Egypt-Ethiopia tensions escalate over Nile mega-dam project

Egypt-Ethiopia tensions escalate over Nile mega-dam project
Construction at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, near Guba — a 145-meter-high, 1.8-kilometer-long concrete colossus set to become the largest hydropower plant in Africa. (AFP)
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Updated 07 March 2020

Egypt-Ethiopia tensions escalate over Nile mega-dam project

Egypt-Ethiopia tensions escalate over Nile mega-dam project
  • Addis Ababa skipped talks in Washington intended to produce a final agreement
  • Cairo has vowed to defend 'the interests, capabilities and future' of the people

CAIRO: The Grand Renaissance Dam, being built on the Nile river by Ethiopia, has become a matter of great concern in the North African region as tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt mount, with Sudan caught in between.

This follows a series of developments, most notably the refusal of the Ethiopian government to take part in the Feb. 27 to 28 talks in Washington, that were intended to produce a final agreement with Egypt and Sudan on the filling and operation of the dam.

In response to Ethiopia’s stance, Egypt has launched an international diplomatic offensive to shore up its position with regard to its Nile water rights.

The Ethiopian side stands accused of dragging its feet after it skipped the latest round of talks. The decision left the Egyptians angry and the Americans, who had drafted an agreement with the technical input of the World Bank, disappointed.

Egypt relies on the Nile for 90 percent of its water. It contends that having a stable flow of the Nile waters is a matter of survival in a country where water is scarce.

FASTFACT

S4.2 billion

Cost of mega-dam on which Ethiopia bets to become a manufacturing power

A 1929 treaty (and a subsequent one signed in 1959) gave Egypt and Sudan rights to nearly all of the Nile’s waters. The document also gives Egypt veto powers over any infrastructure projects by upstream countries that would affect its share of the river’s resources.

Ethiopia launched construction in 2011 on the Blue Nile in the northern Ethiopian highlands, from where 85 percent of the Nile’s waters flow.

One of Egypt’s main worries is that if the water flow diminishes, it could affect Lake Nasser, the reservoir further downriver, behind Egypt’s Aswan Dam.

For more than four years, three-way talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over operating the dam and filling its reservoir had made no progress until the US took up the role of mediator.

According to a US Treasury Department statement, the latest plan builds on the previous seven years of technical studies and consultations between the three countries and provides for the resolution of all outstanding issues concerning the filling and operation of the dam.

The statement expressed appreciation for the Egyptian side, which was described as relying on negotiations as the sole means of resolving the dispute and prepared to acknowledge Ethiopian interests, provided Ethiopia acknowledged its vital interests.

It said: “We also note the concern of downstream populations in Sudan and Egypt due to unfinished work on the safe operation of the GERD, and the need to implement all necessary dam safety measures in accordance with international standards before filling begins.”

Egypt’s position is to make sure the upcoming structure – Africa’s biggest hydroelectric power plant – does not cause significant harm to downstream countries and the final testing and filling of the dam does not take place without an agreement.

Egypt has proposed a longer period – so that the level of the river does not dramatically drop, especially in the initial phase of filling the reservoir. The longer it takes to fill the reservoir, the less impact there will be on the level of the Nile.

For its part, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement reflecting the truth of the country’s position on the project.

It said the countries still had to discuss major issues related to the final agreement, and that Ethiopia was committed to continuing consultations with Egypt and Sudan to reach a final agreement regarding the filling and operation of the dam.

The statement made clear Ethiopia’s intention to start filling the dam as construction proceeded, even without reaching an agreement.

Such a course of action would constitute a violation of international law and article n.5 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles.

FASTFACT

90%

Reliance of Egypt on the Nile for its water

Things were not in favor of Egypt as long as Ethiopia was successful in portraying itself as the victim. But today, the shoe is on the other foot.

Ethiopia is in denial regarding the rules of geography and international laws and customs when it claims it has the absolute right to the Blue Nile because it runs through Ethiopian territory.

This is a clear violation of international law that stipulates equitable sharing of downstream benefits on international rivers, including the Nile River. The law gives Egypt a strong bargaining position in diplomatic or legal disputes.

In addition to a phone call between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and US President Donald Trump, the Egyptian diplomatic mission has been in touch with African countries with a view to winning their support.

