In the summer of June 2018, Cairo was on a date with an exceptional event that was carefully picked up by the media.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met for the first time Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a former intelligence officer in the Ethiopian army, who succeeded in portraying himself as an unquestionable person to a man who shares the same military background.
Sisi stood laughing and told his Ethiopian guest Arabic words that seemed incomprehensible. Abi Ahmed did not hesitate for a moment to repeat them without being curious about what they mean: "By God, we will not do any harm to the water in Egypt."
The two-day trip has ended, but its memory is still present today, while many believed - or wanted to believe - that the Ethiopian Prime Minister returned to his country after making promises that he would not break negotiations or infringe on the rights of the other side from the waters of the Nile, the facts of the following months and years proved The opposite.
But the irony is that the principles agreement signed in 2015, which appeared to be an Egyptian-Sudanese guarantee of non-harm to the two states, was the same weapon that Abiy Ahmed used to circumvent all discussions until the end of the first mobilization of the Renaissance Dam, leading to the second filling date next July, under the eyes of two countries. Al-Masbah, who are currently fighting one of the most complex conflicts against a man who really did not care about Sisi's words when he first met him three years ago.
Egyptian concerns about the Renaissance Dam crisis have their roots in geography.
The fact that Egypt is at the end of the Nile River, which passes through 11 countries, makes it always at the mercy of everyone if they decide to rise up and demand the re-sharing of water, and rebellion against the terms of the 1929 and 1956 agreements that give Egypt the upper hand in the river.
This was not possible in the latter half of the twentieth century;
The three presidents of Egypt who ruled during this period (Abdel Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak) subjected the curse of geography to the tools of political influence, which was not sometimes devoid of the threat of war, because the Nile secures 95% of Egypt's water needs, which requires preserving the historical hegemony in it at any cost.
But Africa has changed over the years, at a time when the past continues to dictate Egypt's perceptions of its historical rights to the river.
The upstream countries are no longer technologically incapable of building dams with specifications that enable them to lock up water from Egypt, and Ethiopia, which hosts the headquarters of the African Union, is no longer a weak country that lacks the tools for political confrontation, especially when the dam has reached a point of no return.
The paradox of this geographical dilemma is that 80% of the Nile water originates mainly from the Ethiopian highlands, which gives Addis Ababa a natural possibility to put pressure on Cairo.
Ethiopia laid the foundation stone for building the Renaissance Dam in 2011, to become the largest national project to produce electricity in Africa with a capacity of about 6450 megawatts and a capacity of 74 billion cubic meters, which is the sum of what Egypt and Sudan get approximately from their annual share of the Nile water.
But the most dangerous in that project is that the dam reservoir can block the passage of the Blue Nile to the two downstream countries for a continuous period of one and a half years during normal flow days, a specification that exacerbated Egypt's suspicions of Ethiopian intentions, considering that the latter aims to deliberately harm Egyptian interests in the Nile waters, and push them to not Internal political, economic and social stability, despite Addis Ababa's permanent response that it does not aim to harm the two downstream countries.
Almost a decade ago, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan participated in negotiations that have not ended to this day.
The main purpose of Cairo and Khartoum was to conclude a final treaty that reduces the expected damage to the dam, and imposes on Addis Ababa a binding agreement on the operating policy, filling the reservoir and the volume of water to be pumped in the dry season.
For its part, Addis Ababa sought to reach general guiding principles that grant it the right to build without compensation or guarantees, and it also refused Cairo to maintain its historical share in the Nile water - 55 billion cubic meters - on the grounds that this would affect the Ethiopian share during a medium and prolonged drought during natural disasters.
And because interests cannot converge according to those perceptions that each country clings to, everyone has fought from the start a carefully calculated diplomatic game.
According to internal emails issued by the US intelligence company Stratfor for the year 2010, quoting the Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon;
Egypt is afraid of losing its diplomatic conflict with Ethiopia, because it sets a precedent for Addis Ababa in restricting Egypt's historical rights, and opens a door for upstream countries to control the Nile resources, and to demand building giant dam projects under the guise of the legitimate right to development and power generation.
The document - which was later published by the Wikileaks website - states that Egypt believes that the Ethiopians mainly aim to push Cairo towards a response in the wrong way, and therefore it is committed to a high degree of restraint and recourse to diplomacy and the negotiating table. (2)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
On the other hand, Ethiopia also does not want to make any mistakes;
Therefore, in 2011, it had to agree to the formation of a committee of ten experts, Egyptians, Sudanese and Ethiopians, and four international foreign experts, to assess the final effects of the Renaissance Dam through a simulation model to ensure safety rates and ensure water drainage to the two downstream countries.
However, Addis Ababa declined to provide any sufficient details about operating rules and hydropower facilities, and those observations were added to the committee's 2013 report that confirmed flaws in the dam's design and questioned the structural integrity of the building.
