Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Tawadros’ visit unrelated to GERD

The relationship between Cairo and Addis Ababa over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is getting more complicated, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Reacting to the announcement that Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II was to visit Ethiopia where he might discuss the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with the Ethiopian authorities, one diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said the “mediation of the Coptic Church is welcome even though Pope Tawadros has said that his is a church visit. The church in Ethiopia also has no influence over the government.”

However, the visit will at least have kept the channels of dialogue open between Egypt and Ethiopia, even if it does not have an impact on the issue of the sharing of the Nile’s water.

The visit by the head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church has come amid complications in the relationship between Cairo and Addis Ababa over the GERD and at a time when the operation of the dam’s first two generators is likely to start soon.

The Dutch consultancy firm Deltares that was supposed to submit its assessment of the harm the dam could do to Egypt early last month failed to meet the deadline and later withdrew from the study. And the tripartite meeting that was supposed to be held early this month in Cairo to hold further discussions will not be held before the middle of the month.

In the meantime, the building of the dam is in full swing.

“It is becoming crystal clear that Addis Ababa is buying time until a de facto situation is imposed on the ground. At that point we will find ourselves talking about the harm of a dam that is already fully built and in operation,” the diplomat added.

In the first visit of its kind, referred to as “historic” by the Coptic Church, the Pope participated in celebrations of the Ethiopian Feast of the Holy Cross. In an interview with Al-Ahram this week, he said that the visit was primarily religious and was intended to reciprocate Ethiopian Father Abuna Matias’s visit to Egypt in January and consolidate ties between the churches.

Tawadros said the visit was unrelated to the ongoing discussions on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

“No particular assignments were allocated by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to the delegation ahead of the visit, but my patriotic feelings and the relationship between the two churches have prompted me to try to find a consensus between the two countries,” the Pope said.

Ethiopian Ambassador to Egypt Mahmoud Dirir stressed that the relationship between the two churches played an important role in consolidating relations between the two countries and emphasised the depth of historical ties between Egypt and Ethiopia.

During the visit, which started on Saturday, Pope Tawadros met with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom and Egypt’s Ambassador to Ethiopia Abu Bakr Hefni on Sunday as part of his five-day visit. Ethiopian Orthodox Church Patriarch Mathias and Dirir attended the meeting.

As part of his visit, Pope Tawadros visited the Sebeta Getesemani Convent and some of the most important churches and monasteries in Ethiopia, including the Holy Trinity Church. He was also scheduled to take part in the inauguration of the Coptic Canadian Hospital.

Prior to his Ethiopian visit, Pope Tawadros visited Denmark and Sweden before returning to Cairo last Tuesday a few days before the current visit. The Pope is also expected to visit the US in mid-October.

The political track on the dam saw a minor development this week when President Al-Sisi held talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on the third day of his visit to the US.

Al-Sisi stressed the need to speed up the implementation of the technical procedures agreed upon in the Declaration of Principles on the GERD signed by Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in March.

Desalegn confirmed his government’s commitment to the declaration’s implementation, adding that the issue would top the new government’s agenda, which is planned to begin on 5 October.

During the meeting, Desalegn stated that the GERD’s main target was to fight poverty and help bring about development and prosperity. He said the dam would be a “symbol of cooperation” between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

A presidential spokesperson’s statement issued this week said that a meeting between irrigation ministers would be arranged for early October to discuss future plans and their implementation.

The meeting was supposed to be held early in September to discuss the failure of the consultancy firms to submit their reports on the dam on time. However, Ethiopia declined to hold the meeting, saying that it would not be held before the end of this month because the country was busy with selecting its new coalition government.

The tripartite – Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia – technical negotiations, which started last year, aim to define the governing principles of cooperation and to safeguard the interests of the three states.

Currently, talks over the dam are stalled after the withdrawal of Deltares from studies related to assessing the probable impact of the GERD. The future of the negotiations remains unclear after Deltares’s withdrawal.

The dam and its effect on Egypt’s water quota from the Nile have been the cause of differences between Egypt and Ethiopia.

However, the two countries decided to open a new page of cooperation and take confidence-building measures after President Al-Sisi held talks with his Ethiopian counpterpart Mulatu Teshome.

In March, representatives of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met in Sudan and signed the Declaration of Principles on the GERD.

After the signing, the three countries agreed to sign contracts with French and Dutch consultancy firms to carry out studies of the Dam’s possible effects on the accessing of water by downstream countries.

The studies were also expected to determine the time it would take for the dam to be filled and possible environmental and social impacts on Egypt and Sudan.

The Grand Renaissance Dam, scheduled to be completed in 2017, will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant with a storage capacity of 74 billion cubic metres of water and a height of 145 metres.

The dam’s foundation stone was laid on 2 April 2011 by the then Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi. The first two generators are scheduled to become operational this month.

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