Last Monday in Cairo, Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, sought to defuse tensions with neighboring countries Sudan and Ethiopia. In a dispute regarding the ancient Nile River, el-Sisi assured that Egypt was not interfering in the internal affairs of either country or seeking war against them. This follows concerns expressed by Egypt on the imminent completion of the ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’, the largest hydroelectric dam project in North Africa. Egypt fears that once completed, the upstream dam may cut into its share of the Nile River. This would be extremely problematic for Egypt, as the river provides for nearly all of the country’s freshwater supply. Egypt accuses Sudan of reviving a longstanding border dispute by siding with Ethiopia in the dam’s construction.
In a televised broadcast earlier this week, el-Sisi made it explicitly clear that Egypt’s strategic choice in the matter was peace not war. He stated that “Egypt neither conspires nor meddles in anyone’s affairs. We are determined to have good relations. Our region has seen enough the past few years”. In his statement, he hints at the ongoing civil unrest and internal warfare that has plagued each of the three countries for many decades and actively seeks an alternative. He confirms that “We are not prepared to go to war against our brethren or anyone else for that matter. I am saying this as a clear message to our brothers in Sudan and Ethiopia”. Following his statements, el-Sisi further urged the country’s media to follow the example of his administration, by ceasing attacks on Sudan and by abstaining from insulting either country even in the face of intentional slights or accusations.
The casualties of both the Sudanese and Ethiopian civil conflicts have resulted in numbers surpassing the millions. Both nations have a lot to be grateful for in the peaceful and merciful tactic currently being adopted by Egypt. In doing so, the ancient country itself is preventing the future death, injury, and displacement of thousands of people by seeking to resolve the problem by more peaceful means. This is regardless of the fact that the issues arising from the construction of the dam could primarily implicate the country itself. However, the negotiations and politics between the three nations have so far proven highly complicated and difficult.
Addis Ababa claims that the $5 billion dam will not impact Egypt’s share of the river’s water, and alleges that it is necessary for the economic development of the East-African country. Egypt is predominantly covered by desert and heavily relies on the Nile’s water supply. With a population roughly the same as Ethiopia, the country’s 95 million people grows by around 1 million more each year, straining its water resources and economic development. Historically Egypt has received a larger share of the Nile’s water supply under agreements concluded in 1929 and 1959. Other nations who share the Nile Basin view these agreements as unfair, and claim that they ignore the needs of their own large and expanding populations.
El-Sisi has expressed appreciation over Ethiopia’s repeated assurances that the dam will not negatively affect Egypt’s share of the Nile. However, with the dam almost 60% completed, el-Sisi asserts that studies still need to be conducted and that all sides should abide by their findings. Of special concern to Egypt is the rapid rate at which a planned reservoir is being filled behind the dam, and the system of its annual replenishment. The fear is that a quick fill will cause the flow of the Nile into Egypt to drastically reduce, and may have severe effects on agriculture and other sectors. In recent weeks, Ethiopia has rejected proposals made by Egypt to engage experts from the World Bank as neutral arbitrators to the dispute and its likely impact on Egypt. The Ethiopian Prime Minister instead wished to involve a different team of experts; however, Egypt maintains that the proposal still stands and that engaging non-World Bank experts would be a lengthier and more complex process. In addition not seeing eye-to-eye with Ethiopia on the best course of action, relations between Egypt and their long-time ally, Sudan, have also deteriorated as a result of the dispute. Cairo has accused Khartoum of siding with Ethiopia over the dam’s construction, and of reviving a long-standing border dispute. Egypt also grows increasingly cautious of Sudan’s expanding ties with Qatar and Turkey, two of Egypt’s regional rivals.
With no real resolution for the near future, it is important for the countries to continue pushing towards a solution that does not resort to military action. With economic and political factors being the prime concern for each party, the incitement of violence would only provide the contrary outcome of their current goals. For three countries that have all too recently seen the effects of warfare on their political, legal, social and economic structures, violence and war should be kept as the very last resort. The continuation of speaking openly with one another, consideration and avoiding violence at all cost should remain at the forefront in resolving the dispute.
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