The committee also expressed reservations about the structure of the dam due to the absence of compulsory water drainage holes in the bottoms of the dams to ensure the continuity of the flow of water from the upstream countries to the downstream without human intervention from the dam's owner.
In the present form, the water will only flow through turbines for generating electricity or emergency;
In effect, this means that the Nile River stops at the borders of the Ethiopian Dam.
In August 2014, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia agreed to implement the recommendations of the International Committee through an international advisory office, and the three countries chose a French company and a Dutch company, but they quickly withdrew after five months' work, claiming that no independent study was submitted by Addis Ababa to ensure the success of Doing technical consultations for the dam project.
The withdrawal of the technical office gave a strong indication of the direction of matters to escalate, but the biggest development took place in March 2015, when the three countries signed an agreement on the Renaissance Dam project in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, known as the "Declaration of Principles."
The agreement consisted of ten general provisions that were not without the multiplicity of Egyptian and Ethiopian interpretations.
This led each country to believe that it has the legal tools to win its case, whether at the level of negotiation or escalation later if the issue is internationalized in the Security Council.
In 2009, Egypt and Sudan fought unsuccessful negotiations in the face of the Nile Basin countries, most of which signed the "Entebbe" agreement to benefit from the resources of the Nile River.
The two downstream countries stipulated to join the agreement that its legal framework include a text ensuring that the share of Egypt and Sudan from the Nile waters is not affected, according to the 1956 Convention, and that the two countries have a "veto" in the form of the right to pre-objection to any project built on the river, according to the 1929 Convention, but their request was rejected. In return, they refused to sign.
According to the account of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's legal advisor, Mohamed Hilal, which he mentioned in three articles on the Renaissance Dam negotiations, Egypt did not seek to extract from Ethiopia any recognition of the treaties to which it is not a party (1929 and 1956).
Instead, Egypt sought, in the Agreement of Principles, to reach an agreement on the Renaissance Dam solely on the basis of international law, without affecting or prejudicing the current or future rights and obligations of the parties regarding the river.
According to the Ethiopian view, this seemed to be an Egyptian detour to preserve its old share without discussion.
In the absence of a clear clause of the agreement of principles regarding the 1929 and 1959 agreements, Ethiopia insists on canceling them and not considering them completely, and considers the current agreement as an agreement by the two downstream countries to build Addis Ababa any upcoming dams.
While Egypt considers the Declaration of Principles a limited, exceptional and temporary treaty that obliges the three countries to reach an agreement on filling and operating the Renaissance Dam only, and then it has nothing to do with the issue of redistributing the Nile water again.
In the summer of 2020, Ethiopia announced that it has the right to start the first filling of the Renaissance Dam without an agreement with its partners, given that the agreement stipulates that the two downstream countries notify the operation of the dam, and not consult or seek their permission.
Egyptian experts replied that signing the principles agreement without completing the dam studies in an attempt to reach a final agreement would make unilateral filling of the dam not allowed.
The biggest crisis of the Renaissance Dam is not in the absent provisions that were not included in the agreement, but in the present articles that were supposed to lead everyone by deed to a final agreement that governs the perceptions of each country and is binding in accordance with the rules of international law, but on the contrary it opened the door wide for misunderstanding and exploitation Legal loopholes.
The first clause that can be considered a loophole in the agreement of principles is the third item related to dealing with the occurrence of harm.
According to the official version published on the website of the State Information Service, affiliated to the Presidency of the Republic of Egypt, the clause did not grant the affected countries the authority to intervene to prevent any damage from occurring, but rather forced the countries sponsoring the dam to discuss the issue of mitigating the damage or compensation after its occurrence, which culminates in full legitimacy in construction Without warranty or oversight.
In addition to this, another loophole in the fourth article of the agreement, as Ethiopia imposed the word "respect" instead of "abide" on the report of the consultative office for the construction of the dam, which makes any objection about the technical aspects legally worthless.
The fifth clause is the most important backbone of the agreement, and it is a double-edged sword with multiple interpretations, as it relates to the management of the dam.
Ethiopia interprets this clause as permitting it to notify the two downstream countries of operating the dam, not consulting or seeking permission, and then it refuses the participation of Egypt and Sudan in defining long-term annual operating rules, a point that is supposed to be determined by the final agreement, but Ethiopia says it will not allow any approval. An agreement that includes violating its sovereignty and exercising its right to operate the dam.
Addis Ababa considers that the previous "only" notification that it was assigned to within the agreement is: "Notifying the two downstream states of any unforeseen or emergency circumstances that require resetting the operation of the dam through them."
The lines of the fifth clause are interpreted by Egypt and Sudan from their side in a different way. The two downstream countries consider the item on “implementing the recommendations of the international committee of experts and respecting the final results of the final report of the tripartite national committee on joint studies recommended by the report” a clause allowing only Ethiopia to build the dam in parallel with the negotiations, However, it is not permitted to operate it without final agreement on guidelines and rules for filling and operating the dam.
