Ethiopian attempt to begin filling Renaissance Dam may scupper deal with Egypt and Sudan, say experts

Ethiopian attempt to begin filling Renaissance Dam may scupper deal with Egypt and Sudan, say experts
A general view of the dam. (Aigaforum.com)
Updated 13 November 2017

Ethiopian attempt to begin filling Renaissance Dam may scupper deal with Egypt and Sudan, say experts

Ethiopian attempt to begin filling Renaissance Dam may scupper deal with Egypt and Sudan, say experts

CAIRO: There are fears that a unilateral attempt by Ethiopia to begin filling a huge new dam on the Nile will lead to the failure of technical discussions with Egypt and Sudan.
Disagreements between Ethiopia and Egypt on filling the reservoir and generating power within a few months on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which will be the largest in Africa, could not be resolved during the Tripartite National Technical Committee’s meeting, which brought together the Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian ministers of water and was held in Addis Ababa on Oct. 19.
The day before the meeting, Ethiopia’s Communication and Information Technology Minister Debretsion Gebremichael announced that the construction of the dam had reached 62 percent and generating power would start this Ethiopian year and before construction is complete. The new Ethiopian year started on Sept. 11 and ends in October 2018.
“The remaining 38 percent of the construction will be done while the dam is generating hydroelectric power,” Gebremichael had told the Ethiopian News Agency.
Considering the slow pace at which the French consulting firms BRL and Artelia are preparing technical studies, it is speculated that before Ethiopia begins storing the Nile’s water in the dam, studies necessary for reaching a final agreement between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the rules of filling and operating the dam will be completed.
If no agreement takes place between the three countries, Ethiopia’s next step would be considered a clear violation of the tripartite Declaration of Principles on Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam signed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Khartoum on March 23, 2015.
“Any unilateral attempt made by Ethiopia to initiate filling the dam would lead to the failure of the current technical discussions between the three countries,” said Dr. Ayman Shabana, professor of political science at the Institute of African Studies, Cairo University.
However, Hani Raslan, an expert on the Nile basin and Sudanese affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, believes the declaration of principles does not provide a legally binding framework for Ethiopia since it obliges the three countries only to “respect” the terms and not “adhere” to them. “Respect can mean a different thing for each country,” he said.
“There are also controversial terms in the declaration of principles, especially the one that says filling the GERD reservoir is linked to completing joint technical studies,” he added, explaining that Ethiopia adopted “an elusive interpretation of this term.”
“Ethiopia has named two phases of the filling process: ‘The first filling,’ which it targets during the current stage in order to start generating power, and ‘the complete filling,’ which means filling the dam reservoir to its full capacity of 74 billion cubic meters,” he continued, “And it only associates the completion of technical studies and the filling and operation rules with the complete filling and not the first filling.”
Frozen negotiations
Egypt is increasingly concerned about Ethiopia’s intention to start storing water in the GERD reservoir before completing the technical studies and reaching a final agreement on filling and operation rules.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry discussed what he called the “frozen negotiations” of the tripartite technical committee. During a meeting with his Ethiopian counterpart, Workneh Gebeyehu, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Sept. 21, Shoukry complained of the delay in issuing technical studies on the dam’s impact on Egypt and Sudan.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also pointed out the urgency of the speedy implementation of the declaration of principles on Ethiopia’s dam in his speech to the General Assembly on Sept. 19.
Shoukri explained that the reason behind the “slowdown” of issuing technical studies on the dam’s impact was the presence of obstacles that none of the three countries could overcome at technical or political levels. “These obstacles are a threat to the foundations of the Declaration of Principles agreement,” he said in an interview with Al-Ahram newspaper, published on Oct. 4.
He then added: “Not completing the technical studies prior to completing the dam’s construction and launching the filling process would make everyone suspect negotiations are being stalled to impede the report’s issuance.”
In spite of this, unofficial Egyptian sources acquainted with water management suggested that, to avoid the discussions failing, Egypt agree to the first filling of the GERD reservoir under three conditions:
First, the filling must be for trial purposes and not part of the actual filling process that leads to the dam’s official operation.
Second, the target water level of the first filling must be only enough for operating the two turbines installed by Ethiopia at the dam’s lower part, provided filling stops immediately after reaching this level and is resumed only after the completion of technical studies and reaching a final tripartite agreement on the rules of filling and operation. Egyptian sources estimated the amount of water needed for this purpose would be around 15 billion cubic meters.
