Egyptian water minister: Nile is vital to us, but we cannot stop Ethiopian dam

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on River Nile.
Updated 06 December 2017

Egyptian water minister: Nile is vital to us, but we cannot stop Ethiopian dam

CAIRO: Egypt has “many alternatives” to deal with the stalled technical negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with Ethiopia and Sudan, Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Ati has said.
“We have many alternatives in between the two impossible alternatives; to dispense with the Nile water and not to build the dams altogether," he said. There are other ways to negotiate, and Egypt has started many of these ways, but they cannot be declared,” the Egyptian minister said on Saturday during a visit to the northern governorate of Dakahlia.
The minister said that Egypt could not prevent the construction of the dam, but it also could not afford any substantial deficiency in its historical share of water.
“We have to admit that the dam is damaging to Egypt. We are currently working on making this damage, which will lower Egypt's share of water, not serious. We will not allow this to happen.”
Abdel Ati said that the Nile is not just a water resource, echoing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's statements that the Nile for Egypt is a matter of life or death.
“We are a desert country and we rely on 97 percent of water from outside the border, both in terms of the share of the Nile and the groundwater shared by Egypt, Libya, Sudan and Chad,” he said.
“The rate of consumption of irrigation water in Egypt is 80 billion cubic meters, and only 60 billion is available,” Abdel Ati said. “We compensate for the difference with waste water treatment. Egypt’s share of water is stable while its population is growing at a high rate.”
He predicted that the population of Egypt will reach about 170 million in 2050, up from the current 100 million.
Abdel Ati said that desalination was not a substitute to compensate Egypt for any substantial shortage of its share of Nile water during the years of filling the dam. He stressed that Ethiopia has not yet started filling the dam, noting that Egypt had sent a warning to Ethiopia not to start filling the dam this year.
In a letter of good faith to the Nile basin states, the Egyptian minister said that his country participated during the 1950s in building dams in Uganda and Sudan. “Egypt does not mind building dams provided there is consensus,” he said.
He added that Egypt sent a letter to the World Bank on behalf of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to finance the first detailed feasibility study for the construction of a dam on the Blue Nile, but in 2011 Ethiopia announced the construction of the GERD with different specifications.
This prompted the then Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to visit Ethiopia and meet Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Asres. They agreed to form an international committee, whose findings showed a lack of sufficient studies. Based on the recommendations of the international committee, there have been changes to the construction of the dam.
Abdul Ati explained that the the dispute in technical negotiations related to two points. The first is “the baseline for the criterion of water-sharing of the Nile that must be committed by the two French consultancy firms (BRL and Artelia) which prepare technical studies on the effects of the dam on both Egypt and Sudan.”
The initial report prepared by BRL and Artelia was adopted by Egypt and Sudan. Both Ethiopia and Sudan objected to the 1959 agreement signed between Egypt and Sudan, which determines their share of the Nile water that reaches to Aswan city in southern Egypt.
The second point of contention concerns the way Ethiopia wants to fill the dam.
According to sources familiar with the technical negotiations, Ethiopia wants to complete filling the dam, which has a capacity of about 74 billion cubic meters of water, in a maximum of 3 years, while Egypt is demanding that the filling should be carried out from 7 to 9 years so as not to significantly affect the share of Nile water.
The Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation had managed the technical negotiations on the effects of the GERD and the terms of its filling since September 2014 until Minister Mohamed Abdel Ati announced the deadlock on Nov. 13.
