Egypt stalls dam talks with Ethiopia and Sudan

Above, officials and stakeholders during the press conference on the Renaissance Dam project in Ethiopia.
Updated 18 November 2017

Egypt stalls dam talks with Ethiopia and Sudan

CAIRO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn confirmed his county’s determination to complete the Renaissance Dam on schedule during a recent visit to Qatar.
However Egypt has announced that it is studying the necessary measures to protect its water rights after Ethiopia and Sudan refrained from signing a preliminary report submitted by the French Consultative Office on the dam’s impact on Egypt.
“The current status of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations is alarming given that water security is a key component of Egypt’s national security and harming it is not an option,” said the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry.
He said, “Egypt will seek to overcome the complexity of negotiations through reaching out to Ethiopia and Sudan as well as the rest of the Nile countries and the international community.”
In a joint press conference with his Tunisian and Algerian counterparts in Cairo on Wednesday, Shoukry said, “Egypt did not expect the technical course of the GERD negotiations to take so long and become so complicated.”
“Egypt is committed to the tripartite framework agreement signed by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia and believes it is enough to govern the relations of the three countries and respect international law with respect to international rivers,” he said. “The aim of the technical negotiations was to achieve common interests, but this never happened.”
Egypt’s Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Ati said that the 17th meeting of the Tripartite National Technical Committee, which brought together the Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian ministers of water in Cairo on Nov. 11 and 12, did not result in any agreement on the adoption of the introductory technical report submitted by the French consultancy firm hired to conduct impact studies of the dam on the downstream countries.
After the technical committee’s meeting on Nov. 12, Abdel Ati said that although Egypt had initially approved the introductory report in light of the fact that it was consistent with the studies’ references on which the three countries agreed, the committee’s two other parties did not approve the report and demanded amendments that were beyond the agreed-on references and that to reinterpret basic and pivotal provisions in a way that affects the studies’ outcomes made its content of no value.
The Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation announced the stalling of all technical talks with Ethiopia and Sudan on Monday.
“The reasons for the dispute over the introductory report is the so-called baseline, which sets Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water at 55.5 billion cubic meters and Sudan’s share at 18.5 billion cubic meters, and this is unacceptable for Ethiopia, which does not recognize the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement that specified water allocations to Egypt and Sudan,” said Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, President of the Arab Water Council and former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation.
However, an official Egyptian source linked to GERD revealed that Egypt had rejected the amendments requested by Ethiopia because they were incompatible with Article 5 of the Declaration of Principles.
Article 5 includes agreement on rules for the dam’s first filling and operation, as well as the expected time period for filling the dam’s reservoir with the Nile’s water. Egypt demands that this period be 7 to 10 years while Ethiopia insists on a maximum of 3 years.
In a statement published on its official website, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity said: “Although the three countries are trying to reach a common understanding, Egypt has again rejected the draft report to be sent to the consultancy firm.”
The Sudanese ambassador in Cairo, Abdel Mahmoud Abdel Hamid, slammed the statement of the Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation and said, “Egypt’s reaction of announcing the negotiations were stalled raises doubts about its future.”
He explained that “even though the statement addressed Egyptian public opinion, it paves the way for actions that will not bring Cairo— nor the other negotiating parties— any good.”
“Sudan had a vision for resolving disputes in this meeting and has the right to do what it sees fit for its people’s welfare; yet it remained positive throughout all meetings and worked hard to save the technical and political courses of GERD negotiations,” he said.
The Sudanese ambassador denied that Sudan had introduced amendments to the introductory report, as said in the statement of the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, and said: “It was Egypt that added several references and amendments to the report since the first meeting, not Sudan, and, contrary to what the statement reflected, all meetings were held in a friendly, harmonious atmosphere.”
Reverting to political negotiations
