Can they all be winners?

Egypt’s wisdom to take along its neighbours is laudable

By Dr Ahmed Mokhtar (Cairo Insights)

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Published: Mon 20 Oct 2014, 10:05 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:41 PM

AMID A cautious optimism, Cairo hosted last week the second meeting of the tripartite committee, which is responsible for studying the situation of the Ethiopian Renaissance dam, with the participation of ministers from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The Egyptians recalled the way the Muslim Brotherhood group dealt with this matter of strategic importance when they were in power, and compared that with how the current political leadership is handling it.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s approach in dealing with the Renaissance dam was one of the main reasons that made Egyptians feel the inability of the group to lead Egypt safely, especially after broadcasting a live feed of a meeting between the former Egyptian president Mohammed Mursi with several political figures while discussing different scenarios to deal with Ethiopia regarding the dam, including threatening the latter militarily, which was an unprecedented and unacceptable way of dealing with a serious crisis.

The Ethiopians reacted to that televised meeting by insisting on completing the dam construction project in a shorter-than-planned timetable. On the other hand, the current Egyptian leadership is approaching the crisis politically, and is trying to solve the problems through negotiations which were halted during the period between January to August of this year following a failure in reaching an agreement on the recommendations of the international committee of experts concerning the completion of the dam’s studies. Negotiations resumed after Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi met with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, on the sidelines of the African Union Summit last June, and both sides stressed on their good intensions towards each other.

Several meeting took place afterwards between representatives of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, with the last one held in Cairo last week to decide on choosing a consulting office to be responsible for preparing complementary studies recommended by the international committee in its report last year. It concerns assessing the environmental, social and economic impacts of the dam on Egypt and Sudan, as the river Nile’s downstream states.

Last week’s meeting was coincided with Al Sisi’s eagerness to show support for better relations with Sudan and Ethiopia. This positive atmosphere is giving hope to the Egyptian people that their country is winning back its due share in the region, while knowing that water is a lifeline to Egypt, since more than 90 per cent of its people live along the banks of the Nile.

It is important to note that Egyptians do not deny any of the Nile basin countries’ right to establish water projects, as long as they do not harm Egypt in any way. That’s why Egyptians remain wary of the current crisis with Ethiopia. The Egyptian fears are not related to what some unofficial reports speculate about the collapse of the dam as a result of geological factors. Moreover, early studies of the construction of the Renaissance dam said its height will only be at 84.5 meters with a storage capacity of 11.1 billion cubic meters, and might need to be extended to 90 meters and 24.3 billion cubic meters of storage capacity.

The Egyptian leadership is certain about the necessity to reach an agreement between all parties involved, and that Ethiopia shares the same view, especially if the complementary studies confirmed the Egyptian fears and suggested the construction of the dam according to the early studies. This way, all the parties will come out of the crisis in a win-win situation. Egypt’s fears will come to an end and Ethiopia will get rid of the finances’ burden, which is estimated at $8 billion. While the construction of the Gilgel Gibe III dam, which was started in 2006, is yet to be finished because of the inability to provide $2 billion, and the reluctance of international financial institutions to fund water dams because they are not economically viable.

Additionally, Sudan will also come out as a winner since it doesn’t have to worry about a possible catastrophic collapse of the Renaissance dam, besides strengthening ties with Egypt and Ethiopia and benefiting from that as a support during its strained relations with South Sudan.

Dr Ahmed Mokhtar is the deputy editor in chief of Al Ahram Al Masaai

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