Update: Egypt urges more talks before dam project continues

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy told Sudanese Al-Shorouk newspaper on Tuesday that the government is “worried and bothered by Ethiopia’s unwillingness to both understand Egypt’s legitimate concerns and participate in serious dialog,” the Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported.

Fahmy said that Egypt has acknowledged from the beginning of the initiative that each of the three Nile basin countries — Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt — would have their own vision and evaluation of the Renaissance Dam project, and doesn’t expect these views to be identical.

“This doesn’t mean that the responsibility doesn’t fall on each of the three countries to sit down and reach a common understanding, so that everyone can benefit without harming any of the three countries,” he added. “Neither of us has the luxury of acting this way for technical, economic, legal, and political reasons.”

According to Fahmy, countries of the eastern Nile basin share one international river and have rights and responsibilities towards the Nile. “We all have common interests that we should work on maintaining, and historical relations we can’t sacrifice,” he said.

The minister added that there is a lack of political will to reach an agreement, but that progression with the project without further consideration would not be tolerated. 

In a sign of diplomatic rapprochement, a spokesman for the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the dam project, a source of ongoing tension between Egypt and Ethiopia, would benefit all downstream nations.

“The Ethiopian government will consolidate the diplomatic efforts it has been making to ensure everyone realizes that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will benefit the downstream countries,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quoted as saying by the official Ethiopian news agency.

Dina Mufti, the spokesperson of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry, told the agency that he urges the Egyptian government to “refrain from the confused stand it has taken and respect the voice of the Ethiopian people.”

The project is perceived as a major national initiative in Ethiopia, and has caused tension regarding what the Ethiopian government perceives as threatening messages from Egypt over the last few months. 

“The Egyptian government is expected to stop threatening Ethiopia, breaching international principles and grasp the benefits the dam has to offer the Egyptian people,” Mufti was quoted as saying by the agency. Under no circumstances, Mufti added, will Ethiopia consider suspending the project, which is developing at full force with multiple sources of support, including from Ethiopians abroad. The US$5 billion project is mostly being financed through local taxes and bonds.

Different politicians in Egypt have used the Ethiopian dam, which is widely considered to threaten Egypt’s access to the water flow of the Nile River, to pressure the Ethiopian government.

Most recently, Mortada Mansour, a presidential hopeful known for his controversial statements, threatened Ethiopia with military intervention if the dam project continues. His threats are reminiscent of similar conversations ousted President Mohamed Morsy had with his aides during his rule.

Analysts have slammed Egypt’s position vis a vis the dam project in Ethiopia, criticizing the country’s poor diplomatic performance in Africa.

Thirty percent of the dam project has already been completed and it is expected to take another three years until it is finished.

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