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Egypt and Ethiopia at war, virtually, over the Renaissance Dam

Protestors march down 42nd Street in New York during a "It's my Dam" protest on March 11, 2021 [TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images]
Protestors march down 42nd Street in New York during a "It's my Dam" protest on March 11, 2021 [TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images]

Opposing Arabic hashtags "Renaissance Dam" and "fill the dam" are trending in Egypt and Ethiopia following the news that Addis Ababa has begun the second phase of filling the dam, a reflection of how polarised the issue has become between the two Nile basin countries.

The downstream states Egypt and Sudan have been locked into a dispute with Ethiopia for almost ten years now, maintaining that filling the dam will diminish their water supply.

Egypt is heavily dependent on Nile water which it uses for drinking water, agriculture and electricity, and wanted to reach a binding agreement on its share of water before the dam's reservoir was filled.

Some even claim that it is a matter of life or death.

In March, following another round of failed talks, this time in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi warned that Egypt would not allow a "single drop" of its water to be taken and that "our response in the event of jeopardising it will have effects on the stability of the entire region."

Twitter users are now goading him on, mirroring the polarising media headlines over the issue, and asking where the Egyptian army is.

In May, Egyptian authorities jailed a former ambassador because he criticised the government's handling of the Renaissance Dam crisis.

Dissatisfaction on the street with Al-Sisi's handling of the negotiations led to Egyptian whistleblower Mohamed Ali calling on people to take to the streets on 10 July for a "Nile Revolution' against authorities' failure to stand up to Ethiopia.

Now Egyptians are calling on the authorities to take more serious action and for international support over the issue.

Meanwhile in Ethiopia, social media users are celebrating the second stage of filling the dam: "Glory be to Ethiopia," writes one, above photos of the second filling. "Are you ready to celebrate?" writes another.

The Nile Water Treaties, colonial-era agreements between the British and Sudan and Egypt, maintain that upstream countries cannot use Nile water without the downstream countries' consent. Ultimately, Egypt can veto projects further up the Nile that have the potential to affect its access to water and electricity.

Three decades later the treaty was updated to allocate Egypt 55.5 billion cubic metres of water and Sudan 18.5 billion with upstream states receiving nothing.

For years, Nile states have called for a change to Egypt's dominance over the river. Ethiopia eventually built the dam in 2011, taking advantage of the upheaval caused by the revolution in Egypt.

The Ethiopian embassy posted that the dam would be advantageous to all Nile basin countries, not just Ethiopia, reflecting what researchers have said, that developing the dam could have a ripple effect and boost industry and create more jobs for the other Nile countries.

Despite this, the three countries have been locked in talks for a decade, with little to show for it.

READ: Ethiopia rejects Arab League's 'unwanted' intervention in dam crisis

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