Problems on hold
The recent summit held in Addis Ababa between the heads of State of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan has achieved a brilliant conciliation between the three Nile Basin States, and set the basis for future cooperation and the resolution of possible disputes. One cannot talk about that conciliation without acknowledging the pivotal role played by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi who not only broke the ice with Ethiopia, but also disarmed everyone he met—officials and members of the public alike—with his personal warmth and courtesy. The President thus finally wiped out the disgraceful, unforgettable offence committed against Ethiopia by Muhammad Mursi, the previous President who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood and who was in office from June 2012 to July 2013. President Mursi had hysterically claimed that Ethiopia was building the Renaissance Dam in order to dry up the Nile waters flow into Egypt and deprive Egyptians of their lifeblood. He threatened that he would never allow any tampering with Egypt’s quota of Nile water and, in what was the climax to a shameful farce, gathered a number of so-called thinkers and strategists to debate the issue. These competed in offering various outrageous scenarios of ridiculous offensives against Ethiopia then, when they discovered the meeting was broadcast live on TV, clamoured that they had been deceived into thinking it was a closed session. The claim in itself was appalling in that it implied they had nothing against their disgraceful act except that it was made public.
President Sisi succeeded in making the Mursi-era move a thing of the past. We are happy that Egypt is today back into the African fold where she now occupies her rightful position of prominence. Egypt reaches out to Africa with love, honour, and respect; attitudes the efficacy of which far surpasses that of belligerence in working out solutions to hard problems. The reconciliation with Ethiopia is best proof of that. It is obvious that President Sisi carries this outreach wherever he goes, in an effort for Egypt to embark on a new era of hard work and cooperation to achieve a bright future for her people.
The mellow climate which today rules Egyptian Ethiopian relations drives me to tackle a problem long placed on hold between the two States, that of the Coptic Orthodox monastery of Deir al-Sultan in Jerusalem. The monastery, which is close to the hearts of all Copts, is adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and has historically belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church. When Jerusalem fell into Israeli hands in 1967, the Israelis allowed a number of Ethiopian monks to seize the monastery. It was obvious the Israeli authorities were using the monastery to settle old accounts with Egypt and to politically pressure Egyptians. The Coptic Church took the case to court. The Supreme Court in Israel judged that the monastery rightfully belongs to the Coptic Orthodox Church which was in possession of all the historical documents proving its right. But even so, the Israeli authority stopped short of executing the court order and, to date, the monastery is in the hands of the Ethiopian monks.
Will the Coptic Church seize the opportunity of today’s mellow relations between Egypt and Ethiopia and work to regain Deir al-Sultan? The Church is now in the position where she enjoys courteous relations with the Egyptian authorities as well as excellent relations with the Ethiopian Church. The agreement signed by Egypt and Ethiopia stipulates that the rights of both should be honoured and respected, and that none should harm the other. Why then should the Coptic Church not be inspired by the agreement and work to open the Deir al-Sultan file with Ethiopia? As matters lie today, all conditions appear to point at a good chance of finally resolving the problem.
5 April 2015