudan’s position. “Egypt and Sudan have a united stand right now, and this will strengthen Egypt’s message to the UNSC and bring Ethiopia under greater international pressure.”

Sudan’s Foreign Minister Asmaa Mohamed Abdallah said on Saturday that the last round of negotiations achieved progress on technical issues, “but there is still a dispute on essential legal issues, and so the file was referred to the prime ministers of the three countries.”

The Conservatives Party issued a statement on Sunday saying “Ethiopia’s refusal to sign a legally binding agreement with Egypt and Sudan exposes its bad intentions. The Ethiopians were not honest from the start of negotiations, and sought to waste time. The referral of the issue to the UNSC offers a final chance to reach a peaceful solution to the GERD crisis.”

Ghad Party head Moussa Mustafa Moussa said in a statement that “the Ethiopian foreign minister’s statement on the GERD talks was provocative, showing his country’s intransigence on this issue and its lack of willingness to reach a negotiated settlement.”

Professor of international law Ayman Salama said in a press interview that the reaction of the UNSC to Egypt’s request to intervene will be in line with the sixth chapter of the UN Charter and initially take the form of “a non-binding recommendation.”

“But if Ethiopia then insists on continuing to reject moves to reach an agreement with Sudan and Egypt the UNSC could move to use the seventh chapter to impose a binding resolution on Ethiopia, just as it did when Iraq invaded Kuwait.”

Salama is not optimistic, and expects “Ethiopia will turn a deaf ear to international pressure and go ahead with filling the dam without reaching an agreement.”

Ambassador Ahmed Haggag, secretary-general of the African Society, an Egypt-based forum that discusses pan-African issues, said in a TV interview that Egypt had sent a message to the UNSC weeks ago explaining its position on the GERD.

“Ethiopia and Sudan also sent messages to the UNSC, each explaining its position, and in reaction the council advised Ethiopia not to fill the dam before reaching an agreement with Egypt and Sudan. In its 19 June message, Egypt did not ask the UNSC to impose penalties on Ethiopia. Rather, it asked the council to exercise its role and promote a fair agreement between the three countries and so prevent an armed conflict on this issue.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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