Egypt/Ethiopia/Sudan: Cairo calls for UNSC as last resort on GERD

By Hossam Rabie
Posted on Friday, 9 July 2021 11:46

The controversial Renaissance mega-dam is located on the upper Nile River. This general view was taken in December 2019. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

The UN Security Council met on 8 July, at Egypt and Sudan’s request, to discuss the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia decided to launch the second stage of filling on 5 July, thereby making the situation more tense than ever.

Egypt is in shock.

The UN Security Council met on Thursday 8 July, at Sudan and Egypt’s request, to discuss GERD. However, Addis Ababa had already informed Cairo on 5 July that it was going to begin the second phase of filling the dam’s lake, despite all the warnings and threats that had been made in the previous months.

The day after the announcement, the Egyptian stock market lost LE12.3bn ($783.4m) in the first hour of trading, as investors sold their shares en masse.

Ethiopia has adopted an irresponsible position by commencing the second filling without agreement. It wants to defy the regional parties and provoke animosity

Irresponsible position

On social media, the hashtags #ادعم_القرار_المصري (I support Egypt’s decision) and #سد_النهضة (Renaissance Dam) have been trending for the past two days.

Many messages have been calling for an airstrike against the dam, to protect the country’s water rights. “Ethiopia has not respected the interests of the international river’s neighbours and is behaving selfishly, as it started the filling without the other two countries’ approval,” former deputy foreign minister and ambassador Ahmed Hegazi tells us.

“Ethiopia has adopted an irresponsible position by commencing the second filling without agreement. It wants to defy the regional parties and provoke animosity.”

Although no study has been carried out to assess the precise consequences of the filling operations on the Nile’s flow downstream, the Egyptian authorities intend to react. Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign affairs minister, said Ethiopia’s decision “will fuel the crisis and tensions in the region, and create a situation that threatens security and peace at the regional and international levels.” Shoukry was in New York since 4 July, working with his Sudanese counterpart ahead of the 8 July Security Council meeting.

During the meeting, Council members reviewed the proposal drawn up by Cairo and Khartoum, which is supported by the League of Arab States (LAS) and presented by Tunisia. The draft calls for:

  • A halt to all operations until a settlement is reached;
  • Proposes negotiations be organised within six months to reach a binding agreement on the dam’s filling and commissioning;
  • Calls for the EU, the UN and the US to act as mediators, not just observers;
  • Finally, it urges the three countries to stop releasing hostile statements and to refrain from unilateral action.

Reopening talks urgently

But Hani Raslan, a researcher at the Centre for Foreign Policy and Security Studies (CEPES) in al-Ahram, Cairo, feels that halting the filling operations would be unrealistic at this point, especially since Addis Ababa is behind schedule.

“Ethiopia has not managed to complete the construction necessary to block 13.5 billion cubic metres of water, which was its plan for the second phase of filling. Current construction is only able to block three billion cubic metres, on top of the five billion blocked since last year. All this allows it to re-engage in negotiations, if that is really what Ethiopia wants, about the filling operations planned for next year.” According to the researcher, the smaller-than-expected amount of water that can be stored at this stage will allow a hypothetical military intervention to be postponed until July 2022.

The more urgent question today is whether the Security Council meeting can break the deadlock, or at least calm the situation. Abbas Sharaky, a professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, does not really believe that a miracle solution will emerge from these discussions. He thinks “the Security Council may put the file back in the hands of the African Union (AU) and that international bodies will act as mediators for a period of six months.”

There is an urgent need to reopen discussions, as the dam issue is becoming less and less of a bilateral dispute between Egyptians and Ethiopians.

On 6 July, Addis Ababa submitted a letter to the UNSC and General Assembly criticising the Arab League’s attitude. It deems its intervention in the dossier as “undesirable” and that it risks “undermining the friendly and cooperative relations between the African Union and the LAS.”

The LAS responded by accusing Ethiopia of “driving a wedge” between it and the AU, by presenting the dam crisis as an Arab-African conflict.

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