El-Sisi sees vindication in moves against Qatar

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (C) meeting with French Minister of the French Armed Forces, Sylvie Goulard (3L) and officials at the presidential place in Cairo on June 5, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 10 June 2017

El-Sisi sees vindication in moves against Qatar

CAIRO: The alliance with Gulf countries to isolate Qatar has given a significant boost to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who over the past three years has been trying to find backers in what he calls a “comprehensive” war on militancy.
El-Sisi’s administration and pro-government media have relentlessly denounced Qatar — a top backer of El-Sisi’s nemesis, the Muslim Brotherhood — depicting it as fueling militancy around the region. Now Cairo has the support of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, which along with Egypt cut ties with Qatar this week.
Just two weeks earlier, El-Sisi delivered his vision of a war against terror in an address to an Islamic summit in Saudi Arabia attended by US President Donald Trump. His speech was peppered with thinly veiled references to Qatar.
“Terrorists are not just those who carry arms,” said El-Sisi. “Regrettably, there are nations that have been involved in supporting and financing terrorist groups and providing them with safe havens.”
At the root of Egypt’s dispute with Qatar is Doha’s support of the Brotherhood. As defense minister, El-Sisi led the military’s 2013 ouster of Mohammed Mursi, removing the Brotherhood from power in Egypt. Since then, Egypt has waged a ferocious crackdown on the group, all but breaking it and driving into exile any prominent members who have not been arrested.
Egypt has also been fighting a bloody militant insurgency in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, which grew more potent after Mursi’s ouster. Egyptian officials accuse the Brotherhood of joining the militant campaign and Qatar of supporting terrorism — claims that the Brotherhood and Doha deny.
The militants, led by a local affiliate of the Daesh group, have expanded their fight to Egypt’s heartland with a series of deadly attacks against Christians that have killed more than 100 since December.
El-Sisi has since toughened his campaign, calling for action against countries that back militants. He sent warplanes to bomb militant positions in Libya and vowed to attack militant bases linked to extremists who wage attacks in Egypt wherever they may be.
Here’s a look at how the confrontation with Qatar plays out with Egypt:
The joint action against Qatar potentially boosts the Egyptian government’s campaign against its biggest nemesis, the Brotherhood.
It adds punch to Cairo’s constant complaints against the Al-Jazeera TV network, which Egyptian officials accuse of backing the Brotherhood and other hard-liners and of sowing divisions in Egypt.
Qatar is unlikely to hand over to Egypt wanted Brotherhood leaders who have found refuge in Doha, but they are likely to come under pressure to leave.
The anti-Qatar alliance also solidifies Egypt’s place as a reliable supporter of Saudi Arabia and UAE.
That could revive the Gulf’s interest in keeping Egypt’s economy moving. El-Sisi has introduced a series of ambitious reforms to salvage Egypt’s deeply damaged economy, but revival is still far off.
Egyptian analyst Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed said: “We are now looking at some sort of a new Egyptian-Saudi alliance that has replaced the tension of the past few months.”
Though it complained for years about Qatar, Egypt only moved seriously against it when Saudi Arabia took the lead.
The most populous Arab nation, with 93 million people, Egypt has long portrayed itself as the region’s leader. But whatever claim it had has been undermined by political and economic turmoil since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
The feud could have more palpable fallout. Though it has shown no sign of doing so yet, Qatar could expel some or all of the more than 200,000 Egyptians living and working in the country. That would cost Egypt millions in lost remittances, exacerbating economic problems.

Egypt’s options dwindle as Nile talks break down

Updated 22 October 2019

Egypt’s options dwindle as Nile talks break down

  • Talks collapsed earlier this month over the construction of the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
  • El-Sisi said he would “never” allow Ethiopia to impose a “de facto situation” by filling the dam without an agreement

CAIRO: The latest breakdown in talks with Ethiopia over its construction of a massive upstream Nile dam has left Egypt with dwindling options as it seeks to protect the main source of freshwater for its large and growing population.

Talks collapsed earlier this month over the construction of the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is 60 percent complete and promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia’s 100 million people.

