Given the fait accompli engineered by Ethiopia, commentators dispute what Cairo’s next move should be. Can it afford to stick to the diplomatic approach it has adopted so far? Should it push for a reopening of stalled negotiations, mediated by the UN Security Council (UNSC), the African Union (AU), the US or the United Arab Emirates, the only Arab non-permanent member of the UNSC?
Whatever Cairo chooses, time is running out, says Ayman Abdel-Wahab, senior analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. Any future negotiations along the lines of previous tripartite meetings will lead nowhere, he argues.
“It is clear Addis Ababa wants non-binding understanding rather than a legally binding agreement. And it has become obvious its endgame is to sell Nile water on.”
Exacerbating the problem, he says, is the failure of previous mediators to place any meaningful pressure on the parties involved in the dispute, especially Ethiopia.
“UN and US mediation proved useless. Too many conflicting interests are involved.” So too, according to Abdel-Wahab, did the UAE’s attempts. It held two negotiating sessions, one in May, the second in June, which concluded with a recommendation the talks return to the AU, and be pursued by Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa in good faith.
Abbas Sharaki, professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, described the completion of the third filling as yet another violation of the Declaration of Principles signed in 2015, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) presidential statement issued last year, AU recommendations and international regulations.
Shortly before the announcement of the end of the third filling, Addis Ababa said it had begun operating GERD’s second electric power turbine. There was no official reaction from Cairo or Khartoum to the announcements.
Last month Egypt sent a letter to the UNSC protesting Ethiopia’s decision to go ahead with the third filling. In the letter, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri urged the international body to assume its responsibilities and intervene to ensure the implementation of the presidential statement issued last year by the council calling on Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia to reach an agreement at the earliest possible date.
Egypt has referred the GERD case to the UN twice. In 2021, Cairo and Sudan petitioned the UN Security Council. During a meeting in July 2021 Tunisia — then a non-permanent member of the council — submitted a draft resolution calling on Ethiopia to negotiate in good faith and set a timetable of six months to reach an agreement under the umbrella of the AU. The session concluded without a vote.
Cairo and Khartoum have repeatedly expressed fears the dam will affect their water supply. Although Ethiopia has repeatedly claimed the dam will not harm downstream countries, a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity told Al-Ahram Weekly that statements coming out of Addis Ababa suggest otherwise. He pointed to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s announcement after the completion of the third filling. “We contribute 85 per cent to the Nile River. Although not using the river in the past was regrettable,” said Ahmed, “now we are starting to use what we deserve.”
While the diplomat argued AU-sponsored talks are the only way pathway that could lead to an agreement and that “any other option will be futile”, Abdel-Wahab says that sticking to Egypt’s diplomatic approach “may convince some parties of the justice of our case but will not change the Ethiopian position”. That, he insists, will take the kind of concerted international pressure that has been notably lacking till now.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.