The Poisoned Chalice? Ethiopian Dam Between Egypt & Saudi Arabia

28 Dec

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
by Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, Asharq Al-Awsat
 
The image of the Saudi minister Ahmed Al-Khatib visiting the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam appears to have been an excuse for a media exchange that turned the relationship between Riyadh and Cairo from an intimate one to one where bad language is used.

Even if we assume that the image and the visit are intrinsically not tourism and investment related, dealing with the crisis by using the media is considered an old, obsolete, failed and harmful means to exert pressure.

Ethiopia is an economically important country in Africa, and the United States relies on it to address a number of military and political issues in the continent. For example, it succeeded in containing Somalia by force, unlike Afghanistan, and it disciplined Eritrea. However, Egypt remains larger and more important, and is more valuable to the Saudis than Ethiopia. This is a settled issue regardless of what Egyptian and Saudi media figures say to the contrary.

Yes, there are times when relations are cold but this does not occur over major regional political issues as is being portrayed, or at least this is not the case yet. Skilful diplomats must separate the reasons behind the dispute from relations in general. It is common for disputes to arise when there are interrelated and strong relations. This is why our relations with Scandinavian countries are always stable.

The differences between the two countries are not about what is being conveyed and nor are they about Syria as rumours suggest. I also rule out the claim that Egypt is supplying the rebels in Yemen with rockets, and this is because Egypt is aware that this is a serious act; Houthi rockets are responsible for killing Saudi civilians and they deliberately target villages and towns inside Saudi Arabia. All these narratives are being promoted by figures affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The announcement made by some Iraqi parties that the government intends to supply Egypt with oil products to replace suspended Saudi oil shipments is not logical as it is difficult for Iraq to provide them considering that it does not have enough for its own needs. In addition to this, it cannot continue to provide them for free.

As for Egypt’s stance towards Syria, it is realistic and no different from Turkey’s recent position. During the last two resolutions submitted to the UN General Assembly, Egypt voted in favour of the Syrian people and against the Assad regime unlike some Arab allies. In addition to this, Egypt’s recent stance at the UN Security Council concerning Israeli settlements is linked to the overpowering circumstances of Cairo, and we do not expect it to expose its security and interests to danger, especially when other countries did their “duty”. Cairo was therefore spared embarrassment and a crisis for the sake of a symbolic decision.

Saudi – Egyptian differences are over bilateral issues that may be resolved with mutual understanding after a month or a year. Alternatively, they will remain unresolved. Relations should not be left to bargaining because they are strategic. It is wrong to believe that Egyptian support for GCC countries against Iran is in solidarity with the GCC. Rather, this serves Egypt’s higher interests because it prevents Iranian expansion and domination whether in Syria, Iraq or the Gulf.

Iran’s influence is expanding at the expense of Egypt, which is a big country in the region. If Cairo wants to retreat and surrender its role, there are many countries in the region that will be eager to fill it. Gulf countries are the ones that strike a balance between Turkey, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Iran. Playing a regional role increases the economic, military and political value of countries.

Egypt is the second-largest recipient of US economic and military aid, not only because of the arrangements of the Camp David agreement, but also because of its regional importance. This is why opponents of this aid in Congress have failed to suspend it or decrease it.

I think that the biggest failing in Gulf-Egyptian relations lies in their limited horizons. They remain mere relations with simple content. The recent move made about two years ago to build economic partnerships is good because it ensures the continuity of relationships instead of the policy of giving and providing aid.

Partnerships expand activity between the two sides involved and can change the reality of Egypt and the Gulf’s economy. This is what the Saudi and the UAE governments proposed to Cairo. Egyptian bureaucracy is always to blame and is more of an enemy to the Egyptian government than all of its rivals put together.

If Egypt does not walk on the path of reform quickly, it will lose historic opportunities in the Gulf and will not become a giant economic partner. Furthermore, it will continue to look for aid, and this is impossible to sustain.

Finally, we know that those who are trying to sabotage relations are groups that oppose both parties. They are distributing fake images of rockets, inflating limited political decisions and encouraging rifts.
 

*Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai. 

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