“Failure” or “stumble” are the two words most frequently associated with the Renaissance Dam when you Google the issue.
The failure of negotiations and stalled round of talks between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia emanated, unfortunately, from marathon meetings between the upstream and downstream countries regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and its direct impact on the share of Nile waters Egypt and Sudan could access. The waters are the main lifeline for more than 100 million people.
In Egypt, more than 40 per cent of the population lives on agriculture, and the Nile the main irrigation source for thousands of acres of agricultural land from the north to the south.
At Thursday’s UN Security Council session regarding the Renaissance Dam crisis, no decision was issued to condemn Ethiopia or threaten to undertake any international action against Addis Ababa’s initiation of the second filling of the Renaissance Dam reservoir, which means that the ball has been kicked back to the African Union (AU)’s field. This demarche is what exactly Ethiopia wanted. The African body had announced a new round of negotiations in June 2020, they were suspended in December of the same year.
In his speech at the UN Security Council, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry threatened that Cairo would intervene to protect its right, possibly referring to an imminent military strike by the army in order to hinder the dam’s construction permanently.
This is not the first time that the Egyptian regime has threatened Ethiopia. In 2019, President Abel Fattah Al-Sisi announced in October 2019 that Egypt, with all its institutions, is committed to protecting the Egyptian right to Nile waters, and he repeated his threat that he would not allow his country’s share to be diminished. Egypt has conduct three joint military exercises with Sudan; the Nile Eagles 1, the Nile Eagles 2, and the Guardians of the Nile.
But do the Egyptians believe these threats? Do the Egyptian people really trust Al-Sisi’s promises and statements regarding the Renaissance Dam crisis?During the era of late President Mohamed Morsi, specifically in May 2013, the International Experts Committee issued its report on the necessity of conducting studies to assess the effects of the dam on the two downstream countries.
Afterward, negotiations were suspended after Egypt refused to form a technical committee without foreign experts, but what is remarkable is that in conjunction with Al-Sisi’s arrival to power as president in June 2014, the three countries agreed to resume negotiations again, and then a few months later the first meeting of the tripartite committee was held with the participation of representatives of the concerned parties.
The major crisis occurred in March 2015; the day Al-Sisi signed the Declaration of Principles on which Ethiopia has based all its actions so far. Since the day the Egyptian president voluntarily relinquished the country’s water share of the Nile, failure and stumbling became the outcome of all talks.
At that time, Al-Sisi’s statements centred on reassuring the Egyptian people that everything is fine. He even said his famous sentence: “Rest assured, nothing will happen.”
Repeated and continuous failures since March 2015 have made Egyptians lose trust in the regime and its promises to solve the crisis, especially after the failure of the four meetings sponsored by the administration of former US President Donald Trump, which began in November 2019 and ended with announcing the failure to reach an agreement in January 2020.
When Ethiopia announced the completion of the first filling of the Renaissance Dam reservoir in July 2020, Egypt’s only decision was to resort to the UN Security Council, which ended with the AU announcing its sponsorship of a new round of negotiations that has been doomed to collapse.
Each time the Ethiopian side did what it wanted and advanced towards the second filling of the Renaissance Dam reservoir, the Egyptian regime was satisfied with announcing the failure of the new round of negotiations and its plan to head to the UN Security Council while threatening once or twice in a year that it would wage a war on Ethiopia.
Now the Egyptian citizen no longer believes Al-Sisi’s statements. Thirst has become a real danger knocking on the doors of 100 million Egyptians. Hence, the last Security Council session represented the final nail in the coffin for millions in both Sudan and Egypt who are at risk of loss of their lifeline: the Nile River.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 9 July 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.