Since then, several official statements issued by Egypt confirmed that ignoring the country’s historical share of the Nile cannot be tolerated, and called for more political negotiations between the leaders of the three countries after technical negotiations failed.
Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation explained that the issue of the Nile River is the issue of all Egyptian state institutions, and any decision will be taken by all these institutions.
He said: “Egypt has taken great strides toward securing its sources of water and guaranteeing its historical and strategic right in the Nile waters.”
On the other hand, Ethiopia and Sudan are demanding the resumption of technical negotiations, considered by many officials and irrigation experts in Egypt to be a ploy to gain time until the completion of the dam and the start of filling it by the next flood season.
The Egyptian Minister of Irrigation said last week, on the sidelines of the Fourth Arab Water Forum, that Egypt had decided to freeze the technical negotiations on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) after the declaration of principles signed with Ethiopia and Sudan in Khartoum was derailed.
The minister said that Egypt had tried to make the construction of the dam a point of cooperation, not a source of disagreement. In the light of these attempts, Egypt had signed the Declaration of Principles, but the other side had not reached a solution.
“Egypt’s water security is an integral part of its national security,” Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit said at the forum. “Egypt is following the talks with great concern, because Ethiopia does not have enough inclination for cooperation and coordination. Its plans remain vague and worrisome.”
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Ambassador to Egypt Taye Atseke-Selassie met with members of the African Affairs Committee of the Egyptian Parliament on Nov. 27.
The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry described the meeting as successful with talks that focused on ways to strengthen relations between the two countries.
The head of the committee, Dr. Al-Sayyed Fleifel, said that the visit was made at the request of the Ethiopian ambassador to discuss the cooperation between the two parliaments and in preparation for the visit of Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to Cairo this month.
He added that the meeting with the Ethiopian Ambassador was within the framework of building confidence and a spirit of cooperation.
He said that the members of the committee stressed that any Ethiopian project should not affect Egypt’s share of the Nile water or the interests of the Egyptian people.
“The Ethiopian ambassador stressed the interest of his country to continue to negotiate and not to harm Egypt during the period of filling the reservoir of the dam,” he said, but reiterated that his country (Ethiopia) will continue to build the dam regardless of any differences.
Fleifel said the committee told the Ethiopian ambassador about “the sensitivity of the Egyptians to any water projects” and demanded that “the visit of the Ethiopian prime minister should reassure the Egyptians about the dam.”
Fleifel said that “Egypt’s current share does not represent more than 5 percent of Nile resources and this quota should be increased.”
He added that the Ethiopian ambassador highlighted the joint management of the dam as it was a trilateral project and did not belong to one country.
The committee also conveyed to the Ethiopian ambassador the concern of the Egyptians about the growing mutual visits between Qatari and Ethiopian officials, especially as Qatar supports some terrorist groups in Egypt, according to Fleifel.
The Ethiopian ambassador said that his country’s recent visit to Qatar, which coincided with the announcement of the stalemate of the technical negotiations, had been scheduled earlier and had nothing to do with developments in negotiations on the dam.
On Dec. 4, 19 Egyptian Parliament members declared their rejection of the Ethiopian prime minister’s visit to the Egyptian Parliament in December, which they called “dangerous.”
They said the visit gave an advantage to the Ethiopian side, "which spares no effort to promote instigation against Egypt in all international forums, relying on the legal, political and economic lies that negatively affect the issue of the Nile waters as it is an issue of Egyptian national security and is a red line.”

