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Egypt President's visit draws mixed opinions in Ethiopia

June 14, 2014 at 3:41 pm

A planned visit by Egypt’s newly-inaugurated President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to Ethiopia has generated mixed reactions in the African country.

“I am optimistic that Al-Sisi’s visit will be the beginning to communicate,” Dr Gebremedhin Simon, Professor of School of Journalism and Communication at Addis Ababa University, told Anadolu Agency on Saturday.

Ethiopia announced on Thursday that Al-Sisi would visit the country within the coming two weeks.

The visit comes amid tension between Ethiopia and Egypt over the construction of an Ethiopian hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile.

The project has raised alarm bells in Egypt, which relies on the river for almost all of its water needs.

During last week’s inauguration speech, Al-Sisi said he would not allow the dam’s construction to adversely affect Egypt’s relations with Ethiopia or other African countries – a gesture welcomed by Addis Ababa.

Simon opined that the real diplomatic rapprochement between Addis Ababa and Cairo requires dispelling their mutual mistrust.

“On the Egyptian side, there is an ancient fear that Ethiopia would change the natural course of the Nile River and make Egypt suffer from water shortage,” he said.

He reiterated that “Ethiopia has never been violent in its history and had never attempted to harm Egypt.”

He went on to call on the Egyptian and Ethiopian media to refrain from communicating fear and violent rhetoric.

“The Egyptian media have been engaged in violent narratives in this regard,” he said. “If there is stereotype, communication is distorted and misunderstanding arises.”

-No change-

But Prof Zerihun Abebe believes that Al-Sisi’s planned visit to Ethiopia does not reflect a real change in the Egyptian position on the Ethiopian dam.

“The visit does not mean a drastic change in the Egyptian leadership particularly on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD),” Abebe, a lecturer at political science and international relations department at the Addis Ababa University, told AA.

“In my view, Egyptians are playing a language game because they are still repeating what they had been saying before but in different ways,” he said.

He cited that the Egyptian constitution states that the country is committed to protecting the Nile River and maintaining Egypt’s share of the Nile water.

“In this case, it is clear that the president cannot violate this Article,” Prof Zerihun said.

Tewodros Bekele, a 2nd student at Addis Ababa University, agrees.

“What matters for me is completion of the GERD. The coming or not coming of the president does not change this,” he said.

But Messeret Belay, 40, a housewife, has a different opinion.

“We have open arms for those, who come to cooperate with us,” she told AA.

“When they cooperate we have to cooperate as well and I say welcome Mr. President.”