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry held a meeting with the ambassadors of African countries in Cairo, where he reviewed the latest developments in the Grand Renaissance Dam issue and highlighted Cairo’s efforts at reaching a fair and equitable agreement that advances the interests of all three parties.

Shoukry further briefed the envoys on Egypt’s efforts and achievements during its one-year presidency of the African Union and its commitment to pursue efforts to promote joint African work.

Egypt has also sought support in the Arab League, by presenting a draft resolution that stresses Cairo and Khartoum’s rights to the Nile waters.

The Arab League has extended full support to the draft resolution and rejected any unilateral measures by Ethiopia. Egypt’s draft resolution welcomed the agreement prepared by the US government as “a fair and equitable agreement that fulfills the interests of the three countries.”

Many in Egypt think it is no longer useful to stay silent in the face of Sudan’s unabashed and inexplicable pro-Ethiopian stance.

Rather the differences with Sudan should be addressed through high-level and honest dialogue, which would make the Sudanese transitional government aware of its responsibilities and extent of the damage it is causing to Egyptian interests.

Sudan’s expression of reservations over the Egyptian draft resolution came as a shock to everyone in attendance at the Arab League meeting.

Some of the attendees said while the strength of Arab support for the resolution was palpable, the Sudanese side, instead of showing enthusiasm, requested that the country’s name not be included in the resolution.

It argued that the resolution did not serve its interests and that the Arab League should not be dragged into the matter. The Sudanese also expressed fears about an Arab-Ethiopian confrontation emanating from the dispute.

Against this tense backdrop, the Ethiopian government has shown no sign of changing its tune. It recently launched the third round of its fund-raising program to complete the construction of the dam and fill the reservoir, even though no international agreement has been reached.

The six-month program, launched by Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde, aims to involve citizens in the dam’s construction.

Amid the furor over the dam, it is tempting to forget that the riparian states share a culture with similar features, the same destiny and one river.

They ought to bear in mind that negotiation is the fastest route to reach a solution for any crisis.

Direct communication between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum is arguably the best guarantee for prevention of any attempt by other parties to take advantage of the tense situation.


Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir
Updated 19 June 2021

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir
  • For 10 years Ethiopia has failed to reach an agreement with Egypt and Sudan on how quickly the reservoir should be filled
  • On the eve of the summer rains on the Ethiopian Highlands, the dam is all but complete and filling is about to begin

LONDON: In the decade since Ethiopia announced it was going to build Africa’s biggest hydropower dam on the Blue Nile, the source of the bulk of Egypt’s water, the prospect has loomed over Egyptians as an existential threat.

For 10 years Ethiopia has failed to reach an agreement with Egypt and Sudan, its two downstream neighbors, on how quickly its vast reservoir should be filled, and how the electricity-generating Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be operated in the years to come. Now, on the eve of the anticipated annual summer rains that fall on the Ethiopian Highlands, the dam is all but complete and filling is about to begin in earnest.

DEEP DIVE: For a longer, interactive version of this story: https://www.arabnews.com/BattleForTheNile


Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote
Updated 36 min 19 sec ago

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote
  • Hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi was seen as all but certain to emerge victorious
  • Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined those who said they would not cast their ballot

