Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1202, (19 -25 June 2014)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1202, (19 -25 June 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Cooperation, not contention

Improving ties with Africa has been a top priority for Egypt’s foreign policy since 30 June, now boosted by the election of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi stressed during his inaugural speech last week that Egypt was keen on safeguarding Pan-Africanism, which it could not and would not disengage from. He said that clear steps had been made in this direction since 30 June 2013.

Former foreign minister Nabil Fahmi has also made boosting relations with African states, especially Nile Basin states, one of the priorities of Egypt’s foreign policy. Egyptian diplomatic efforts in Africa have increased since last July in order to portray a correct image of what happened on 30 June to the African continent.

These efforts have now born fruit since the presidential elections, with two developments in particular being noticed — the end of the ban on Egypt in the African Union’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) and a thaw in Egyptian-Ethiopian relations.

On Tuesday, the PSC met and decided to end the suspension of Egypt’s membership and the country’s return to its historic role within the Union.

The PSC conferred, as ambassador Ahmed Haggag, an expert on African issues, explained, on a report on Egypt drafted by the union’s “Committee of the Wise” headed by Alpha Oumar Konare. The report explained that what had happened in Egypt on 30 June last year was not a coup but a popular revolution and Egypt had thus not deviated from the democratic path.

 Developments in the country, namely the election of a new president and the adoption of the new constitution through a public referendum, are expected to work in favour of Egypt.

Active communications have taken place over the past few days between Cairo and the PSC member countries, other African states and top officials in the AU, including two phone calls made by Fahmi and his Ugandan and Gambian counterparts.

These contacts aim to guarantee that the PSC’s decision will be in line with the Konare report. The report recommended the quick resumption of Egypt’s activities in the AU, as foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atti said on Monday.

“The report reflects respect for the will of the Egyptian people as shown on 30 June and in the completion of the first two steps of the roadmap. Thus, Egypt should be allowed to resume its historic role in participating in issues related to the African continent and working to achieve the welfare and progress of the African peoples,” Abdel-Atti said.

The AU suspended Egypt’s membership after the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi last year because it regarded that step as a “deviation from the democratic path.”

Egypt will take part in the African Summit meeting due to be held on 26 and 27 June in Guinea Bissau. On the Ethiopian-Egyptian level, the last few days have witnessed promising statements and warm gestures that have raised optimism of a possible breakthrough on the Nile water issue.

Maghawri Shahata, an expert on water issues, emphasised that Egypt had repeatedly declared its willingness to resolve the matter through dialogue before, during and after the presidential elections. The approach had been further emphasised by Fahmi’s visits to various African states and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s recent visit to Tanzania and Guinea Bissau.

Haggag agreed that the gestures were important steps in the right direction. Ethiopia needed to prove to Egypt that it did not want to harm its interests, and Egypt needed to show Addis Ababa that it supported its development, he said.

“Meanwhile, Ethiopia still needs to provide more information about the design and impact of the dam on Egypt,” Haggag said, referring to Ethiopia’s planned “Grand Renaissance Dam” that will be built on the Nile in that country.

The recent promising gestures included Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros Adhanom’s invitation to Al-Sisi to visit Addis Ababa. The invitation came during a meeting at the presidential headquarters last week, where Al-Sisi met Adhanom after the inauguration ceremony.

Nabil Fahmi and Ethiopia’s ambassador to Egypt, Mahmoud Dardeer, attended the meeting. The Egyptian government has yet to confirm Al-Sisi’s visit to Ethiopia.

During the meeting, Al-Sisi stressed the deep historical bonds between the two countries and insisted that issues concerning Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam “should be solved through dialogue.”

He added that Egypt understood Ethiopia’s needs for development, but that Ethiopia should understand Egypt’s need for its share of Nile water. Adhanom stressed that his country did not intend to minimise Egypt’s share of Nile water and that the Dam’s purpose was to generate electricity.

Adhanom also said that he was looking forward to Al-Sisi meeting with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the African Union Summit in Equatorial Guinea later this month.

Adhanom headed a delegation that attended Al-Sisi’s swearing-in ceremony, and the meeting with Al-Sisi was received positively in Addis Ababa. Foreign ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti said in a press briefing that “Egyptians have begun to show willingness… to resolve the Nile water dispute through dialogue and in a spirit of cooperation and good neighbourliness.”

Al-Sisi stated during his inaugural address at the Qubba Palace in Cairo on Sunday evening that he would not allow friction to take place with Ethiopia. “I won’t allow the Renaissance Dam to cause a crisis or a problem with sisterly Ethiopia,” he said in his speech.

During the presidential race, Al-Sisi voiced his readiness to visit Ethiopia “not once, but ten times” for the sake of the two nations’ interests. Shehata, who regarded these gestures as positive steps, underlined the fact that Al-Sisi’s visit should crown efforts made by both countries to end the Dam crisis.

“If the visit fails to achieve its purpose, it will have a negative impact on the internal level as well as the bilateral level,” he added.

Shehata underlined that the Egyptian demands should be clear and accurately outlined beforehand, and that they should include the requirement that the two parties abide by the independent tripartite report on the issue.

Ethiopia should provide more information about the geological and environmental impacts of the Dam and provide information about the saddle, or secondary, dam.

“More importantly, Addis Ababa should stop the building process for six months until that information is available. If these steps are not taken, any negotiations would be wasting time while Ethiopia is building and imposing a de facto situation on the ground,” he said.

Ties between the two countries soured after Addis Ababa began to build the Grand Renaissance Dam. Cairo fears that the Dam will affect its share of the Nile water, the country’s source of 95 per cent of its potable water.

Talks stalled recently due to disagreements over the formation of a panel to implement recommendations outlined in a report released by the tripartite committee on the impacts of the Dam last June.

Egypt is guaranteed 55.5 billion cubic metres of the estimated total of 84 billion cubic metres of Nile water produced each year, according to agreements signed in 1929 and 1959.

In a separate development that could further contribute to resolving the Nile water issue, Tanzania called early this month for a review of the Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA) signed by upstream Nile basin countries in 2010 and known as the Entebbe Agreement in favour of Egypt on the grounds that it is a desert country where the Nile constitutes a main lifeline.

Maghawri described the move as positive indication because Tanzania had pushed for the Entebbe Agreement in place of what it had described as “the old colonial agreement” in finding a way of distributing Nile water.

In 2010, the upstream states of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania signed the Entebbe Agreement in the Ugandan capital Entebbe in a bid to seek more Nile water. Burundi signed the agreement one year later.

Both Egypt and Sudan rejected the Agreement, fearing it would affect their historical share of water. Later South Sudan signed the Agreement.

The fact that African states were well represented at Al-Sisi’s inauguration indicates that Egypt is heading in the right direction as far as they are concerned. It also shows that the African states are willing to boost their relations with Egypt.

The heads of state of Chad, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea attended the ceremony. Representatives and ministers from other African nations also participated in the festivities, including first vice-president of Sudan Bakri Hassan Saleh and Adhanom.

Chairperson of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s personal envoy also attended the ceremony.

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