Diplomatic source: ‘Prompt’ pardons for 32 Ethiopian nationals sign of ‘growing strategic relationship’ with Egypt
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali with the pardoned Ethiopian nationals on board their flight home - Courtesy: Chied of staff to the Ethiopian PM Fitsum Arega's twitter page

Egypt pardoned 32 Ethiopian nationals held in Egyptian prisons on Monday, following a request submitted by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, according to an Ethiopian diplomatic source.

Ahmed’s request came on Sunday in the latest of a series of high-level talks between Cairo and Addis Ababa, which have been marked by disagreement over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in the recent past, according to the source, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity and is familiar with the proceedings.

According to the diplomatic source, the fact that Cairo promptly accepted the Ethiopian prime minister’s request “reaffirms the growing strategic relationship between the two countries,” adding that Ahmed has an “unrelenting commitment to the well-being of Ethiopian citizens everywhere.”

In the press conference that Sisi and Ahmed held following Sunday’s talks in Cairo, the Egyptian president stated that the two countries were invested in preserving their common interests and enhancing the trust and cooperation between them, as well as overcoming the challenges pertaining to reaching a final agreement on the Renaissance Dam in a way that guarantees Egypt’s rights to the Nile as well as the Ethiopian population’s right to pursue development.

According to the diplomatic source, the Ethiopian nationals pardoned on Monday include all of those held in Egyptian prisons, who had been sentenced in a number of different cases, including misdemeanor offenses, as well as those related to trespassing and irregular migration. On Monday evening, the state-run Ethiopian News Agency provided further details on those who had been detained, noting that the group of 32 included women and children and had been detained for periods ranging from 10 months to four years.

Egyptian media outlets reported that Ahmed expressed gratitude to Sisi for pardoning the Ethiopian nationals prior to departing from Cairo. However, the office of the prime minister has yet to issue an official statement from Ahmed. 

Fitsum Arega, Ahmed’s chief of staff, also tweeted on Monday that Egypt had promised to recover the remains of Ethiopian nationals who were killed by Libyan militants, in reference to 38 Ethiopians who were killed by the Islamic State in Libya in 2015. In another tweet published on Monday, Arega wrote that the pardoned Ethiopians had accompanied Ahmed on his trip back to Addis Ababa, publishing photos showing them on board the plane.

During Sunday’s press conference, Sisi also mentioned the prospect of increasing Egyptian investments in Ethiopia, especially via the private sector, by establishing an Egyptian industrial zone in Ethiopia, exporting meat from the country and pursuing further economic cooperation across a number of other industries. In response, Ahmed noted that his country has no intention of harming Egyptian interests, affirming that his trip to Cairo signals a desire to pursue a friendly and loyal relationship with Egypt in the future, as well as a confirmed intention to guarantee Egypt its right to the Nile water.

Ahmed’s visit to Cairo this week signals a positive development in negotiations regarding the Renaissance Dam. Following a tripartite meeting held in Addis Ababa in May, the ministers of foreign affairs, ministers of irrigation and heads of intelligence agencies from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia issued a joint statement to summarize the discussion outcomes. This document included agreements to form a joint investment fund between the three countries, as well as a research group for further technical cooperation on matters related to the Renaissance Dam. The officials also agreed to hold a similar tripartite summit every six months.  

The recent apparent cooperation comes amid the backdrop of former Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn’s visit to Egypt in January, after which Sisi expressed Egypt’s “grave concern” over the stagnation of tripartite Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam negotiations.

Ethiopia plans to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s reservoir with 74 billion cubic meters of water over the span of three years, concluding the construction of the dam in 2019. Cairo insists that the timetable should be extended, contending that filling the reservoir at this pace would cause a dangerous drop in the upstream country’s watershare, which it already claims is insufficient for the needs of its 100-million person population. But, since implementation began on the dam construction plans in 2011, Ethiopia has reiterated that the project — whose projected cost is approximately US$4.2 billion — is vital to the development of the country and to meeting the needs of its population, which is nearly as large as that of Egypt.

Hadeer El-Mahdawy 

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