Ethiopian attempt to begin filling Renaissance Dam may scupper deal with Egypt and Sudan, say experts

A general view of the dam. (
Updated 13 November 2017

Ethiopian attempt to begin filling Renaissance Dam may scupper deal with Egypt and Sudan, say experts

CAIRO: There are fears that a unilateral attempt by Ethiopia to begin filling a huge new dam on the Nile will lead to the failure of technical discussions with Egypt and Sudan.
Disagreements between Ethiopia and Egypt on filling the reservoir and generating power within a few months on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which will be the largest in Africa, could not be resolved during the Tripartite National Technical Committee’s meeting, which brought together the Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian ministers of water and was held in Addis Ababa on Oct. 19.
The day before the meeting, Ethiopia’s Communication and Information Technology Minister Debretsion Gebremichael announced that the construction of the dam had reached 62 percent and generating power would start this Ethiopian year and before construction is complete. The new Ethiopian year started on Sept. 11 and ends in October 2018.
“The remaining 38 percent of the construction will be done while the dam is generating hydroelectric power,” Gebremichael had told the Ethiopian News Agency.
Considering the slow pace at which the French consulting firms BRL and Artelia are preparing technical studies, it is speculated that before Ethiopia begins storing the Nile’s water in the dam, studies necessary for reaching a final agreement between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the rules of filling and operating the dam will be completed.
If no agreement takes place between the three countries, Ethiopia’s next step would be considered a clear violation of the tripartite Declaration of Principles on Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam signed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Khartoum on March 23, 2015.
“Any unilateral attempt made by Ethiopia to initiate filling the dam would lead to the failure of the current technical discussions between the three countries,” said Dr. Ayman Shabana, professor of political science at the Institute of African Studies, Cairo University.
However, Hani Raslan, an expert on the Nile basin and Sudanese affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, believes the declaration of principles does not provide a legally binding framework for Ethiopia since it obliges the three countries only to “respect” the terms and not “adhere” to them. “Respect can mean a different thing for each country,” he said.
“There are also controversial terms in the declaration of principles, especially the one that says filling the GERD reservoir is linked to completing joint technical studies,” he added, explaining that Ethiopia adopted “an elusive interpretation of this term.”
“Ethiopia has named two phases of the filling process: ‘The first filling,’ which it targets during the current stage in order to start generating power, and ‘the complete filling,’ which means filling the dam reservoir to its full capacity of 74 billion cubic meters,” he continued, “And it only associates the completion of technical studies and the filling and operation rules with the complete filling and not the first filling.”
Frozen negotiations
Egypt is increasingly concerned about Ethiopia’s intention to start storing water in the GERD reservoir before completing the technical studies and reaching a final agreement on filling and operation rules.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry discussed what he called the “frozen negotiations” of the tripartite technical committee. During a meeting with his Ethiopian counterpart, Workneh Gebeyehu, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Sept. 21, Shoukry complained of the delay in issuing technical studies on the dam’s impact on Egypt and Sudan.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also pointed out the urgency of the speedy implementation of the declaration of principles on Ethiopia’s dam in his speech to the General Assembly on Sept. 19.
Shoukri explained that the reason behind the “slowdown” of issuing technical studies on the dam’s impact was the presence of obstacles that none of the three countries could overcome at technical or political levels. “These obstacles are a threat to the foundations of the Declaration of Principles agreement,” he said in an interview with Al-Ahram newspaper, published on Oct. 4.
He then added: “Not completing the technical studies prior to completing the dam’s construction and launching the filling process would make everyone suspect negotiations are being stalled to impede the report’s issuance.”
In spite of this, unofficial Egyptian sources acquainted with water management suggested that, to avoid the discussions failing, Egypt agree to the first filling of the GERD reservoir under three conditions:
First, the filling must be for trial purposes and not part of the actual filling process that leads to the dam’s official operation.
