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Sisi fails to resolve the Renaissance Dam crisis

July 11, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Pressure exerted by some Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to help President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi resolve the Renaissance Dam crisis with Ethiopia, ended in failure after current negotiations aimed at reducing the storage capacity of the dam reached a standstill, experts said.

Dr Maghawri Shehata, an international water expert, said: “Ethiopian-Egyptian relations over the years have not seen eye-to-eye, but have been marred by a lack of honesty and, on more than one occasion, Ethiopia had cut its ties with Egypt and other countries such as Kenya.

“Ethiopia believes that its position is right, particularly after the recommendations of the Tripartite Commission, which recommended the need to study the dimensions of the Renaissance Dam and its impact on downstream states (Egypt and Sudan),” Shehata said, pointing out that “Addis Ababa argues these recommendations.”

Shehata continued: “The government should forget about its previous negotiations, and begin new negotiations based on serious foundations, because the situation needs a great deal of wisdom,” and because “the negotiations were not yet at the required level.”

He said: “The Egyptians tend to think with their hearts and not their minds and are affected by their emotions, and this follows their conviction that President Sisi is able to solve the Renaissance Dam crisis alone.” Shehata asserted that the statements of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Healy Mariam Dessalines, that the fact that the crisis is becoming more and more complicated by the day, is an indication that they are in “real trouble”.

In a recent speech to the Ethiopian parliament, the country’s prime minister said: “The Renaissance Dam is under construction and we will not be affected by Egypt,” explaining that “the Renaissance Dam negotiations will not be easy, and Sisi has begun a new phase of relations between the two countries.”

Recent months have seen strained relations between Egypt and Ethiopia with the announcement of the start of construction of Renaissance Dam Project. There are concerns in Egypt about the potential impact on its annual share of Nile water, which amounts to 55.5 billion cubic metres, and its impact on national security in the event of its collapse.

In the same context, Dr Hani Raslan, head of the Sudan and Nile Basin Studies programme at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, criticised statements by officials in the Egyptian government which claim a breakthrough in the crisis, calling on officials to give evidence that the negotiations are going soundly.

Raslan said that “recent Ethiopian statements on the Renaissance Dam indicate that the actual position of Addis Ababa has not changed and is still stalled with statements that are twisted in their meaning and basis,” pointing out that “there are the beginnings of real change in the Sudanese approach. It did not start today and was not associated with Al-Sisi’s visit, but the indicators have been present for a period of time.”

Raslan cited statements by Mustafa Osman Ismail, head of the Supreme Council for Investment in Sudan, following a meeting with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, referring to the 1959 agreement, saying that “his remarks are a clear indication to the return of coordination between Egypt and Sudan on the issues of water, which is called upon by the Convention.”

Raslan pointed out that the announcement of Ismail from Cairo on a recent visit by Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to Cairo has been published as a main headline in one of the most important Sudanese newspapers. At the same time it was published, in the same paper, on an inside page, an analytical report spoke at length about Al-Bashir’s visit to Qatar, which is an indication that relations with Qatar does not mean the decline in the improvement of relations with Egypt.

Following the diversion of the Blue Nile, one of the two major tributaries of the River Nile, by Addis Ababa in May 2013 as part of measures to build a Renaissance dam, a panel of international experts issued a report stating that there is a need to conduct further studies on the mechanism of construction of the dam, so that they can estimate the effects of the construction then determine how to deal with them, in accordance with the Egyptian government.

The committee consisted of six local members (two from each of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia) and four international experts in the fields of engineering of dams and water resources planning, business hydrology, environment, and social and economic impacts of dams.

However, no agreement has been reached on a proposal to form a tripartite committee to implement the recommendations of the committee of international experts specialised in the Renaissance Dam, nor an agreement on promoting confidence-building between the three countries on the construction of the dam