Cairo/London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Ethiopia’s parliament has unanimously ratified a treaty which is seeking to replace colonial-era agreements granting Egypt and Sudan the largest share of the Nile’s water.
This treaty, which strips Egypt of its right to the lion’s share of the Nile waters, comes at a time of escalating tensions between the countries.
Speaking earlier this week, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi warned: “We will defend each drop of Nile water with our blood if necessary.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat before the Ethiopian parliament’s decision, Khaled Wassef, spokesman for Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI), attempted to play down the crisis between the two countries, emphasizing that “Egypt’s stance is highly objective.”
He said that the so-called inflammatory rhetoric put forward by Mursi, including a statement that all options are on the table with regards to Egypt’s rights to the Nile river and its water, represents precisely the same discourse used by all former Egyptian presidents.
Wassef emphasized that when it comes to defending the Nile, Egypt’s stance has not changed throughout history, adding that this attitude is a characteristic of all previous Egyptian governments.
For his part, Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman, Dina Mufti, said: “Ethiopia is not intimidated by Egypt’s psychological warfare and won’t halt the dam’s construction, even for seconds.”
However, Wassef responded: “Egypt does not aim to aggravate; rather, it is defending its ancient and historic right [to the Nile],” stressing that the government prefers to negotiate a solution with Ethiopia.
The Egyptian government intends to contact Ethiopia directly in order to “resolve the crisis and convey its message,” Wassef added.
The Egyptian official called on Ethiopia to take the findings of the technical report—which a number of Ethiopian experts have contributed to—into account. This technical account warns of potential “disastrous side-effects to the upstream countries (Egypt and Sudan).” He also called for Ethiopia to carry out more research before continuing construction of the dam.
South Sudan is set to host a summit of the Nile Council of Ministers of Water Affairs on June 20 to discuss ways to step up cooperation among the Nile Basin countries. South Sudan is expected to join the Entebbe Framework Agreement, which redistributes a number of countries’ allocations of Nile water—a step which will likely provoke anger in Egypt.
Six Nile-basin states, including Ethiopia, have signed a deal effectively stripping Cairo of its veto—based in colonial-era treaties—over dam projects on the Nile, the source of nearly all Egypt’s water.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ayman El-Gammal, Egyptian ambassador to South Sudan, said: “South Sudan should not enter into the Entebbe Framework Agreement.”
“Juba thinks that by entering into the agreement it will be able to mediate between upstream and downstream countries,” he added.
According to Gammal, Egypt is seeking to persuade all of the countries that have not signed the agreement, such as South Sudan, to start negotiations between the upstream and downstream countries in order to consolidate mutual cooperation among the Nile Basin countries.
In a contentious step, Ethiopia started to divert the Blue Nile waters last month, in preparation for a massive USD 4.2 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, provoking Egyptian animosity.