THE crisis between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project on the Blue Nile (News, 3 July 2020; 13 November 2020) has “reached a new and potentially dangerous phase”, the Archbishop of Alexandria, Dr Mouneer Anis, said on Tuesday. He called on the international community to intervene urgently to prevent a conflict.
Talks involving Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan were hosted by the African Union (AU) in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this week, but made no significant progress. The Egyptian government said that the Kinshasa talks represented “the final opportunity” for a solution.
Egypt depends on water from the Nile for 97 per cent of its needs. It fears that the recently completed dam on the tributary Blue Nile in Ethiopia could threaten its national supply. Last week, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, during a speech after the refloating of a container ship in the Suez Canal, said that “any act of hostility is detestable . . . [but] nobody will be permitted to take a single drop of Egypt’s water, otherwise the region will fall into unimaginable instability.”
Negotiations over the dam have been going on for ten years. One of the key sticking points has been what water-flow measures Ethiopia would take in the event of a drought, a state of affairs that could be catastrophic for Egyptians.
In the view of Dr Anis, “President Sisi is keen to resolve this problem through diplomacy and in a friendly way. This is why he participated in several summits with the leaders of Ethiopia and Sudan.” But Ethiopia had rejected mediation efforts, and agreed only that the AU should be a facilitator for talks. “It sounds as though Ethiopia is resistant to win-win solutions,” he said.
Asked to comment on President el-Sisi’s warning that Egypt would not tolerate anyone threat to its Nile water security, Dr Anis said that it was made “after the announcement by Ethiopia that it would go ahead and resume filling behind the dam next July, in the rainy season, even without an agreement. The Ethiopian statement ignores all the efforts to reach a peaceful solution.”
Dr Anis said that the moment had come for the outside world to become involved. “The water of the Nile is a gift from God to the people of the three countries. I urge the international community to move very quickly in order to prevent a real disaster in the region. If war erupts, it will affect badly the whole region of the Middle East and Europe. Prevention of any disaster is much easier than dealing with its consequences.”