The Cabinet of Egypt did not specify the measures that could be taken, but the Foreign Ministry’s official spokesperson, Counselor Ahmed Abu Zeid, said: “Stalling the technical negotiations must be followed by reverting to political negotiations to resolve disputes in the tripartite relations of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in the context of the Declaration of Principles signed by the three countries which stipulates the necessity of their agreement.”
“Egypt has a clear plan for dealing with the Renaissance Dam matter,” he said. “Egypt’s embassies abroad were assigned to explain the negotiations’ outcomes and Egypt’s flexibility during these negotiations, in addition to explaining the need to hold onto the Declaration of Principles and clarify which party was responsible for stalling negotiations.”
He stressed that this step was important to inform the international community of the negotiations’ details before taking political steps to pressure the party responsible for stalling negotiations.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson revealed that there was direct contact at the time between the foreign ministers of Egypt and Ethiopia. “President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will meet with Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn during the meeting of the joint Egyptian-Ethiopian higher committee in December,” he said.
He said that the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, had discussed with his Saudi counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, during their meeting in Riyadh on Tuesday, Nov. 14, the stalling of GERD technical negotiations and said: “Saudi Arabia has been following the development of this matter for a while, and there was a discussion about the recent stalling of technical negotiations,” and he added, “Saudi stresses the necessity of respecting the tripartite framework agreement.”
Controversy over the internationalization of the GERD crisis
There have been different speculations by Egyptian experts on the most suitable options for Egypt in its fight against the Renaissance Dam after Ethiopia continues to build the dam and announces its intention to start filling the reservoir and generate power during the current Ethiopian year, which ends in October.
Hani Raslan, an expert on the Nile basin and Sudanese affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, and former Egyptian Deputy Minister for Irrigation and an expert on water resources and irrigation, Diaa Uddin Al-Koussi, urged Egypt to lodge a complaint to the UN Security Council because the conduct of Ethiopia and Sudan threatened international peace and security given the importance of water issues to Egypt.
“Egypt has done everything in its power during technical negotiations, and President El Sissi intervened more than once, which leaves us no other option but to seek legal help to preserve our rights,” Al-Koussi said.
“Ethiopia’s extreme intransigence has caused the failure of the tripartite negotiations,” he said, “Addis Ababa does not wish for the report to see the light because it’ll be proof of the technical risks of building the dam and its negative impact on the environment and the economy of the downstream countries.”
Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, President of the Arab Water Council and former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, warned against internationalizing the issue at this stage and called for political negotiations between presidents, governments and foreign ministers.
“If Egypt sought the help of the United Nations or the Security Council there won’t be political negotiations, and this contradicts Egypt’s keenness for maintaining good relations with its African neighbors and resolving the issue through negotiations,” he said.
Meanwhile, Raslan said: “Seeking to inform the international community of the Renaissance Dam’s negative impact on Egypt and seeking an international guarantee of Egypt’s rights and security do not contradict the continuing of political negotiations between the three countries.”
However, Raslan doubted that Ethiopia would commit to any political consensus or legal agreements, explaining that it seeks to prolong negotiations to pursue a fait accompli policy through completing the dam’s construction.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister visited Qatar on Nov. 13 and 14 and signed several agreements to improve cooperation between the two countries, among which was an agreement on defense cooperation.
This visit came seven months after the visit of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
During his visit to Qatar, Ethiopia’s PM denied receiving funds from Qatar for GERD and stressed that the mega-project was “self-financed.”
The visit raised doubts among Egyptian journalists about its association with the crisis of GERD negotiations, but the Egyptian Foreign Minister said there were no indicators of this association, “especially since such visits get scheduled some time ahead.”
He also stressed that Egypt had been working for the last three years to maintain good relations with Ethiopia, “and we look forward to resolving this crisis in accordance with international law.”