TEHRAN: Congratulations poured in for Iranian ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday for winning presidential elections even before official results were announced.
Iran’s outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani said his successor had been elected in the previous day’s vote, without naming the widely expected winner, Raisi.
“I congratulate the people on their choice,” said Rouhani. “My official congratulations will come later, but we know who got enough votes in this election and who is elected today by the people.”
The other two ultraconservative candidates – Mohsen Rezai and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi – explicitly congratulated Raisi.
“I congratulate ... Raisi, elected by the nation,” Ghazizadeh-Hashemi said, quoted by Iranian media.
And Rezai tweeted that he hoped Raisi could build “a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems”.
The only reformist in the race, former central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, also tweeted his congratulations to Raisi.
Raisi, 60, would take over from moderate Rouhani at a time the Islamic republic is seeking to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a painful economic downturn.
Raisi, the head of the judiciary whose black turban signifies direct descent from Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, is seen as close to the 81-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate political power in Iran.
The moderate candidate in Iran’s presidential election has conceded he lost to the country’s hard-line judiciary chief.
Former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati wrote on Instagram to judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi early Saturday.
Hemmati wrote: “I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran.”
Voting on Friday was extended by two hours past the original midnight deadline amid fears of a low turnout of 50 percent or less.
Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls was winnowed down to seven candidates, all men, excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.
Three of the vetted candidates dropped out of the race two days before Friday’s election, and two of them threw their support behind Raisi.
Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of those who were disqualified by the powerful 12-member Guardian Council of clerics and jurists, joined those who said they would not cast their ballot.
Raisi’s only rival from the reformist camp was the low-profile former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, 65, who had polled in the low single digits before the election.
Iran’s electorate, of now almost 60 million eligible voters, has delivered surprise results before, observers warn. If no clear winner emerges, a runoff will be held next Friday.
On election day, pictures of often flag-waving voters in the country of 83 million dominated state TV coverage, but away from the polling stations some voiced anger at what they saw as a stage-managed election.
“Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected,” scoffed Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie. “They organize the elections for the media.”
Enthusiasm has been dampened further by the economic malaise of spiralling inflation and job losses, and the pandemic that proved more deadly in Iran than anywhere else in the region, killing more than 80,000 people by the official count.
Among those who lined up to vote at schools, mosques and community centers, many said they supported Raisi, who has promised to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of flats for low-income families.
A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed the frontrunner for his anti-graft credentials and on hopes he would “move the country forward... and save the people from economic, cultural and social deprivation.”
Raisi has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.
To opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. The US government has sanctioned him over the purge, in which Raisi has denied playing a part.
Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major influence in fields from industrial policy to foreign affairs.
Rouhani, 72, leaves office in August after serving the maximum two consecutive four-year-terms allowed under the constitution.
His landmark achievement was the 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
But high hopes for greater prosperity were crushed in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and launched a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran.
While Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, Trump charged it is still planning to build the bomb and destabilising the Middle East through armed proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
As old and new US sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted. The economy nosedived and spiralling prices fueled repeated bouts of social unrest which were put down by security forces.
Iran’s ultraconservative camp — which deeply distrusts the United States, labelled the “Great Satan” or the “Global Arrogance” in the Islamic republic — attacked Rouhani over the failing deal.
Despite this, there is broad agreement among all the candidates including Raisi that Iran must seek an end to the US sanctions in ongoing talks in Vienna aiming to revive the nuclear accord


Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues
Updated 19 June 2021

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues
  • The committee approved the use of text messages to show coronavirus test results for those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi has temporarily suspended the use of green pass on Al Hosn app due to technical issues faced by some users, state news agency WAM reported.
The Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee said it reviewed the possible causes of the problem, as the digital platform received a surge in new subscriptions. It has also ensured the app’s team are working to restore the service as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the committee approved the use of text messages to show coronavirus test results for those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi.
The decision came into effect on June 18 and will continue until the app is updated.
Residents and visitors who want to enter public spaces including shopping malls and large supermarkets, gyms, hotels, parks and beaches, private beaches and restaurants and cafes must have a green status on Al Hosn, to have access in such places.


EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen

EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen
Updated 19 June 2021

EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen

EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen
  • Lebanon fuel crunch inspires demonstrations at gas stations and supermarkets
  • Rocket-propelled grenades found in Beirut rubbish

BEIRUT: Josep Borrell, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy and vice-president of the European Commission, is expected to start a round of talks with Lebanese officials in Beirut on Saturday.

This comes days ahead of a meeting of EU officials in Brussels, called by France, to discuss imposing sanctions on Lebanese officials accused of corruption and political obstruction.

Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, director general of the General Security, highlighted “Russia’s constant will to stand by Lebanon and support it on the economic and security levels.”

He made his comments following talks with Russian officials.

Ibrahim added: “There should be a government, regardless of its form, in order to find solutions to all problems in Lebanon.”

He is a prominent figure in Lebanon who often conducts foreign negotiations.

Meanwhile, the living crisis is worsening, leading to armed clashes.

People are still waiting for long hours to fill up on gasoline amid shortages of fuel, which is subsidized by the state. The subsidy is expected to be lifted soon.

But this is dependent on the ration card for needy people, which is still being debated by parliamentary committees.

The fuel crisis sparked a clash on Friday in front of a gas station in Tripoli, which led to a shooting, with no casualties.

Also in Tripoli, a clash in front of a supermarket led to exchanging shots, causing two injuries.