From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi with his third wife Farah and their son Reza (left). Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (right). (AFP)
Updated 16 January 2019

From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

  • Forty years ago on Wednesday, the shah went into exile and less than a month later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini assumed power
  • His departure paved the way for the establishment of an Islamic republic hostile to Arab Gulf states

DUBAI: Forty years ago today, Iran’s then-shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, fled the country after a 37-year reign, in the first stage of a revolution that would replace 2,500 years of monarchy with an Islamic republic.

Prior to the revolution, Iran very much resembled Western countries, with a flourishing economy and tourists flocking to the country for its breath-taking landscapes, beaches and various activities, including hiking and skiing. 

The shah’s departure, prompted by mass protests, paved the way for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to return from exile in France, assuming power on Feb. 11, 1979. 

It was “a genuine social revolution against tyranny, domestic and foreign — the first represented by the shah and the second by… the US,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defence College in Abu Dhabi.

“The revolution went awry when religious leaders dominated the government, imposed its version of Islam and eliminated their partners in the revolution, including Iranian nationalists.”

Not long after Khomeini took over, the world got a taste of the new regime. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage on Nov. 4, 1979, and were held for 444 days, after a group of Iranian students who supported the revolution took over the US Embassy in Tehran. 

The Iran-Iraq war, which began in 1980 and lasted for eight years, contributed to the deterioration of Iran’s situation. 

“Fear of the new regime’s attempt to export the revolution to a Shiite-majority neighbor led Iraq to initiate the war,” Al-Shateri said. 

“However, Iran’s insistence on continuing the war until the toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein exacted a heavy cost on both countries in human and economic terms,” he added. 

“Iran had legitimate grievances against the US, but the way it tried to redress these gripes was counterproductive.”

The shah was considered one of the best customers of the US defense industry. But his Western-inspired reforms sparked turbulent social change that aggravated the clergy, while his consolidation of power and the secret police gave him the reputation of a dictator.

Opposition to his reign and corruption among Tehran’s elite created an influential alliance of radical Islamists. 

Although Pahlavi tried to modernize Iran, driving up oil prices in the early 1970s and implementing reforms in education and health care, he became alienated among Iranians and angered the conservative clergy, who helped drive his exile. 

“Iran changed significantly from before the revolution to after, from a more civil, open and decent Iran to a closed, aggressive and sectarian one,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences. 

“Post-1979 Iran is deeply sectarian, and is not only responsible for sharpening the Sunni-Shiite divide, but also wholly responsible for politicizing and militarizing it,” he added.

Iran “has funded and armed Shiite militias, and has done everything possible to strengthen them so they can challenge the nation-state, Lebanon being a clear example.” 

Post-1979 Iran does not “play by the rules of the game,” Abdulla added. “It became radical, revolutionary and sectarian, and was about to become nuclear, which is deeply destabilizing.”

He said: “Gulf states have lived with Iran for thousands of years, and they knew how to deal with it all along. They had the best possible neighborly relationship, but it has always been a difficult Iran, whether under the shah or Khomeini.”

Abdulla added: “We’ve never seen an Iran that has become the number-one terrorist country in the world except in the last 40 years.”

Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at the Schar School of Police and Government at George Mason University in the US, said: “Unlike the shah’s Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran sought to export its revolution to other Muslim countries, especially the Arab Gulf ones.” He added: “Still, it must be remembered that the shah’s Iran was also fairly aggressive. It seized Abu Musa and the Tunbs (islands) right when the British were leaving the Trucial States and the UAE was being formed. It had also laid claim to Bahrain.” 

Furthermore, while the shah’s troops helped defend Oman against a South Yemeni-backed Marxist insurgency in the 1970s, Katz said the presence of those Iranian troops in Oman was unsettling to Saudi Arabia in particular. 

“The shah had also got the best of Iraq in their border rivalry — something that Saddam Hussein sought to reverse after the Iranian revolution,” he added. 

Before the revolution, the shah’s Iran often behaved “aggressively toward its Arab neighbors, but its close cooperation with the US against the Soviet Union, which Iran bordered and the Gulf Arab states didn’t, meant that Washington wasn’t willing to act against the shah for doing so,” Katz said. By contrast, the rise of an anti-American government after the revolution led to the US working with Arab Gulf states against Iran. 

“Because the Islamic Republic behaved in such a hostile manner, both toward the Gulf Arabs as well as the US, the 1979 revolution led to the isolation and containment of Iran for many years,” Katz said. 

“Although it may seem counterintuitive, Iran may have posed a far greater problem for the Gulf Arabs if the… revolution hadn’t taken place, because if it hadn’t and Western investment in Iran continued or even grew, there would’ve been a tendency for Tehran to assert — and the US to value — an Iranian effort to be the leader in the Gulf in collaboration with the US.”