Third, the first filling must be completed over two years, according to the same unofficial Egyptian sources, and not one year or less as planned by Ethiopia.
Dr. Shabana, of the Institute of African Studies at Cairo University, agrees with the above insight, stressing that “any step taken by Ethiopia toward initiating the filling process must be for trial purposes only and in full coordination with Egypt, as required by the declaration of principles.”
In Raslan’s opinion, Egypt currently lacks the tools for pressuring Ethiopia, which means it has to accept Ethiopia’s unilateral filling approach.
He also pointed out that the time at which the Ethiopian government announced its unilateral intention to start filling the GERD reservoir, which coincided with the tripartite technical committee’s meeting in Addis Ababa, confirms Ethiopia’s approach of refusing legal commitment as well as negotiations about its construction of GERD and development of its filling and operation rules. “Ethiopia refused to discuss the matter. Instead, it unilaterally announced it,” he said.
“In practice, Ethiopia does not respect the declaration of principles nor the technical discussions, but uses them as a façade to show goodwill and an alleged desire to cooperate with Egypt and Sudan and not harm them,” he continued. “Ethiopia’s ultimate and strategic goal is to completely and unilaterally control the Nile’s revenue, which is 48-50 billion cubic meters of water annually and accounts for most of Egypt’s annual allocation of the Nile’s water.”
Arab News sought a comment on this information from the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, but the ministry’s spokesperson declined to comment.
Technical committee
Technical matters associated with the best mechanism for filling and operating the Renaissance Dam without affecting the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, are still being debated after the Tripartite National Technical Committee, composed of 12 experts from Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, held 16 rounds of negotiations, the latest of which was on Oct. 15 in Addis Ababa, to reach an agreement on the initial technical report submitted by the two French consulting firms, BRL and Artelia, in late March 2017.
On Sept. 20, 2016 in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, the three countries signed the contracts for the technical studies with the two French firms, marking the preparation for a technical file on the Renaissance Dam and its effect on downstream countries. The studies were supposed to be finalized by the two French firms last August according to the time frame of 11 months defined by the declaration of principles agreement, followed by the Khartoum Document, which was signed by the three countries’ foreign ministers in December 2015, in addition to a period of four months dedicated for the technical committee’s members to reach consensus on how to implement the studies’ outcomes.
“Ethiopia’s strategy is to either impose its views during the technical discussions or withdraw from all agreements and restart negotiations from scratch,” Raslan said. “Faced with this approach, Egypt had no decisive negotiation strategy and relied instead on successive concessions in hopes of mellowing Ethiopia, which never happened.”
Egypt’s Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Ati predicted earlier that Ethiopia would start storing water in the GERD reservoir next year.
On Sept. 28, 2017, Misr News Agency quoted the minister saying: “The impact of the Renaissance Dam has not yet been experienced because the flow of water into Egypt is no different from that experienced during previous years, but it is very likely that part of the dam will be filled next year.”
He also stressed the importance of consensus on the method of filling and operating the dam.
In a press statement published on Oct. 18, 2017, the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation said that Egypt confirmed no water had been stored behind GERD this year and nothing was impeding the flow of water into the country until now.
The press statement was released a day after an Egyptian delegation, headed by Abdel Ati, on Oct. 17 visited the dam in Benishangul, which is 20 km from the Sudanese border, and “the visit was the first of its kind for an Egyptian government official.”
Complete filling
In addition to the dispute over Ethiopia’s intention to start the unilateral filling of the GERD reservoir as part of what it calls “the first filling,” what Ethiopia calls “the complete filling” poses a greater danger, said Hani Raslan, Nile basin and Sudanese affairs expert.
“Ethiopia insists on filling the reservoir within three years, which will deprive Egypt of around 25 billion cubic meters of water every year — almost half of its annual allocation of the Nile’s water,” Raslan explained. “Egypt, on the other hand, demanded filling the reservoir over a period of nine years.”
“If we take into account the annual loss of water caused by leakage and evaporation, the complete filling is expected to drain almost 90 billion cubic meters of water, not 74 billion cubic meters, which represents the final storage volume,” he added.
In the context of a strategic approach supported by several international and regional parties to reshape and strengthen Ethiopia’s influence and turn it into the greatest power in East Africa and the Nile basin, Addis Ababa has plans to export hydroelectric power.


Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
Updated 28 February 2021

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
  • He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”

ISTANBUL: Mujdat Gezen’s half-century career as an acclaimed Turkish writer and actor has included awards, a stint as a UN goodwill ambassador and a taste of prison after a 1980 putsch.
Now aged 77, the wry-witted comedian and poet with an easy smile and a bad back risks returning to jail on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”
“I am even banned from appearing in crossword puzzles,” Gezen quipped.
Gezen landed in court with fellow comedian Metin Akpinar, 79, over comments the pair made during a television show they starred in on opposition Halk TV in 2018.
In the broadcast, Gezen told Erdogan to “know your place.”
“Look Recep Tayyip Erdogan, you cannot test our patriotism. Know your place,” Gezen said on air.
His parter Akpinar went one step further, saying that “if we don’t become a (democracy)... the leader might end up getting strung up by his legs or poisoned in the cellar.”
These are risky comments to make in a country still reeling from a sweeping crackdown Erdogan unleashed after surviving a failed coup in 2016.
Their trial is coming with Erdogan rattled by a burst of student protests that hint at Turks’ impatience with his commanding rule as prime minister and president since 2003.
Prosecutors want to put the two veteran celebrities behind bars for up to four years and eight months. The verdict is expected on Monday.

Jailed over book
Thousands of Turks, from a former Miss Turkey to school children, have been prosecuted for insulting Erdogan on social media and television.
Bristling at the jokes and comments, Erdogan warned in 2018 that his critics “will pay the price.”
“The next day,” Gezen told AFP in an interview by telephone, “police turned up and I was summoned to give a statement to prosecutors.”
The knock on the door reminded Gezen of how he ended up being dragged before the courts after spending 20 days in jail when a military junta overthrew Turkey’s civilian government at the height of the Cold War in 1980.
Gezen’s book about Nazim Hikmet — perhaps Turkey’s most famous 20th century poet, who happened to be a communist who died in exile in Moscow in 1963 — was taken off the shelves after that coup.
“I was chained up while being taken from prison to court with a gang of 50 criminals, including murderers and smugglers,” he recalled.
He was freed by the court in 1980, and may yet be acquitted on Monday.
Still, Gezen is uncomfortable with the similarities, and with Turkey’s trajectory under Erdogan.
“There is a record number of journalists in jail — we have never seen this in the history of the republic. That’s what upsets me,” he said.

Irritable dictator
An author of more than 50 books and founder of his own art center in Istanbul, Gezen says he has “either criticized or parodied politicians to their faces” for decades without going to jail.
His popularity and resolve earned him a role in 2007 as a goodwill ambassador for the UNICEF children’s relief fund.
But he fears that Turkey’s tradition of outspoken artists — “art is by its nature oppositional,” he remarked — is wilting under Erdogan.
“We now have self-censorship. But what is even more painful to me is that (some artists) prefer to be apolitical,” he said.
“The president has said how he expects artists to behave. But it cannot be the president of a country who decides these things. It’s the artists who must decide.”
To be on the safe side, Gezen’s lawyers now read his books before publication to avoid legal problems.
“It is risky in Turkey,” he observed.
Many of the opposition media outlets that once flourished have been either closed or taken over by government allies, leaving independent voices with even fewer options.
But he remains doggedly optimistic, calling democracy in Turkey something tangible but just out of reach, like the shore for a stranded boat.
“And then someone up on the mast will cry: Land ahoy!“


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
Updated 21 min 6 sec ago

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by autumn 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.


Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
Vendors work at a vegetable market amid the coronavirus disease pandemic in Cairo. (File/Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
  • Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December

CAIRO: Egypt has overcome the peak of the second wave of coronavirus, according to the president’s health adviser Mohammed Awad Taj El-Din.
He said that new coronavirus cases were currently decreasing, pointing to the continued presence of the disease, but that precautionary measures still needed to be followed in order to reduce infection rates among people.
“The second wave was high, but there is a decrease in new cases. As for cases that need hospitals or ventilators, their numbers have decreased,” he added.
Taj El-Din regarded the fluctuation in the number of cases, whether it was an increase or decrease, as natural because COVID-19 symptoms appeared in some people up to two weeks after they had contracted the virus.

FASTFACT

Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.

He said that intensive care rooms were available as were respirators and, as long as there was a decline in the number of new cases, there was no reason to be worried.
Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.
It also received 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early February, as part of its program to vaccinate health workers.
Taj El-Din said the antibodies produced by the coronavirus vaccines could last up to nine months, and the immunity to coronavirus that was produced by the vaccines, the period in which people were protected from contracting the virus again, varied between three and nine months.
He explained that the immunity period varied from one person to another, as some vaccines gave 86 percent protection from the virus while others gave up to 90 percent.
He said it was necessary to limit gatherings and follow precautionary measures during Ramadan so that there was no new coronavirus wave in Egypt.


Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally
Updated 28 February 2021

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally
  • Patriarch calls for UN-led forum to save nation ‘from those who harbor evil’

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s influential Christian Maronite church has warned that the country is facing the threat of a “full-fledged coup,” and called for an international conference to avert “chaos, hunger and oppression.”

In an emotional address to thousands of followers on Saturday, Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that he was “drawing red lines for anyone who harbors evil for Lebanon, regardless of their sect.”
His comments were widely seen as a veiled reference to Iran-backed Hezbollah along with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and its founder President Michel Aoun.
“We are facing a full-fledged coup attempt,” Al-Rai told Lebanese who traveled to the church’s headquarters in Bkerke to support his demand for a UN-sponsored international conference to save Lebanon.
In response to the patriarch’s speech, people chanted: “Hezbollah is terrorist,” “Get out, Iran” and “Michel Aoun, leave.”
Cries of “Revolution! Revolution!” were also heard.
The Bkerke rally went ahead despite measures to limit gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some observers suggesting it could signal an end to the stalemate in Lebanese politics.

We want to provide support to the Lebanese Army, making it Lebanon’s sole defender.

Patriarch Bechara, Boutros Al-Rai

The FPM, led by Gebran Bassil, did not attend, saying it feared that the gathering “would be used against it,” according to affiliated websites.
Sources at Bkerke told Arab News that Al-Rai decided to speak out “because Lebanon is facing an existential threat” following the failure of a string of initiatives, including his efforts to reconcile Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
Banners unfurled on the dome of the Bkerke church read: “Neutrality, sovereignty, and stability,” “Lebanon comes first and last,” and “Bkerke for all of Lebanon.”
Al-Rai said at the outset of his address: “Long live a single, united and neutral Lebanon that is active, positive, sovereign, independent, free and strong.”
He said: “We are demanding this now because all other solutions have reached a dead end, and we have not been able to agree on the fate of our country, nor even to discuss our homeland’s affairs. We support finding a solution inside Lebanon.”

BACKGROUND

The Bkerke rally went ahead despite measures to limit gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some observers suggesting it could signal an end to the stalemate in Lebanese politics.