But Egypt, with a population of around the same size, fears that the process of filling the reservoir behind the dam could slice into its share of the river, with catastrophic consequences. Pro-government media have cast it as a national security threat that could warrant military action.

Speaking at the UN last month, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said he would “never” allow Ethiopia to impose a “de facto situation” by filling the dam without an agreement.

“While we acknowledge Ethiopia’s right to development, the water of the Nile is a question of life, a matter of existence to Egypt,” he said.

Egypt has been holding talks for years with Ethiopia and Sudan, upstream countries that have long complained about Cairo’s overwhelming share of the river, which is enshrined in treaties dating back to the British colonial era. Those talks came to an acrimonious halt earlier this month, the third time they have broken down since 2014.

“We are fed up with Ethiopian procrastination. We will not spend our lifetime in useless talks,” an Egyptian official told The Associated Press. “All options are on the table, but we prefer dialogue and political means.”

Egypt has reached out to the United States, Russia, China and Europe, apparently hoping to reach a better deal through international mediation. The White House said earlier this month it supports talks to reach a sustainable agreement while “respecting each other’s Nile water equities.”

Mohamed el-Molla, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official, said Cairo would take the dispute to the UN Security Council if the Ethiopians refuse international mediation.

That has angered Ethiopia, which wants to resolve the dispute through the tripartite talks.

An Ethiopian official said the packages offered by Cairo so far “were deliberately prepared to be unacceptable for Ethiopia.”

“Now they are saying Ethiopia has rejected the offer, and calling for a third-party intervention,” the official added. Both the Ethiopian and the Egyptian official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks with the media.

The main dispute is centered on the filling of the dam’s 74-billion-cubic-meter reservoir. Ethiopia wants to fill it as soon as possible so it can generate over 6,400 Megawatts, a massive boost to the current production of 4,000 Megawatts. Ethiopia said earlier this year that the dam would start generating power by the end of 2020 and would operate at full capacity by 2022.

That has the potential to sharply reduce the flow of the Blue Nile, the main tributary to the river, which is fed by annual monsoon rains in the Ethiopian highlands. If the filling takes place during one of the region’s periodic droughts, its downstream impact could be even more severe.

Egypt has proposed no less than seven years for filling the reservoir, and for Ethiopia to adjust the pace according to rainfall, said an Egyptian Irrigation Ministry official who is a member of its negotiation team. The official also was not authorized to discuss the talks publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Nile supplies more than 90 percent of Egypt’s freshwater. Egyptians already have one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, at around 570 cubic meters per year, compared to a global average of 1,000. Ethiopians however have an average of 125 cubic meters per year.

Egypt wants to guarantee a minimum annual release of 40 billion cubic meters of water from the Blue Nile. The irrigation official said anything less could affect Egypt’s own massive Aswan High Dam, with dire economic consequences.

“It could put millions of farmers out of work. We might lose more than one million jobs and $1.8 billion annually, as well as $300 million worth of electricity,” he said.

The official said Ethiopia has agreed to guarantee just 31 billion cubic meters.

El-Sisi is set to meet with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, on Wednesday in the Russian city of Sochi, on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit. They may be able to revive talks, but the stakes get higher as the dam nears completion.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, warned earlier this year that the “risk of future clashes could be severe if the parties do not also reach agreement on a longer-term basin-wide river management framework.”

In recent weeks there have been calls by some commentators in Egypt’s pro-government media to resort to force.
Abdallah el-Senawy, a prominent columnist for the daily newspaper el-Shorouk, said the only alternatives were internationalizing the dispute or taking military action.

“Egypt is not a small county,” he wrote in a Sunday column. “If all diplomatic and legal options fail, a military intervention might be obligatory.”
Anwar el-Hawary, the former editor of the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, compared the dispute to the 1973 war with Israel, in which Egypt launched a surprise attack into the Sinai Peninsula.

“If we fought to liberate Sinai, it is logical to fight to liberate the water,” he wrote on Facebook. “The danger is the same in the two cases. War is the last response.”