No one can deny Egyptians the right to be concerned about Egypt’s water security, specifically vis-à-vis the Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile, a main tributary of the River Nile and source of some 80 per cent of its waters. Given that Egypt is technically a desert that gets minimal rainfall, the Nile is almost its single water source. A dam on the source of the Nile undoubtedly threatens Egypt’s lifeblood. It also compromises the water quota of Sudan which lies downstream the Blue Nile. GERD has thus placed Ethiopia in conflict with Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia claims the dam is its vehicle to development through generating copious amounts of hydropower, whereas Egypt and Sudan hold on to their legitimate historic right to Nile water quotas. Egypt and Sudan are all for Ethiopia exploiting the Blue Nile and GERD for development purposes, and have called for negotiations with Ethiopia to discuss the schedule of filling the dam reservoir, and of controlling the water flow downstream under various conditions of flood and drought. Despite signing the Declaration of Principles with Egypt and Sudan in 2015, Ethiopia has been adamant in obstructing all agreement throughout six years of negotiation, resorting to procrastination and stalling. It even agreed to international, then African, mediation but shied away of signing any deal. It persisted in challenging and provoking Egypt and Sudan, trivialising their interests in the Nile waters and ignoring the fact that the Nile is a shared natural transboundary resource the equitable and reasonable utilisation of which is governed by international conventions. It also renounced all treaties it formerly signed on Nile water quotas.
Understandably, the patience of the Egyptian people was sorely tried as they observed Ethiopia’s intransigence lead to deadlocked negotiations. Egypt’s political leadership for its part exercised wisdom, deliberation and patience, and cooperated with Sudan on the matter. President Sisi repeatedly and rigorously confirmed that Egypt’s water interests would not be compromised, that Egypt would not give up a single drop of its life giving Nile water quota. Despite that, the media and social media erupted in comments and content that obviously fuelled public sentiment and ratcheted up the conflict. They took official declarations out of their political context, making a case for military conflict. This irresponsible rush escalated to the point that bloggers and media persons began to recklessly circulate scenarios for an end to the conflict through military action. Such scenarios are deplorable because they play into Ethiopia’s hand by offering it a golden opportunity to cry that Egypt and Sudan are beating the war drums against it.
In view of this disturbing situation, I can only call for prudence and for trusting the wisdom of our Egyptian political leadership in steering matters in the direction of the best interest of our nation and preserving Egypt’s legitimate rights to the Nile waters according to international law, without venturing on reckless quests. Let me in this context share with you some thoughts.
Despite the failure of peaceful negotiations to resolve the problem so far, Egypt’s political leadership has not given up on this path. Even at the height of frustration at Ethiopia’s intransigence, an Egyptian delegation headed by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Irrigation took part in recent negotiations sponsored by the Democratic Republic of Congo. They said they had little hope the negotiations would work, yet they went to Kinshasa; the negotiations failed. Even so, it is the Egyptian political leadership alone that can address the complicated considerations of developing a mechanism to resolve the conflict with Ethiopia. These mechanisms include, but not to the exclusion of all others, international negotiations and efforts to create global public opinion that would be aware of and favourable to the rights of the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, to quotas of the Nile waters.
Once peaceful negotiations fail, there are critical, complicated considerations to take into account when planning alternative action. Such action cannot be left to the public to decide upon, no matter that water security is the prime concern of the public. Only the political leadership, jointly with the military and intelligence, can assess the situation through a plethora of information, facts and variables. The decision should ensure Egypt’s strategic interests and safeguard her security, dignity, reputation and sovereignty.
Egyptians anxious about the GERD issue would well be reminded of relevant articles in Egypt’s Constitution. Article 44 stipulates: “The State shall protect the River Nile, preserve Egypt’s historic rights to it, rationalise and maximise its use, and refrain from wasting or polluting its water.” Article 152 reads: “The President of the Republic is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The President shall not declare war, or send armed forces on combat missions outside the State’s borders, except following consultation with the National Defence Council, and obtaining approval of the House of Representatives by a majority two-thirds vote.” Article 203 stipulates: “The National Defence Council shall be chaired by the President of the Republic and include as members the Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Minister of Defence, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance and Minister of Interior; as well as the Chief of the General Intelligence Service, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, and Commanders of the Navy, Air Force and Air Defence, Chief of Operations of the Armed Forces, and Chief of Military Intelligence. The Council shall be competent to examine matters pertaining to preserving the security and integrity of the country.” Article 205 reads: “The National Security Council shall be chaired by the President of the Republic, and include as members the Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance, Minister of Justice, Minister of Health, Minister of Communication, Minister of Education, Chief of the General Intelligence Service, and Head of the Committee of Defence and National Security at the House of Representatives. The Council shall be responsible for adopting strategies for establishing the security of the country and facing disasters and crises of all kinds, shall take the necessary measures to contain them, to identify sources of threat to Egypt’s national security inside or outside the country, and undertake the necessary action to address them at both the official and popular levels.”
To the Egyptian people concerned about Egypt’s water security I say the Egyptian folk saying: “Leave the baking to the baker”. In other words, put the issue in the hands of the capable experts and let them do their job.
16 April 2021