The city has the biggest percentage of struggling Lebanese, who were impoverished further due to the collapse of the currency.

For the second consecutive day, employees of the public sector stuck to their strike which was called for by the Public Administration Employees Association in protest against the collapse of their purchasing power and the deterioration of economic and living conditions.

Contacts and consultations related to forming the new government have stalled after the failure of the initiative of the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, but he has insisted that “it is still standing.”

Walid Jumblatt, president of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) said: “It is impossible for some officials to keep waiting while the country’s conditions are retreating.”

Jumblatt added: “It is time for a settlement away from personal calculations.”

In the past two days, Berri had joined Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri in accusing President Michel Aoun and his political party of trying to get the blocking third in the government, contrary to the constitution.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Internal Security forces announced that they “captured 16 RPG type rocket-propelled grenades, and five grenades of other types dumped in waste containers near the House of the Druze Community in Lebanon in Beirut.”

Internal Security also declared that the “old ammunition” was removed after being examined by its explosives experts.

The identity of the party which disposed of the ammunition remains unknown.

The Anti-Narcotics Division at the Lebanese Customs seized a large quantity of Captagon pills hidden in a container loaded with stones, destined to be smuggled to Saudi Arabia via the port of Beirut.

“Some people implicated in the operation were arrested,” declared the caretaker Minister of Interior Mohammed Fahmi.

Speaking at the Port of Beirut, he revealed that the shipment was destined for Jeddah.


EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document

EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document
Updated 18 June 2021

EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document

EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document
  • Led by France, the EU is seeking to ramp up pressure on Lebanon's squabbling politicians
  • Senior European official told Reuters Paris had set its sights on sanctioning powerful Christian politician Gebran Bassil

PARIS/BRUSSELS: Criteria for European Union sanctions being prepared for Lebanese politicians are likely to be corruption, obstructing efforts to form a government, financial mishandling and human rights abuses, according to a diplomatic note seen by Reuters.
Led by France, the EU is seeking to ramp up pressure on Lebanon’s squabbling politicians after 11 months of a crisis that has left Lebanon facing financial collapse, hyperinflation, electricity blackouts, and fuel and food shortages.
The bloc, which has been holding technical discussions on possible measures for the last month, has yet to decide on which approach to take, but foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is due in Lebanon this weekend and will report back to foreign ministers on Monday.
As many senior Lebanese politicians have homes, bank accounts and investments in the EU, and send their children to universities there, a withdrawal of that access could help focus minds.
Paris says it has already taken measures to restrict entry for some Lebanese officials it sees as blocking efforts to tackle the crisis, which is rooted in decades of state corruption and debt, although it has not named anybody publicly.
The EU first needs to set up a sanctions regime that could then see individuals hit by travel bans and asset freezes, although it may also decide to not list anybody immediately.
The note, which also outlines the strengths and weaknesses of taking such a measure, focuses on four criteria. It begins with obstructing the establishment of a government, the political process or the successful completion of the political transition and then turns to obstructing the implementation of urgent reforms needed to overcome the political, economic and social crisis.
Financial mishandling, which would target people, entities or bodies believed to be responsible for the mismanagement of public finances and the banking sector, is also a core criteria as is the violation of human rights as a result of the economic and social crisis.
“It might be argued that the lack of political responsibility of the leadership in Lebanon is at the core of a massive implosion of the economy,” the note reads, referring to the possible human rights criteria.
“This has led to significant suffering and has affected the human rights of the population in Lebanon.”
Such diplomatic notes are common in EU policymaking, circulated among EU diplomats and officials, although they are not made public.
The note also says an “exit strategy” proposing benchmarks for establishing whether the sanctions regime has served its purpose as well as for renewing or lifting individual designations should also be put in place.
How quickly sanctions could be imposed is still unclear, but with political divisions continuing to worsen, the bloc is likely to press ahead before the summer holiday period.
There are divisions among the 27 EU states over the wisdom of EU sanctions, but the bloc’s two main powers, France and Germany are in favor, which is likely to prove pivotal. A larger group of nations has yet to specify their approach.
Hungary has publicly denounced EU efforts to pressure Lebanese politicians.
A senior European official told Reuters Paris had set its sights on sanctioning powerful Christian politician Gebran Bassil, who is already under US sanctions.