The ongoing "tripartite negotiations" over the past eight years on the rules for filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), between Egypt and Sudan (downstream countries), and Ethiopia (upstream) continue to fail. The last hours witnessed an exchange of accusations between Egypt and Ethiopia, against the backdrop of the failure of the new round of these tripartite negotiations held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa (on September 23-24).
A statement by the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry after the talks denounced Egypt's demand for a "colonial" share of water, and its adherence to what the statement described as an "exclusionary treaty dating back to the colonial era," referring to the agreements of 1902 and 1929, concluded by Britain (the occupying power of Egypt and Sudan) and Ethiopia to determine Egypt's water share, and oblige Ethiopia not to establish any projects on the Nile, which would impede the flow of the river, without Egypt's consent.
The Ethiopian statement criticized the Egyptian delegation's approach to undermining the 2015 Declaration of Principles Agreement, signed in the Sudanese capital (Khartoum), between the three countries.
On the other hand, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry expressed before the United Nations General Assembly Egypt's rejection of Ethiopia's attempt to impose a fait accompli on 100 million Egyptians, pointing out that Egypt suffers from water scarcity and a deficit in its water needs of up to 50%.
For its part, the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources confirmed the Ethiopian side's rejection of "internationally agreed technical arrangements, which would meet Ethiopian interests, without infringing on the rights of the two downstream countries," in retreat from previous consensuses. Therefore, it can be said that failure is the inevitable fate of the next round of talks between the three countries scheduled to be held next month in the Egyptian capital (Cairo).
Egypt was not successful from the beginning when it ruled out the option of using military force to hit the dam and prevent its completion, as the "threat of force" could have deterred Ethiopia, even without using it.
Inheritance of treaties and river agreements
Historically, the Egyptians are associated with the Nile River, their lives are not upright without it, their civilizations have been based on it since ancient times, as it is the source of urbanization, fertility and irrigation of "agricultural lands", which occupy a large economic space, and the Nile is a tourist exploitation that generates dollar returns to the country, to the effect that this river is associated with abundant livelihood and goodness for the "Egyptians", most of whom are concentrated on its banks or near it.
The Nile River is 6670,69 kilometers long, and its waters descend from the freshwater "Lake Victoria", which extends between Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia, and covers an area of <>,<> square kilometers.
The water travels more than 3,85 kilometers, starting from the Blue Nile in the highlands of Ethiopia (<>%), until it reaches the Egyptian border, passing through South Sudan, and then Sudan.
Why does Ethiopia accuse the Egyptian negotiating delegation of undermining the Agreement of Principles (Khartoum-March 2015)? The problem lies in Ethiopia's insistence on considering the Nile as a pure Ethiopian river and its own affair, which Egypt rejects, based on "international law", which considers it an international river, and recognizes the 1902 and 1929 conventions, which protect Egypt's water rights, in accordance with the principle of "treaty inheritance", which applies to river agreements.
Years of water scarcity and prolonged drought
It is clear from the context of data and media interaction between Egypt and Ethiopia that there are ongoing differences over ways to cope with periods of drought, prolonged drought, and years when water is scarce, as a result of the Ethiopian side's intransigence and lack of flexibility, despite the fact that signs of drought have begun to appear in Sudan.
There is also a contradiction in the interpretation of the terms of the Agreement of Principles, as Ethiopia sees it as separate from previous conventions that it considers colonial (1902 and 1929). As for Egypt, it sees it as a complement and a governing framework for negotiations on the rules of filling and operating the dam. The Ethiopians want to permanently repudiate these two agreements and get rid of them, as they are – according to Ethiopia – a product of the colonial era, and they were concluded without their will, which is not approved by international laws, as mentioned above. The Egyptians cannot give them up, as they are the backbone of their water rights in the Nile River. Therefore, Ethiopia from the beginning took an approach based on maneuvers and buying time, which it succeeded in, in return for the laxity and softness of the Egyptian negotiator, in the hope of softening the Ethiopian position, to no avail.
When the threat of the military option was required
But what options do Egypt have to deal with Ethiopia and force it to move forward to a balanced agreement that preserves Egyptian water rights?
My assessment is that Egypt was not successful from the beginning when it ruled out the option of using military force to strike the dam and prevent its completion. The threat of force could have deterred Ethiopia, even without using it, and perhaps even obviated its use, if the adversary realized that there was the will to use it.
Instead of what Egypt was aiming for in terms of flexibility, goodwill, confidence-building and cooperation with Ethiopia, the latter read the message differently and used it to its advantage at the expense of Egyptian water security.
Now, the military option is beset with great difficulties, as a military attack on the dam to destroy it poses a serious danger to Sudan, similar to the Day of Resurrection, for the cities of Khartoum and Omdurman, and may erase them, in addition to less risks to Egypt as a result of the flood that will be generated by the rush of water stored behind it, which is supposed to reach 74 billion cubic meters.
These pointless and pointless negotiations, which have certainly proved futile for the past eight years, should cease immediately. It may be appropriate for Egypt to announce the withdrawal of its signature on the Agreement of Principles, based on Ethiopia's non-compliance with its content, while looking for other more effective scenarios and plans for dealing with Ethiopia.
The Nile River is an issue of existence for Egypt, and it cannot waste its water share under any circumstances or pressures, and it must recalculate and choose different and effective mechanisms to deal with the issue of the Renaissance Dam.