There has never been a time when the Egyptian government officials have failed to issue statements opposing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project on the Nile River. Egypt’s Defense Minister has joined the protests this time, and their Foreign Minister as well as the Minister of Water Resources & Irrigation have continued to put pressure on Ethiopia to stop constructing and filling the dam. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, is no exception to this rule.
During a recent joint press conference with Uzbekistan’s President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, El-Sisi made a similar attempt. He stated that Ethiopia and his country should reach a legally binding agreement on the issue of GERD.
El-Sisi wasted no time in emphasizing the significance of a legally binding agreement between Ethiopia and the two downstream countries, Sudan and Egypt, to control the dam’s filling and operation.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, has been outspoken about GERD. He has accused Ethiopia of violating his country’s rights to legally binding commitments made in meetings with UN officials and in other regular occasions.
Egypt’s efforts to exert political influence over Ethiopia increased in March 2023. Shoukry warned Ethiopia that “all options are open.” Ethiopia’s government disapproved of the remark.
According to reports, the Arab League issued a resolution regarding the filling and operation of GERD in Ethiopia, which is solely funded by local financial resources. Office of the Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson immediately responded to the League’s decision, claiming that the Ethiopian government is “dismayed.”
For Yacob Arsano (PhD), a renewed expert in hydro-politics and regional integration as well as a member of the Ethiopian GERD negotiating team, the pressure from Egypt is nothing new, as it has been a trend since the beginning over a decade ago.
“There have always been influences, and it is an annual trend,” Yacob explained to The Reporter. “Their most recent interaction with the Arab League was part of their efforts to put pressure on the recent United Nations Water Conference.”
Yacob believes that the League’s resolution, as well as Egyptian officials’ repeated claims, are intended to express their stance ahead of time and to exert influence on the first UN Water Conference, which took place two weeks ago in New York, United States.
Despite the fact that it was unsuccessful, Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Hani Sewilan, exaggeratedly stated during the March 22–24, 2023 conference that the dam Ethiopia is building is “oversized” and poses a threat to the people of Sudan and Egypt with “disastrous effect.”
Sharing his event experience on social media, Ethiopian Ambassador to the United States Seleshi Bekele (PhD-Eng.) stated that the Ethiopian delegation was successful in reversing Egypt’s diplomatic narrative against the GERD.
Seleshi’s successor as Minister of Water and Energy, Habtamu Itefa (PhD-Eng), Ethiopia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Tesfaye Yilma (Amb.), and Seleshi himself comprised the team.
“We defended Ethiopia’s interests and refuted false accusations against GERD,” Seleshi tweeted after the conference concluded.
Aside from diplomatic pressures, Ethiopian officials condemned what the North African country was doing in what appeared to be a dangerous situation in the same month. Shoukry stated that his country would “defend the interests of its people.”
Shoukry warned Ethiopia during a joint press conference in Cairo following the visit of Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Alfred Mutua, to consider the interests of both his country and Sudan and ensure that the dam will not cause serious damage.
Nonetheless, he stated that if this is not met, “the Egyptian state will undoubtedly defend the interests of its people and take measures that lead to that.” A week later, the same minister was heard telling local media that “all options are open and all alternatives remain available,” implying that his country is prepared to take any action.
The Ethiopian government did not disregard Shoukry’s warnings. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement three weeks ago, describing how the claims pose a threat to the country and violate a number of principles and declarations. The statement urged Egyptian officials to refrain from making such claims.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged all concerned to “take note of Egypt’s flagrant violations of international relations principles” in order to alert the world to the new development that is taking shape. “Threats and intimidation can advance no interest,” the statement adds.
Yacob appears to be confident in Ethiopia’s response to Egyptian officials’ accusations and intimidation. He urges Egypt to demonstrate cooperation in order to achieve peaceful regional integration and better cooperation. As far back as Yacob can remember, there have been threats from downstream countries as a result of Ethiopia’s dam project. However, he urged the government to investigate whether the Egyptian side has plans or is instilling fear.
Egypt’s latest move to put pressure on Ethiopia’s government comes as the dam is reportedly nearing completion. Approximately 90 percent of the dam’s construction is now complete, and the fourth filling is scheduled to begin in a few months.
A group of 33 signatory associations of Ethiopians from all over the world issued a statement praising the dam’s progress a few days ago. According to the statement, the group supports “fair and equitable use of the Nile River” and urges the Egyptian side to “change its counterproductive posture and find a mutually beneficial agreement.”
The organizations requested their Egyptian counterparts, citizens, and authorities to join them “in the spirit of cooperation and work towards an agreement” that they described as fair and equitable for people living in the basin countries.
Despite Egypt’s attempts to draw Western and Arab countries into the GERD debate, the Ethiopian government has repeatedly called for a solution through African Union (AU)-led negotiations.
Nonetheless, the AU-led negotiation has stalled since the last meeting, which was held exactly two years ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by then-AU Chairperson Felix Tshisekedi. It remains to be seen whether negotiations will resume now that the AU has a new chairperson, President Azali Assoumani of the Comoros.