Cairo sheds more light on the Ethiopia-Egypt Nile talks: Is Cairo on the ginning or spinning phase?

23 Jun

by Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

A few days ago, I implored Ethiopian officials to be transparent with the Ethiopian people. I urged them to tell us what they have promised the Egyptian side during the June 16-17 talks between Foreign Ministers Tedros Adhanom and Kamel Amer. I put this to TPLF/EPRDF leaders in an article entitled Ethiopian officials tell the world Ethio-Egypt talks were successful: What have they achieved?

The Ethiopian officials themselves must have been surprised, and no observer could miss, by the 180 degrees turn around we are made to believe Egypt has made, after the Addis Abeba talks. It was no surprise to me, for instance, they could talk.

I was already of the persuasion that there would be no wars and bloodshed between the two countries, although Mr. Morsy’s position is dicey and his grip on power trickier. And even then, in spite of everything I am pleased the two sides have decided to continue talking to explore possibilities for mutual accommodation.

Nevertheless, after getting a sense of the briefing organized for diplomats resident in Addis Abeba on 19 June, I found myself strangely coaxed into questioning its conclusions. At the briefing, Foreign Minister Tedros’s second in command Ambassador Berhane Gebrekristos stayed, according to ERTA reporting, on the atmospherics of the meetings and the logistics.

Half way through his briefing he threw one sentence that underlined the conclusion “a spirt of mutual understanding and brotherhood, and agreement has been reached to discuss on the panel’s report”, according to ERTA.

My apologies, but I mean no bluntness. However, I feel that it is sort of meteoric transformation for Egyptian officials to show Addis Abeba such sanguinity during the talks and for reasons we do not know. This must be seen against the backdrop of everything that happened in Cairo and, for that matter, coming as it does without Egypt achieving what they promised their nation on June 10 in President Morsy’s speech at a conference organized by 13 Islamist parties. After all, in looking into this situation, one would also keep in mind the June 30, 2013 deadline the opposition parties have given the president and his Moslem Brotherhood power base.

Indeed if such success Ethiopian officials claim has been attained, it must be one of the rare miracles of diplomacy to foster one of rapidest shifts from state of bellicosity of the kind we witnessed between June 1-13, 2013 in Cairo to one of amity Berhane Gebrekristos was talking about.

Foreign ministers Amr (l) and Adhanom during a press conference (Photo courtesy: Al Ahram)

Foreign ministers Amr (l) and Adhanom during a press conference (Photo courtesy: Al Ahram)

In reality, however, the animus is so strong in Egypt, even where Ethiopian refugees were beaten in the streets, the Ethiopian regime not responding to the plight of its citizens in foreign lands. For me, the closet comparison to what happend in Cairo in particular on June 3 and 10 perhaps in recent memory would only be Sadat’s threat against Ethiopia in 1978, which carried the words:

    “Any action that would endanger the waters of the Blue Nile will be faced with a firm reaction on the part of Egypt, even if that action should lead to war. As the Nile waters issue is one of life and death for my people, I feel I must urge the United States to speed up the delivery of the promised military aid so that Egypt might not be caught napping.”

President Morsy saw no better example to emulate. Therefore, in like manner on 10 June 2013 he declared, “If it [Egypt] loses one drop [of water], our blood is the alternative … If Egypt is the Nile’s gift, then the Nile is a gift to Egypt … We are not calling for war, but we will not allow, at all, threats against our water security … all options are open. He added, “The people of Egypt are patient with anything, unless their borders and lives are put under threat… in which case we will stand united to tear out the threat at the root.”

In my article, referred to above, I acknowledged:

    “I have taken note that in briefing diplomats stationed in Addis Abeba about outcome of the meeting between the two foreign ministers, Berhane presented them with the official assessment that the exchange of views was conducted in “a spirit of mutual understanding and brotherhood, and agreement has been reached to discuss on the panel’s report”, according to ERTA.”

In reflecting on the situation with the help of drips of information coming out of Cairo, it is easy to note that the Egyptian position is more nuanced. Unless there is weightier words of a third party Dr. Tedros had alluded once, it seems on the surface that our people are measuring the success of their diplomatic work, based on the ambience for the talks.

If that is the case, while their ears hear something else, it means that they believe the ambience was sufficient to melt Cairo’s hardened stance and the sabre-rattling that Ethiopians have witnessed since the Nile waters were diverted on may 28, 2013.

As if that rowdy behavior in Cairo was simply a mirage, suddenly Addis wants us to believe that the two sides have become the best of friends vowing “either to swim or sink together.”

In the light of this and the new information coming out of Cairo, I see the need to reiterate my question of June 19.

I read from the Egyptian side a few things that Ethiopian officials did not bother to explain to us as citizens of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian regime would need to understand that for Ethiopians the Nile issue is as extremely important; it is a matter of their self-expression, standard bearer for their national sovereignty – tried on two occasions 139 years ago in battlefields between Ethiopians and Egyptians 21 years before the Battle of Adowa, where Ethiopia broke the back of colonialism.

The weekly Al Ahram – coincidentally established when Ethiopia and Egypt were at the Battle of Gundet of 1875 – in its June 22, 2013 edition has fleshed out the following, about which Ethiopians do not have hint of:

        ◙   “…[T]he diplomatic track is expected to be long and arduous because there are various issues of difference between the two countries. First, the two states agreed to start consultations on implementing the recommendations of the tripartite committee, but they did not agree on a certain timeframe and whether the building of the dam would stop until the consultations and studies are finished.

        ◙   Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry clearly said last week the country has no intention of suspending the construction of the dam. However, the Egyptian stand in that matter was clear as Magdi Amer, deputy of Egypt’s foreign minister and coordinator and the Nile water file put it in a news conference held Saturday [June 22]. The tripartite report said that Egyptian fears are justified, and recommended further studies to be carried, he said.”

        ◙   “The main point of contention, according to Amer, is prior notification; that is Egypt should be notified before the construction of any project aimed at using River Nile water.”

Meanwhile, it is understood that South Sudan has suggested to mediator between Ethiopia and Egypt on one hand and Cairo and Khartoum on the other. At the same time, Juba has also indicated to speak to the other signatories of the Entebbe Accord, possibly to delay their ratification. On the part of Egypt, this proposal is awaiting President Morsy’s approval, according to Al Ahram.

More importantly, on needs to bear in mind that Egypt has at the press conference of the two ministers had made its reservations, stating, “We do not regard it [outcome of the Addis Abeba talks] as a complete agreement as there is a very important part in it concerning water security that the parties failed to agree on. Thus they put it as an annex to the agreement to be agreed on later.”

Hello, if this the situation what is the hoopla, cheering a successful outcome of the Addis Abeba talks, when Egypt in its briefing of Saturday seems to finally be saying not so fast?

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