Egypt’s latest concession to Ethiopia amid construction of controversial dam

Egypt is making new concessions in ongoing negotiations with Ethiopia over the construction of the controversial Renaissance Dam, as many areas of the country are hit with summer water shortages and the government has issued repeated calls for Egyptian citizens to ration their water consumption.

A press statement by Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Aaty asserted that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are just a few days away from signing technical contracts in discussion with a French advisory firm that is to assess the economic and environmental impacts of the dam.

Mada Masr tried to contact the minister several times for questions pertaining to Egypt’s latest concessions, to no avail.

The three Nile Basin countries agreed to the involvement of the French firm BRL Ingénierie Group in studies concerning the impact of the dam, marking a turning point in stalled negotiations that have been ongoing for years.

Egyptian officials had previously refused to allow the French company to conduct technical studies alone, initially agreeing to two consultancy companies working on feasibility studies in the Declaration of Khartoum, for fear the French company would issue biased findings in favor of Ethiopia. The Khartoum agreement was made on December 29, 2015, following several rounds of arduous negotiations conducted by a six-member committee made up of the foreign ministers and water resources officials from all three countries.

The Egyptian state originally insisted on the involvement of a second consultancy company, especially after a Dutch company withdrew its proposed participation from studies in mid-September.

Although the Khartoum Declaration stipulates the formation of a technical committee to investigate the possibility of increasing the number of additional drainage outlets within the dam, as was specifically requested by Egypt,Ethiopia recently announced its rejection of this proposal. In an interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper in May, Ethiopia’s Minister of Information and Communications Getachew Reda said that until the technical studies regarding the impact of the dam are completed, Ethiopia would not halt construction.

Preempting the results of these studies, the Ethiopian minister denied that the construction of the dam would cause any detriment to either Egypt or Sudan. Reda added that Ethiopia had completed 70 percent of the construction of the dam, explaining that “if after the completion of the studies any party claims it would be detrimental, then this is not our problem in Ethiopia.”

Such remarks may indicate the extent of Egypt’s declining influence in the African continent.

 Controversies have also arisen in Egypt following the African tour of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he visited a number of Nile Basin countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda last week, and attended a summit with seven African leaders at the African Union headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Adaba, despite reservations from Arab-African countries regarding Netanyahu’s reception at the African Union.

In his speech at the summit, Netanyahu spoke of Israel’s experiences in solving water issues and its experiments in agriculture, adding that the nation of Israel is “excited to share its technology and expertise in other areas with our African friends,” stressing his belief that Israel “is the best partner for African countries” in this regard.

Netanyahu’s visit to the Nile Basin countries, his address at the African summit and his talk of cooperation in the field of water resources has raised several questions as to Israel’s influence over Egypt’s national water security policies, and the extent of Israel’s role in the construction of dams along the Nile River basin.

Egyptian member of Parliament Ahmed Ismail, a member of the parliamentary committee for defense and national security, commented in a press statementthat the primary goal behind these Israeli visits is control over the Nile waters. “The problem with Ethiopia can only be resolved militarily,” he asserted.

Tarek Fahmy, professor of political science at Cairo University, told local media outlets that Netanyahu’s visit strongly indicates Israel’s foreign policy interests in Ethiopia. However, Rawya Tawfiq, assistant professor of political science at Cairo University, believes the visit does not represent anything new in terms of Israeli foreign policy, explaining that such cooperation has been taking place for decades, particularly in the fields of agriculture and water security.

 In an article by Tawfiq published in the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, she asserts that Netanyahu’s visit was an attempt to reconcile with the African Union, adding that Israel is seeking “more diplomatic support and recognition from Africa in international and regional forums, including support for a return of Israel’s seat as an observer state within the African Union.”

“This crisis, which rears its head from time to time, necessitates a specific strategy and action plan from Egypt, as opposed to a policy based on responses and reactions,” says Mohamed Nasr Allam, former minister of irrigation and water resources. “Ethiopia is betting on biding its time in order to realize the completion of the project.”

“Every delay in dealing with this issue serves to increase its complexity,” Tawfiq suggests, adding that Egypt is long overdue reaching a resolution on the matter, and that the nation also has a duty to engage in negotiations over other dam projects with African countries, including the proposed Congo Mega Dam.

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