Drama at the Presidential Palace and the Nile: An Ethiopian View and a Message to the People of Egypt

Zerihun Abebe Yigzaw

On Monday June 3, 2013 Egyptian Islamist President Mohamed Morsi convened political party leaders and representatives of religious groups in the country to discuss on matters regarding  the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The President’s call was welcomed by some political leaders while major figures such as Amr Moussa, Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamadeen Sabahi did not attend the meeting. The meeting was meant to have a national dialogue on matters of national interest in a country which is disturbed by domestic political disputes. This is the very reason why some of the opposition leaders failed to accept the Morsi and Ministersinvitation of the President. Be that as it may, the meeting of the Egyptian politicians was full of drama. It is both a tragedy and a comedy indeed. The tragedy is once ruled by the great pharaohs such as Ramses the Great seeing Egypt with such people who failed to see and consider the facts but run by their sensations and skinny feelings is amazing. The comedy is the solutions proposed by some of the politicians are laughable just like what another opposition leader Hamadeen Sabahi remarked regarding the Ethiopian Dam days before. It was the people of Egypt and Egyptians who are embarrassed and disrespected not the agenda on the round table where the participants sat around. This blogger do not want too much indulge into who said what issue here as it is covered here in this blog and in main stream medias across the world. In the following sections I will try to highlight what leads to the making of the drama from an Ethiopian point of view.

Two major factors can be attributed to such emotional responses and factors which precipitates the making of the drama in the presidential palace and the following heat in Egypt and the responses in the whole world to such news. Te first is directly related to the river Nile and the other has to do with the domestic politics of Egypt. In the first factor two major sub-factors can be identified. The First of the reasons is the way the news reported in mainstream media such as BBC, Washington Post, Reuters,  and the Egyptian media regarding the May 28 Ethiopia`s effective work of sidetracking or redirecting the course of the Blue Nile to undertake the civil and engineering work smooth. The way the news reported is problematic. Most of the media especially in Egypt reported as if the Blue Nile is diverted and changed its natural course to another place. By definition diversion is a process of taking the river to another place. For example the way Egypt did to the Nile through Al-Slam Canal to the Sinai Peninsula despite prohibited under international law. Another example could be again in Egypt the Toshka Project and the out of Basin water diversion made to turn the desert green in the South-western Egypt. But the May 28 Ethiopia`s work is not that. It was rather redirecting the course of the river for  a few  meters away to the right wing and brings it back to its natural course after some 500 meters so that it will continue its journey as usual to Sudan and Egypt. Hence let us ask one question. Is there any probability for the water to be reduced in this process? The answer is absolutely no. But the way the issue is circulated by the media for sure has created panic in Egypt.

The second major reason directly related to the GERD has to do with the submission of the final report of the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) on the GERD to the three riparian governments-Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Days before the submission of the report Sudan has stated that the GERD will not have negative effect on downstream states. Following the submission however the government of Egypt under Mohamed Morsi aired amazing remark of the report. To help us compare the fact from the hearsay let us highlight the major statements in the IPoE Report. According to IPoE report, firstly the GERD will not significantly affect downstream states. Secondly, the dam will be beneficiary to all the riparian states. Thirdly, the design of the dam meets international quality and standard. While saying this, the IPoE report recommended to undertake assessments if there are any economic and social benefits to be shared and if there are any related hazards to be minimized. Bear in your mind, dear readers, it is conditional sentence. The Report recognizes the benefit of the dam and that it will not significantly harm water flow to downstream states. The recommendation is made as a suggestion to increase the benefits of the dam and to minimize if there are unobserved risks. Despite such a fact the Government of Mohamed Morsi stated that the study done by Ethiopia is “inadequate”-a term used by the president not by the IPoE Report. Such a rush of the president of misquoting the IPoE report, in my view, costs both the Government of Egypt and its image in the eyes of other riparian states and their people. Following this the it was seen as necessary to call opposition parties and conveyed them for a national dialogue which was full of nonsensicality.