Filling the dam in the absence of such an agreement constitutes a fundamental breach of the Declaration of Principles and a violation of international law, and therefore gives Egypt and Sudan the right to fully withdraw from the agreement, according to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's legal advisor.
An image showing the Blue Nile River as the reservoir of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as it fills near the border between Ethiopia and Sudan, in this wide spectral image taken on November 6, 2020
On the other hand, the tenth item on settling disputes entirely favors Ethiopia, which has previously rejected US mediation and is currently rejecting the quadripartite mediation proposal that includes the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, under the leadership of the African Union.
The controversial clause stipulates that the three countries together agree to choose a mediator for the ongoing negotiations between them, and Egypt cannot choose a country or an international body to mediate without the consent of Ethiopia, so this item can be considered with distinction as the title of prolonging the current crisis.
All these loopholes do not deny that Addis Ababa also has concerns about the Egyptian and Sudanese papers in the agreement, which did not include in its clauses any articles that would protect it from cancellation, which allows withdrawal from it at any time.
The two countries already have a justification for their withdrawal, as recent events revealed, but they consider that behavior, at least for the time being, an inappropriate option to protect their interests.
The most important paper that the two downstream countries possess in the agreement is represented in Article Eight, which compels Ethiopia to implement the recommendations of the Committee of Experts regarding the safety of the dam, and the report explicitly states that Ethiopia should "complete, in good faith, the full implementation of the recommendations regarding the safety of the dam contained in the report of the International Committee of Experts." .
The International Committee of Experts has previously confirmed the existence of design and safety defects, and according to Egyptian experts in international law, this provision leads smoothly to confront Ethiopia in the Security Council in accordance with Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which grants it to intervene in cases of threats to peace, breach of it and the occurrence of aggression between states in accordance with For Articles (41) and (42).
The Nile River is considered an international river according to the 1997 United Nations Convention, which grants the right to the affected countries to object to projects and dams built on rivers if it is proven that they have serious damage.
While the eighth item is a point of strength in favor of Egypt and Sudan, the escalation path in the Security Council may seem insecure for the two countries, due to fears of a possible Chinese veto in light of the participation of Chinese government companies in the dam project, according to Mamdouh Al-Munir, head of the International Academy for Studies and Development. However, China, which is an important investment partner in Cairo and Sudan, may not take a political risk in the dam issue, especially as it distanced itself from the declared bias of one of the parties to the conflict until this moment.
The past days witnessed a failed round of negotiations that brought together the foreign and irrigation ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and was held in "Kinshasa", the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, under the auspices of the African Union.
It was assumed that the three countries would reach an agreement on filling and operating the dam during the coming months, before the second filling by Ethiopia during the flood season in July.
According to a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Ethiopia rejected the proposal submitted by Sudan and supported by Egypt to form an international quartet, led by the Congo, which heads the African Union, to mediate between the three countries.
According to the tenth item of the principles agreement, the recent failure requires referring the negotiations to the highest political authority represented by the heads of state and government for Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to hold a tripartite meeting on the crisis, which is the last track in negotiations, after the failure of the summit at the ministerial level, and Ethiopia's refusal of international mediation.
While the Egyptian President warned against prejudicing Egypt's right to the waters of the Nile, hinting at a military move, as some analysts understood, the Egyptian Stock Exchange witnessed a sharp decline after foreign investors sold their shares, which is one of the considerations that might bedevil Egypt's position if it seriously decided a military clash. In spite of what Cairo enjoys now of the advantages of joint military cooperation with Sudan, according to an agreement recently signed between the two parties.
Otherwise, Egypt may not be able to declare war against Ethiopia before withdrawing from the principles agreement first, a step that Egypt has not taken so far, despite its clear military advantage over Ethiopia, whose military spending stands at about half a billion dollars only, and is still exhausted. In its internal conflicts, with the assertion that this intervention requires comprehensive coordination with Sudan, which will bear the bulk of the bill for direct confrontation.
Until then, the two countries cling to all the papers available to them, including the loopholes in the agreement of principles that each party hopes to exploit in its favor, while the conflict remains locked into the halls of negotiations, in the hope that the international community will succeed in satisfying the Ethiopian intransigence, or that the biases will change Cairo and Khartoum clinging to the ropes of diplomacy until the last moment.
Narrative of the Renaissance Dam negotiations for the legal advisor for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry (three parts) 1, 2, and 3
international panel of experts for ethiopian renaissance
Final Nile Agreement March 2015
Evaluation of the document of the Declaration of Principles of the Renaissance Dam
Text of the Agreement of Principles on the State Information Service website
Chapter Seven: With regard to actions taken in cases of threats to peace, breach of it and the occurrence of aggression
Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Water
A member of the International Committee of Experts to assess the Renaissance Dam spoke with the Sudanese news