Have Egypt’s negotiations with Ethiopia on Renaissance Dam come to a deadlock?

From Doha, Ethiopia confirmed that it will continue in its Renaissance Dam project. During a recent visit to Qatar, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn confirmed his county’s determination to complete the Renaissance Dam on schedule.

However Egypt has announced that it is studying the necessary measures to protect its water rights after Ethiopia and Sudan refrained from signing a preliminary report submitted by the French Consultative Office on the dam’s impact on Egypt.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry said,”The current status of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations is alarming given that water security is a key component of Egypt’s national security and harming it is not an option.”

“Egypt will seek to overcome the complexity of negotiations through reaching out to Ethiopia and Sudan as well as the rest of the Nile countries and the international community,”he said.

In a joint press conference with his Tunisian and Algerian counterparts in Cairo, Shoukry said, “Egypt did not expect the technical course of the GERD negotiations to take so long and become so complicated.” He said,”Egypt is committed to the tripartite framework agreement signed by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia and believes it is enough to govern the relations of the three countries and respect international law with respect to international rivers.” He added,”The aim of the technical negotiations was to achieve common interests, but this never happened.”

In the same context, Egypt’s Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Atti said that the 17th meeting of the Tripartite National Technical Committee, which brought together the Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian ministers of water in Cairo on November 11 and 12, did not result in any agreement on the adoption of the introductory technical report submitted by the French consultancy firm hired to conduct impact studies of the dam on the downstream countries.

Following the technical committee’s meeting on November 12, Abdel Atti said that although Egypt had initially approved the introductory report in light of the fact that it was consistent with the studies’ references on which the three countries agreed, the committee’s two other parties did not approve the report and demanded amendments that were beyond the agreed-on references and that to reinterpret basic and pivotal provisions in a way that affects the studies’ outcomes made its content of no value.

The Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation announced the stalling of all technical talks with Ethiopia and Sudan on Monday.

Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, President of the Arab Water Council and former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, said”The reasons for the dispute over the introductory report is the so-called baseline, which sets Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water at 55.5 billion cubic meters and Sudan’s share at 18.5 billion cubic meters, and this is unacceptable for Ethiopia, which does not recognize the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement that specified water allocations to Egypt and Sudan.”

However, an official Egyptian source linked to GERD revealed that Egypt had rejected the amendments requested by Ethiopia because they were incompatible with Article 5 of the Declaration of Principles.Article 5 includes agreement on rules for the dam’s first filling and operation, as well as the expected time period for filling the dam’s reservoir with the Nile’s water. Egypt demands that this period be 7 to 10 years while Ethiopia insists on a maximum of 3 years.

As a result, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity said in a statement published on its official website,”Although the three countries are trying to reach a common understanding, Egypt has again rejected the draft report to be sent to the consultancy firm.”

Moreover, the Sudanese ambassador in Cairo, Abdel Mahmoud Abdel Hamid, slammed the statement of the Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation and said, “Egypt’s reaction of announcing the negotiations were stalled raises doubts about its future.”

He explained that “even though the statement addressed Egyptian public opinion, it paves the way for actions that will not bring Cairo— nor the other negotiating parties— any good.”

He said,”Sudan had a vision for resolving disputes in this meeting and has the right to do what it sees fit for its people’s welfare; yet it remained positive throughout all meetings and worked hard to save the technical and political courses of GERD negotiations.”

The Sudanese ambassador denied that Sudan had introduced amendments to the introductory report, as said in the statement of the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, and said,”It was Egypt that added several references and amendments to the report since the first meeting, not Sudan, and, contrary to what the statement reflected, all meetings were held in a friendly, harmonious atmosphere.”

On the other hand,the Cabinet of Egypt did not specify the measures that could be taken, but the Foreign Ministry’s official spokesperson, Counselor Ahmed Abu Zeid, said “Stalling the technical negotiations must be followed by reverting to political negotiations to resolve disputes in the tripartite relations of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in the context of the Declaration of Principles signed by the three countries which stipulates the necessity of their agreement.”

He  said,”Egypt has a clear plan for dealing with the Renaissance Dam matter.” He added, “Egypt’s embassies abroad were assigned to explain the negotiations’ outcomes and Egypt’s flexibility during these negotiations, in addition to explaining the need to hold onto the Declaration of Principles and clarify which party was responsible for stalling negotiations.”

He stressed that this step was important to inform the international community of the negotiations’ details before taking political steps to pressure the party responsible for stalling negotiations.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson revealed that there was direct contact at the time between the foreign ministers of Egypt and Ethiopia. “Al-Sisi will meet with Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn during the meeting of the joint Egyptian-Ethiopian higher committee in December,” he said.

On Tuesday, November 14,the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, had discussed with his Saudi counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, during their meeting in Riyadh, the stalling of GERD technical negotiations, according to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson.

He said,”Saudi Arabia has been following the development of this matter for a while, and there was a discussion about the recent stalling of technical negotiations,” and he added, “Saudi stresses the necessity of respecting the tripartite framework agreement.”

In fact, there have been different speculations by Egyptian experts on the most suitable options for Egypt in its fight against the Renaissance Dam after Ethiopia continues to build the dam and announces its intention to start filling the reservoir and generate power during the current Ethiopian year, which ends in October.

Hani Raslan, an expert on the Nile basin and Sudanese affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, and former Egyptian Deputy Minister for Irrigation and an expert on water resources and irrigation, Diaa Uddin Al-Koussi, called Egypt to lodge a complaint to the UN Security Council because the conduct of Ethiopia and Sudan threatened international peace and security given the importance of water issues to Egypt.

Al-Koussi said,”Egypt has done everything in its power during technical negotiations, and President El Sissi intervened more than once, which leaves us no other option but to seek legal help to preserve our rights.”

He said,”Ethiopia’s extreme intransigence has caused the failure of the tripartite negotiations,”he said, “Addis Ababa does not wish for the report to see the light because it’ll be proof of the technical risks of building the dam and its negative impact on the environment and the economy of the downstream countries.”

Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, President of the Arab Water Council and former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, warned against internationalizing the issue at this stage and called for political negotiations between presidents, governments and foreign ministers.

“If Egypt sought the help of the United Nations or the Security Council there won’t be political negotiations, and this contradicts Egypt’s keenness for maintaining good relations with its African neighbors and resolving the issue through negotiations,”he said.

Furthermore, Raslan said, “Seeking to inform the international community of the Renaissance Dam’s negative impact on Egypt and seeking an international guarantee of Egypt’s rights and security do not contradict the continuing of political negotiations between the three countries.”

But, Raslan doubted that Ethiopia would commit to any political consensus or legal agreements, explaining that it seeks to prolong negotiations to pursue a fait accompli policy through completing the dam’s construction.

It is worth to mention that the Ethiopian Prime Minister visited Qatar on November 13 and 14 and signed several agreements to improve cooperation between the two countries, among which was an agreement on defense cooperation. The visit came seven months after the visit of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. During his visit to Qatar, Ethiopia’s PM denied receiving funds from Qatar for GERD and stressed that the mega-project was “self-financed.”

In response, the visit raised doubts among Egyptian journalists about its association with the crisis of GERD negotiations, but the Egyptian Foreign Minister said there were no indicators of this association, “especially since such visits get scheduled some time ahead.”He also stressed that Egypt had been working for the last three years to maintain good relations with Ethiopia, “and we look forward to resolving this crisis in accordance with international law.”