Friday,14 December, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)
Friday,14 December, 2018
Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Cooperation instead of delays

Since assuming office four years ago, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has paid great attention to boosting ties with all African states in pursuit of integration and common interests, recognising Egypt’s belonging and commitment to the African continent.

However, special priority has been given to Nile Basin African neighbours, considering that the River Nile is almost Egypt’s only source of drinking water, and the lifeline of its civilisation since thousands of years.

This came after years of relative disregard of the significance of such ties under ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, especially following the attempt against his life in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, shortly after arrival to attend an African summit in 1995.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia exploited the state of chaos and instability that followed Mubarak’s removal following the 25 January 2011 Revolution, and unilaterally launched its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which will, no doubt, negatively affect Egypt’s designated share of water, clearly stipulated in agreements signed among Nile Basin nations starting the late 19th century, and later in 1929 and 1959.

Even then, and amid the cheerful atmosphere that followed the changes in 2011, Egyptians were keen to confirm that they were looking to open a new chapter and to build positive relations with Ethiopia, sending several so-called “popular delegations” that met with Ethiopian officials and parliamentary deputies.

Nevertheless, it became clear that the established policy of Addis Ababa was to procrastinate and waste time in negotiations while speedily continuing building GERD and establishing facts on the ground.

After the last African summit meeting attended by President Al-Sisi in Addis Ababa in late January, and his tripartite meeting with the leaders of Ethiopia and Sudan, the three leaders agreed on a high-level mechanism in order to reach understandings on differences over GERD, particularly the pace of filling the dam, and accepting an expert study, prepared by a neutral, professional firm on the environmental effects of the dam on Sudan and Egypt. Ministers of foreign affairs, irrigation and intelligence were to hold meetings and report to the leaders of the three countries in one month. President Al-Sisi also later received in Cairo President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, where he received a very warm welcome and pledged to work on solving any recent differences, considering close and historic ties between the two countries.

The first meeting among senior officials from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia was held in Khartoum on 5 April and did not produce an agreement despite lengthy positive discussions. The senior officials were supposed to meet again in Cairo on Friday, 20 April. Even though Cairo issued official invitations to the two countries, they simply did not respond and the meeting was not held. This definitely means that the deadline agreed on by the three countries will not be met.

Ethiopians will argue that they went through their own unstable period following the resignation of prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Nevertheless, a new premier was appointed a week ago, while the foreign and irrigation ministers who took part in the Khartoum meeting on 5 April kept their positions. While Cairo certainly wishes the new Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, success, it would have been a positive gesture if he started his term by showing good will towards Egypt and sending his ministers to the high-level meeting.

In recent statements, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said that Egypt did not receive any response from the Ethiopian and Sudanese sides on resuming talks on the dam, stressing that Cairo will not accept an “arm-twisting” policy. He also firmly denied reports that Egypt hindered negotiations on the dam, saying that Cairo deals in a flexible and transparent way with regard to the relevant technical studies.

While Cairo maintains its positive policy towards Ethiopia and Sudan, it would be wrong to assume that it has no options to preserve its interests and rights to River Nile water. Egypt has many first-class diplomats and irrigation experts with long experience, and will continue to seek diplomatic means to protect Egypt’s rights.

Meanwhile, Egypt will continue to expand in African markets through establishing mega projects and setting up companies in Nile Basin countries and in southern Africa. The Egyptian Agency of Partnership for Development exerts efforts in capacity building, in addition to providing training courses and basic needs to several African states. Egypt will also continue its role in African Union activities and its work on a number of initiatives, with the aim of activating cooperation with AU states and overcoming political, economic and social challenges.

These are all great opportunities that the three countries, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, should work on together, instead of adopting delaying tactics that will likely produce a setback for the effort Cairo exerted to improve relations over the past four years.

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