Egypt’s political parties fully back President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi over ongoing negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Mohamed Tayseer Mattar, leader of the Alliance of Egyptian Parties, said during a press conference on Saturday.
“We have full confidence that the president, in cooperation with all state authorities, will be able to deal with the GERD file and solve the current impasse with Ethiopia,” said Mattar.
Mattar’s statement came after the latest round of negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on the filling and operation of the dam folded without any result.
During a visit to the Suez Canal on 30 March President Al-Sisi vowed not to compromise a single drop of Egypt’s quota of Nile water.
Mattar stressed the importance of all political forces mobilising behind President Al-Sisi and state authorities.
“We do not want Egypt’s political leadership to face pressure of any kind. We want to give them a mandate to deal with an issue that is a matter of life and death for Egyptians,” said Mattar.
Raouf Al-Sayed, head of the National Movement Party, said Egypt’s political parties understand that the repeated failure of negotiations was a result of Ethiopian intransigence and not a lack of flexibility on Egypt’s part.
Ragab Hilal Hemeida, deputy chairman of Eradet Geel (Generation’s Will) Party, said the gathering of Egyptian political parties on Saturday sent the message that Egypt is united over its position on GERD.
“We do not want to harm Ethiopia or its right to build a dam to generate electricity, and we do not want Ethiopia to use this dam to harm Egypt and Sudan,” said Hemeida. “Egypt and Sudan want a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam to this effect.”
Mohamed Manzour, a member of the Senate and deputy chairman of the majority Mostaqbal Watan Party, said President Al-Sisi’s vow to defend Egypt’s Nile water quota should be taken seriously by Ethiopia.
According to Manzour, political forces in Egypt fully believe the country has the necessary diplomatic, legal and military means to confront Ethiopia’s intransigence. “Egypt has stressed that cooperation rather than confrontation is the way to reach an agreement over GERD but Ethiopia appears determined to impose new facts on the ground and insists it will start the second filling of the dam in July regardless of Egypt and Sudan’s objections.”
Sherif Al-Gabali, head of parliament’s African Affairs Committee, said African and other friendly countries around the world should intervene to find a solution.
“Ethiopia’s insistence the African Union [AU] remains the sole sponsor of GERD negotiations is no longer feasible. Egypt and Sudan have the right to appeal to the international community to protect their water rights and avoid the harm a second unilateral filling of the dam could cause to them.”
MP Hazem Al-Guindi, deputy chairman of the Guardians of the Nation Party, suggested a popular committee be formed. “The committee should include leaders of political parties, former ministers of foreign affairs and irrigation, and experts on international and African affairs and act to mobilise Arab, African and international opinion to pressure Ethiopia and convey a message to its leaders that intransigence and unilateral actions can only spread instability in the region,” said Al-Guindi.
Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati said in a TV interview on Saturday that Egypt has been preparing since 2015 to absorb any water supply shocks. He noted that over the last five years Egypt has invested heavily in water conservation projects including rationing, canal rehabilitation, modern irrigation techniques, recycling and treatment, and rain water storage.
“Egypt is well prepared to handle either high or medium flood scenarios after filling the dam,” said Abdel-Ati. “The only danger is if a severe drought happens forcing Egypt to deplete its water reserves. This is why we want a binding agreement, so as not to be left at the mercy of Addis Ababa.”
“War is a last resort, and it is not an option we would want to consider. We want Ethiopia to understand that negotiations should be the only way to secure the interests of all parties.”
Irrigation Ministry Spokesman Mohamed Ghanem also said in a TV interview on Saturday that Egypt and Sudan are ready to sit down for another round of talks with Ethiopia as long as it is committed to not undertaking unilateral action.
Egypt and Sudan rejected a proposal by Ethiopia on 10 April to exchange data from the GERD ahead of the second filling in July.
“There needs to be a legally binding agreement in force ahead of the exchange of information, and certainly ahead of any second filling,” said Abdel-Ati.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly