Since the beginning of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) crisis, the messages that Egypt has released and continues to issue at all levels are summarised in one point, which is that negotiation is the only way to find a solution that satisfies all parties.
Egypt supports development in Ethiopia without harming the interests of neighbouring countries, and that any shortage in its share of the River Nile water will lead to destabilisation and security issues in the whole Middle East and Africa region.
To make matters clear, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s statement was decisive during the celebration for the return of navigation in the Suez Canal following the blockage. He said: Egypt’s share of the [River] Nile water is a red line.
The messages were comfortably conveyed to the various parties, but some parties are working to ignite the war and aggravate public opinion in the direction of the use of military force as a response to the obstinate Ethiopian methods.
These reject the Egyptian demands, even though President Al-Sisi did not mention this option literally. His statement came within the framework of any party’s attempt to diminish Egypt’s historic share of the Nile’s waters, and this is the red line.
Simply, the strategic goal that Cairo sought from the beginning was to protect its share in the Nile water, and what is below that falls within the framework of the technical and legal issues that can be negotiated.
As for the main goal, it was achieved from the very first moment, and still no one, neither Ethiopia nor others, have dared to approach Egypt’s share of the water.
The case, then, is settled, and Egypt has achieved its goal from the first moment, so its share is not affected, and what remains, as we said, are the legal and technical details. Here the circle of options widens, especially after the failure of the Kinshasa talks due to Addis Ababa’s adherence to the second filling of the GERD next July with 13.5 billion cbm of water.
Meanwhile, Cairo and Khartoum warn that the filling without an agreement poses a serious threat to them. However, this grave threat is not out of a reduction in quotas, but as a result of lack of coordination and non-compliance with technical standards to implement this filling. This is the real problem that is disputed.
On the legal and technical level, Egypt and Sudan have several options, including resorting to the United Nations (UN) Security Council again under Chapter VI. This means calling on the Council to adopt a recommendation to Ethiopia to postpone the filling and to complete negotiations on the foundations agreed upon between the countries and the three parties.
There is also another option to transfer the case file to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), because it has become one of the conflicts in which the conditions for a conflict threatening international peace and security are fulfilled. It would also enter Africa into a state of conflict, affecting the stability within the region in general.
The Security Council also has the power to issue a direct decision to Ethiopia to stop the second filling next July, given its opinion that the matter threatens the peace in the Horn of Africa and the Nile Basin countries.
Consequently, the filling will be postponed and the return to direct negotiation will be on the basis agreed upon between the parties. This is to reach a comprehensive legal agreement that guarantees the rules for filling, operating, and managing the dam under international laws and regulations and similar international cases regarding the construction of dams.
The third track is the resort to the UN General Assembly, which has the power to issue a recommendation – by a majority vote – that usually has literary value if the Security Council fails to fulfil its role.
Thus, “all tracks are open”, whether legal or diplomatic, based on the agreements governing international waters and transboundary rivers, especially in light of the presence of countries that understand the situation well.
But at the same time, there are risks from the influence of what can be described as “interests”, as there are other countries whose interests in Africa conflict with Egyptian interests, so all of these factors may influence in some way.
Consequently, it is not possible to rule out the hypothesis that any of the permanent members of the Security Council will stand as an obstacle in the way of this file. And here comes the role of the Arab countries that support the Egyptian position.
Dr Hatem Sadek, Professor at Helwan University