This blogger needs to comment on one point regarding the comment by Younes Makhloun who is the chairman of the Salafist Al Nour Party. According to the Chairman, people in his party “believe that Egyptian agreement to the building of this dam would be a dangerous strategic mistake, because Ethiopia-and Israel and the USA, which are behind it. [and] would use it [the dam] as a lethal bargaining chip to pressure Egypt.” I am not surprised to hear such Israelization of the Nile from a Salafist leader whose perception of the Jewish State of Israel to the north of his country is not a secret. It is none of our business in their issues with Israel. Israel itself can protect herself What do we concerned about is though when our country Ethiopia is inappropriately attached to Israel. I reassure all Egyptians that either Israel or the USA has nothing to do with the GERD. Such Israelization is a discourse constructed by a bunch of paranoid academia who do not know the facts on the ground but run by their sentiments and feelings which are moulded by their enmity to Israel.  The GERD is Ethiopian and only Ethiopian project with a good intention for development and to increase the benefit of the shared River Nile to all peoples sharing it. It must be clear that, it is Ethiopia`s natural right to use its water resources. But Because the Nile is a transboundary watercourse Ethiopia recognizes such a natural phenomena and uses the waters of the Nile responsibly by considering the needs of those brothers who shared the river. Ethiopia`s call at Guba is of peace and cooperation not of war. The Slafist leader with others advised to attack Ethiopia from within by supporting anti-Ethiopia forces. Will this help Egypt? The answer is no.

Now let us turn to the second major reason why such a drama happened. As we are following from the news from Egypt, the government president Mohamed Morsi has faced oppositions from different sectors. One can not deny that Morsi use the Nile dispute to serve his heating politics to bring about all the political forces under one umbrella of national purpose. Hence, despite accepting the positive recommendations of the IPoE report where two Egyptian, two Sudanese, two Ethiopian and four international experts participated in, Morsi boot the ball in the wrong place. It is self-fooling if one argues that the President may even do not knew about televising his meeting with the opposition party leaders. The President’s words were diplomatically calculated-despite some slip of tongue and limited. His spears of words were limited and toned-down unlike his likes from Al Nour Party. The idea is while serving his political gains at home the President exposes his contenders as foolish and who do not know how to speak about foreign policy and its instruments in public arena such as in live television broadcasting despite the participants did not know that the meeting was televised. In any case, the President seems aiming at changing the course of the domestic politics in to external issue where all the parties can agree with. My idea here is that the President rather than using the GERD to externalize his domestic politics and the crisis he face he could do use constructive dialogue which will resulted in a win-win situation to all the riparian states sharing the river Nile.

I thank Mohamed Morsi for conveying that meeting and for televising it live from his palace. He indeed do minimize cost and energy for people like me who researches on the Nile from spending time to search for policy documents of all opposition parties of Egypt in scrutinizing what do they feel about the GERD. They speak their heart and what they think of Africa, Ethiopia and the GERD in short and precise way which is clearly understood. But do the people of Egypt think they way they do? I doubt that and these bunch amateur artists who do not know acting in the public arena.

Message to the Egyptian People

We in Ethiopia have one history which we are proud of all the time. Ethiopia has no any historical record of invading another country for nonsense. But we were invaded by aggressors yet we gave them a lesson. From Gedarif to Afar, from Gundet to Gura, from Sati through Dogali and Mekele to Adwa, these all in the 19th century. I know the Egyptians do know this very well. Those guys who were suggesting such sabotage, supporting disgruntled Ethiopians, circulating rumors (the funniest of all) all these are ludicrous. Even some went on saying sending the military and intelligence to undertake attack against the dam. Some went on saying we should intervene in Ethiopia`s all domestic affairs including politics. Did these people forget that Ethiopia is a sovereign state with a people and an army to defend their country as their fathers did? I think they were playing a dram so they were chitchatting. As Ato Getchew Reda- Spokes person of the Prime MInister Hailemariam Desalegn responded, what these guys trying to say such as attacking Ethiopia, is a day dream.

All the drama in Cairo`s presidential palace was a drama and let us leave it in its own arena. But ethiopia`s message to Egypt and Egyptians is not of war but peace, not of suspicion but trust, not of conflict but cooperation. The message from Ethiopia is let us use the waters of the Nile together. We are children of the same river-the mighty and mysterious the Nile-let us fetch and drink it together. This is our general message to you. When it comes to the GERD in particular, we are building the dam a few kilometers away from our border with a brotherly people of Sudan. Its benefits are recognized and recorded by the IPoE. To reassure our brothers in Egypt though I retreat to say it here that we are building the dam to generate thousands of megawatts of electricity that will help us to operate industries so that we can lift our people from poverty. Regarding Israel I tell you in the name of the Nile whom we drink together, no external power-Israel or USA are in the process. We Ethiopians are the owners and runners of the dam. Ethiopia while laying the foundation stone of the Dam in 2011 have called both Sudan and Egypt to share the cost as they are also beneficiaries from the end results of the Dam. The fundamental message is therefore here in Ethiopia no one is to harm Egypt by arresting the flow of the Nile waters. It is now up to you-the people of Egypt to uncover the truth. We in Ethiopia say one river one people but your politicians are going the other direction. Would the Nile have mouth to speak; it would preach love, peace and cooperation. Dear politicians of Egypt leave the rhetoric and come to the win-win solution which Ethiopia has been calling.


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