American G20 ‘sherpa’ Chris Olson lauds strong, long-standing Riyadh-Houston links

Updated 30 September 2020

American G20 ‘sherpa’ Chris Olson lauds strong, long-standing Riyadh-Houston links

  • Chris Olson: It began with oil but developed into a cultural and economic exchange – a lot of Saudis ended up calling Houston home
  • Olson: I’ve been impressed by how Riyadh has taken the U20 concept and moved it forward

One of the aims of the U20 — the urban track of the G20 organization that formally opens on Thursday in Riyadh — is to bring together cities of diverse backgrounds and cultures to explore common interests and challenges, rather than focusing on what makes them different.

In the case of Riyadh and Houston, Texas, that process of familiarization has been underway for decades.

Christopher Olson, director of international affairs and global trade at the offices of the city of Houston, told Arab News: “There has been a long-standing and strong relationship between Houston and Riyadh, indeed the whole of Saudi Arabia, for a very long time.”

Olson reports to the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, but for the past year or so has been the US “sherpa” at the G20, under Saudi presidency this year.

The Riyadh-Houston affinity was based, naturally, on the oil and gas industry, with both cities owing much of their economic dynamism and growth to the energy business. Saudis and Texans share a unique heritage as pioneers of the crude business, and those links have grown and diversified over the decades.

“It began with oil but developed into a cultural and economic exchange. A lot of Saudis ended up calling Houston home,” Olson said.

Saudi Aramco, the Kingdom’s energy giant, has a big facility in the Texan city, and owns the Motiva refinery complex a short distance away on the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Until the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hit, Saudis would travel in droves each year to the CERAWeek energy forum in Houston, the “oil man’s Davos,” not least to keep tabs on what their rivals were doing in the Texas shale industry.

Saudis also attend Texas universities in big numbers, and the Texas Medical Center — which Olson pointed out was the biggest medical facility in the world — treats Saudi patients in increasing numbers.

Oil and medicine came together during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Aramco gifted medical supplies and equipment to Houston. “We were incredibly fortunate in that. We got almost 1 million masks from benefactors, and Aramco made up a big proportion of that. It really was incredibly generous,” Olson added.

The virus outbreak led to the cancellation of CERAWeek this year, but the city hoped organizers would add some physical element to the planned virtual event in 2021, Olson said.

The city managed to avoid most of the early virulence of the pandemic that hit US cities such as New York and Los Angeles, but relaxed early restrictions, along with several American cities, in May, and suffered a resulting spike in infections, the official added. “Now the numbers are moving in the right direction — downwards. But as schools and economic activity restarts, there is the potential for a second wave.”

One of the major themes of the U20 is how big urban centers, such as Houston and Riyadh, can overcome the health and economic ravages of the pandemic. Some experts have forecast mass migration from big cities, partly to avoid infection, but also as working and social habits adapt to whatever post-pandemic “normality” emerges. There has even been talk of “the end of urbanization.”

Olson said: “We’re all going to have to adapt. For example, are we as cities still going to invest in big infrastructure projects to encourage mass transit systems? That is the thing to do from a sustainability viewpoint, but it creates a health challenge.”

The working environment also faces enforced change. “There may have been a reticence in the past about tele-meetings, but now they are ubiquitous. It’s going to fundamentally change the way business is conducted.”

Increased dependence on technology brings other challenges, which the U20 will also consider. The digital divide between those who have access to efficient communications, especially in education, has been brought into sharp relief during the global health crisis, and even impacted on affluent urban hubs such as Houston.

“But I believe the city as a concept will endure. We are urban and social animals. People will adapt, but the general concept of the urban environment will not change,” Olson added.

He said it had been “fantastic” working with his counterparts at the U20 in Saudi Arabia.

“I’ve been impressed by how Riyadh has taken the U20 concept and moved it forward. The U20 is still only in its third year, but Riyadh has solidified it as an engagement group, and created a format for an exchange of thought and ideas. This will help us come up with evidence-based proposals and solutions,” he added.

The climax of the U20 comes on Friday, when mayors from all the big cities come together virtually to approve a 27-point communique for delivery to the G20 leadership. That statement is still under wraps, but Olson said it was a “well-crafted” document that reflected the good relationships that had developed between the sherpas over the past year.

He would like to see the U20 track elevated within G20 proceedings in the future, especially in the way it addresses issues of more concern to younger people, and believes that Saudi Arabia, with its very young demographic, will assist that elevation process.

“The amazing work of Riyadh has built on what was achieved in Tokyo and Buenos Aires and has carried it forward.

“It’s the cities of the world that face the biggest challenges — such as climate change, human rights, and sustainable development. But the cities are also coming up with the solutions. That is where the opportunity lies,” Olson said.