Egypt rejects any unilateral action violating its Nile water rights: Al-Sisi

Mohammed El-Said
9 Min Read

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi affirmed the necessity of considering the country’s tenets regarding the nation’s water rights. The president stressed Egypt’s rejection to any unilateral action that may violate its water rights in the River Nile.

During a follow-up meeting, Al-Sisi asserted that Egypt is committed to the diplomatic path to reach a compromise to the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly; ministers of defence, foreign affairs, water resources, interior, finance, and justice; and Chief of Egyptian Intelligence Service Abbas Kamel were attending the meeting.  

Al-Sisi further urged the government to intensify consultations with Sudan, international powers, and members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) over the long-disputed issue,   

Also on Wednesday, Sudan is to send a letter to the UNSC clarifying the former’s stance on GERD negotiations, the country’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yassir Abbas has said.

He added that whilst Sudan has received an Ethiopian invitation to resume GERD talks, Khartoum has stressed that returning to dialogue requires political will. 

In a statement, Abbas emphasised that Khartoum is pushing for a deal on the disputed points before Ethiopia starts filling the dam’s reservoir.

In the meantime, Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdouk undertook discussions on GERD with US Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, according to an official Sudanese cabinet statement on Wednesday.

During the conversation, Hamdouk briefed Mnuchin on the latest updates regarding the talks, and stressed Sudan’s continued efforts in reaching a fair deal for all parties. 

GERD talks between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia have stalled following Ethiopia’s announcement that it will begin filling the dam’s reservoir during the rainy season, which begins in July, regardless reaching a deal.

The filling will start, Ethiopia says, even if no deal is reached with Egypt and Sudan, the other two countries affected by GERD.

In response, Egypt announced that it had filed a complaint to the UNSC warning of the consequences of Addis Ababa unilaterally controlling River Nile water. Egypt added that it faces an “existential threat” due to Ethiopia’s keenness to fill the reservoir.

Meanwhile, the Arab League has renewed its support for Egypt and Sudan in the ongoing tensions with Ethiopia over the construction of GERD. The Arab League has stressed that Egypt and Sudan’s water security is part of Arab national security. 

During an extraordinary summit of Ministers of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, the Arab League agreed on nine articles under Resolution 8524. The resolution rejects any unilateral Ethiopian moves that could affect the water rights of downstream nations. 

The Arab League thanked Sudan for its role in the latest round of negotiations. It also welcomed the UN’s call for the three countries involved in GERD negotiations to engage in a new round of talks to achieve progress on the disputed points.   

The meeting comes as the three countries announced that seven days of virtual negotiations have failed to reach a compromise. No date has been set for a return to the negotiating table.

Despite Arab agreement on the new resolution’s nine articles, Somalia and Djibouti have voiced their disagreement on the fifth article, which emphasises the need for all parties to refrain from unilateral actions. 

The article urges Ethiopia to cease filling the GERD reservoir until an agreement with Egypt and Sudan is reached on the rules of filling and operation.

The resolution described the Ethiopian move to fill the dam without prior agreement with Sudan and Egypt as a violation of the 2015 Declaration of Principles. 

Moreover, Arab ministers emphasised that the three countries need to adhere to the principles of international law. These include doing no harm, the reasonable and fair use of international watercourses, ensuring cooperation, and ensuring prior notification and consultation.

The Arab League meeting stressed the importance of completing technical studies on the project and its socioeconomic and environmental impacts on the downstream countries. It also called on the three parties to resume negotiations in good faith.

A follow-up committee consisting of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Iraq has been formed as a result of the summit. The committee will follow up on the issue with the UNSC and the Arab League’s Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit. 

In response, Ethiopia announced it had sent a letter to the UNSC explaining its vision and stance for the negotiations with downstream countries.

In an open letter to the UNSC on Tuesday, Ethiopia claimed that Egypt “erroneously” portrays the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) as a threat to international peace and security. The letter asserted that Ethiopia was not taking any unilateral actions on the giant hydroelectric dam.

In the letter, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew described the Egyptian stance on GERD as designed to ensure that the “unequal, colonial-era arrangements” on the Nile remain unchanged and unaltered. 

Andargachew said that Addis Ababa expected to continue the negotiations to amicably resolve the remaining outstanding issues. He added that Ethiopia was surprised at Egypt’s stance and its resorting to the UNSC despite the ongoing negotiations. He claimed that Egypt had “no intention of contributing to the success of the trilateral process [talks]”.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry accused Addis Ababa of deliberately impeding the course of negotiations on the disputed Nile dam. He stressed Egypt’s “good faith” in reaching an agreement during negotiations. 

The Ethiopian foreign minister also told the UNSC, “It became difficult to move the negotiation process as quickly as we would have liked because of Egypt’s insistence on ‘historic rights and current use’ [of Nile water].”

“The notion of ‘historic rights and current use’ is a reference to the 1959 colonial-era agreement between Egypt and Sudan which divided the Nile waters between them, completely ignoring Ethiopia,” he added.

Despite the Ethiopian side pushing the colonialism debate, Egypt’s historic right to River Nile waters is based on the 1902 agreement between Great Britain and an independent Ethiopia under Emperor Menilik II.In the agreement, Ethiopia vowed to not construct, or allow to be constructed, any work across the Blue Nile, Lake Tsana, or the Sobat, which would lessen the flow of their waters into the River Nile. Construction work would only be allowed in agreement with Egypt and Sudan.

Egypt also relies on the “Framework for general cooperation between Egypt and Ethiopia” agreement of 1993. The agreement outlines the need to address,in detail, the use of River Nile waters by experts from both countries on the basis of international law.

“Each party shall refrain from engaging in any activity related to the Nile waters that may cause appreciable harm to the interest of the other side,” Article 5 in the 1993 agreement says.    

Ethiopia ignores the 1902 and the 1993 agreements, as well as the 2015 Declaration of Principles. Addis Ababa argues that these agreements are “invalid” and “unfair”, as they allow Egypt to get the Lion’s share of the Nile water. Instead, it only refers to the 1929 agreement between Egypt and Great Britain.

Andargachew pointed out, “Ethiopia is committed to keep on negotiations on the principles of fair and reasonable use of the Nile water with no harm posed on lower riparian countries.”

Share This Article
Mohammed El-Said is the Science Editor for the Daily News Egypt with over 8 years of experience as a journalist. His work appeared in the Science Magazine, Nature Middle East, Scientific American Arabic Edition, SciDev and other regional and international media outlets. El-Said graduated with a bachelor's degree and MSc in Human Geography, and he is a PhD candidate in Human Geography at Cairo University. He also had a diploma in media translation from the American University in Cairo.