He added: “To let hunger and oppression destroy the country is something we do not accept in any way. Rejecting the proposed solutions means chaos and seizing the levers of power.”
Al-Rai called for an international conference to ensure Lebanon’s neutrality, so that it “is no longer a victim of conflicts and wars, and a land of division.”
He added: “We want the state to extend its authority over the entire Lebanese territory. We want to provide support to the Lebanese army, making it Lebanon’s sole defender.”
Al-Rai said the UN-sponsored conference also should agree on a plan “to prevent the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and ensure a safe return for Syrian refugees to their homeland.”
He said: “We do not want armies and camps, nor do we want Lebanon to be undermined. Lebanon’s borders are not subject to amendment, its Christian-Muslim partnership is untouchable, and its democracy is not subject to veto.”
The patriarch called on protesters to continue to speak out, saying: “Do not remain silent in the face of corruption. Do not tolerate the theft of your money, the fluid borders, the failure of the political class, the chaos in the investigation into the Beirut port explosion, or the imprisonment of the innocent.
“Do not tolerate the failure in forming a government and implementing reforms.”
Participants in the rally, many from different sects, told Arab News that Al-Rai is their last hope.
“No politician cares for the collapsing state. Politicians have left us on our own,” said one.
A Muslim woman in her 50s said: “This is an opportunity to raise our voice. The patriarch’s stances are patriotic, and history will remember him. The country is collapsing.”
A man in his 40s said: “I have come to Bkerke to say that people suffer from hunger and despair, and there is nothing left to lose.”
Internal security forces personnel were deployed on the road to the church’s headquarters, and those entering the square were searched.
Before the gathering, Hezbollah and FPM supporters took to social media to share tweets opposing the event.


Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle
Updated 28 February 2021

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle
  • Iran-backed terror militia using trapped families ‘as human shield’
  • Militants recently stormed several displacement camps in Serwah, west of Marib, blocking people’s escape to safer areas

AL-MUKALLA: Hundreds of Yemeni families trapped inside their camps in Marib province by Iran-backed Houthis are being used as a human shield against government forces, a Yemen government unit has claimed.

In a report seen by Arab News on Saturday, the internationally recognized government’s Executive Unit for IDP Camps said that militia fighters had besieged camps and planted land mines on main roads to stop families escaping and hinder advancing troops.

“Houthis have prevented 470 families from fleeing, using them as human shields. Until today, many families in the camps are still trapped by the Houthis,” the report said.

Militants recently stormed several displacement camps in Serwah, west of Marib, blocking people’s escape to safer areas. 

The government unit has appealed to the rebels to stop using displaced families as hostages and allow them to leave the camps.

“The Executive Unit for IDP Camps calls on the Houthis to respect international humanitarian law and stop targeting civilians and displaced persons, and to open safe corridors in order to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.”

The Houthis earlier this month renewed a bloody offensive on Marib, an oil-rich city and the government’s last bastion in the northern half of the country. For four weeks, the Houthis have faced stiff resistance from government forces backed by massive air and logistics support from the Arab coalition. 

Army commanders say that hundreds of Houthis have been killed, wounded or captured and their advance on Marib halted. 

Maj. Gen. Nasser Al-Thaybani, commander of the army’s Military Operation Authority, said that more than half the Houthi fighters sent to seize Marib have died or been wounded in the fighting, while army troops and allied tribesmen have pushed back all of the Houthi attacks on government-controlled areas. 

Yemeni government forces also suffered heavy casualties during fierce clashes.

Local officers and media said on Saturday that Brig. Gen. Abdul Ghani Sha’alan, commander of the Special Security Forces in Marib, was one of several government soldiers who died in fighting with the rebels near Balouq mountain in Serwah district, west of Marib city, on Friday. 

A local military officer, who declined to be named, told Arab News that Sha’alan was leading government troops pushing back a Houthi attack on the peak, which was claimed by government forces last week.

Several army commanders and tribal leaders have been killed since the beginning of the rebel offensive on Marib.

Yemen’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday criticized international rights groups over their failure to “name and shame” the Houthis for attacking residential areas after the densely populated city was targeted by 10 ballistic missiles in the previous 24 hours.

“Since the beginning of February, the province has come under the largest and fiercest Houthi attack in which the militia used all kinds of heavy weapons, including artillery, explosive-laden drones and ballistic missiles,” the ministry said in a statement. 

On Friday, Yemen’s Prime Minister, Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, hailed military support from the Arab coalition to help tilt the war in the army’s favor, vowing to continue backing army troops and tribesmen until they push the Houthi out of areas under their control.