Second, the target water level of the first filling must be only enough for operating the two turbines installed by Ethiopia at the dam’s lower part, provided filling stops immediately after reaching this level and is resumed only after the completion of technical studies and reaching a final tripartite agreement on the rules of filling and operation. Egyptian sources estimated the amount of water needed for this purpose would be around 15 billion cubic meters.
Third, the first filling must be completed over two years, according to the same unofficial Egyptian sources, and not one year or less as planned by Ethiopia.
Dr. Shabana, of the Institute of African Studies at Cairo University, agrees with the above insight, stressing that “any step taken by Ethiopia toward initiating the filling process must be for trial purposes only and in full coordination with Egypt, as required by the declaration of principles.”
In Raslan’s opinion, Egypt currently lacks the tools for pressuring Ethiopia, which means it has to accept Ethiopia’s unilateral filling approach.
He also pointed out that the time at which the Ethiopian government announced its unilateral intention to start filling the GERD reservoir, which coincided with the tripartite technical committee’s meeting in Addis Ababa, confirms Ethiopia’s approach of refusing legal commitment as well as negotiations about its construction of GERD and development of its filling and operation rules. “Ethiopia refused to discuss the matter. Instead, it unilaterally announced it,” he said.
“In practice, Ethiopia does not respect the declaration of principles nor the technical discussions, but uses them as a façade to show goodwill and an alleged desire to cooperate with Egypt and Sudan and not harm them,” he continued. “Ethiopia’s ultimate and strategic goal is to completely and unilaterally control the Nile’s revenue, which is 48-50 billion cubic meters of water annually and accounts for most of Egypt’s annual allocation of the Nile’s water.”
Arab News sought a comment on this information from the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, but the ministry’s spokesperson declined to comment.
Technical committee
Technical matters associated with the best mechanism for filling and operating the Renaissance Dam without affecting the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, are still being debated after the Tripartite National Technical Committee, composed of 12 experts from Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, held 16 rounds of negotiations, the latest of which was on Oct. 15 in Addis Ababa, to reach an agreement on the initial technical report submitted by the two French consulting firms, BRL and Artelia, in late March 2017.
On Sept. 20, 2016 in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, the three countries signed the contracts for the technical studies with the two French firms, marking the preparation for a technical file on the Renaissance Dam and its effect on downstream countries. The studies were supposed to be finalized by the two French firms last August according to the time frame of 11 months defined by the declaration of principles agreement, followed by the Khartoum Document, which was signed by the three countries’ foreign ministers in December 2015, in addition to a period of four months dedicated for the technical committee’s members to reach consensus on how to implement the studies’ outcomes.
“Ethiopia’s strategy is to either impose its views during the technical discussions or withdraw from all agreements and restart negotiations from scratch,” Raslan said. “Faced with this approach, Egypt had no decisive negotiation strategy and relied instead on successive concessions in hopes of mellowing Ethiopia, which never happened.”
Egypt’s Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Ati predicted earlier that Ethiopia would start storing water in the GERD reservoir next year.
On Sept. 28, 2017, Misr News Agency quoted the minister saying: “The impact of the Renaissance Dam has not yet been experienced because the flow of water into Egypt is no different from that experienced during previous years, but it is very likely that part of the dam will be filled next year.”
He also stressed the importance of consensus on the method of filling and operating the dam.
In a press statement published on Oct. 18, 2017, the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation said that Egypt confirmed no water had been stored behind GERD this year and nothing was impeding the flow of water into the country until now.
The press statement was released a day after an Egyptian delegation, headed by Abdel Ati, on Oct. 17 visited the dam in Benishangul, which is 20 km from the Sudanese border, and “the visit was the first of its kind for an Egyptian government official.”
Complete filling
In addition to the dispute over Ethiopia’s intention to start the unilateral filling of the GERD reservoir as part of what it calls “the first filling,” what Ethiopia calls “the complete filling” poses a greater danger, said Hani Raslan, Nile basin and Sudanese affairs expert.
“Ethiopia insists on filling the reservoir within three years, which will deprive Egypt of around 25 billion cubic meters of water every year — almost half of its annual allocation of the Nile’s water,” Raslan explained. “Egypt, on the other hand, demanded filling the reservoir over a period of nine years.”
“If we take into account the annual loss of water caused by leakage and evaporation, the complete filling is expected to drain almost 90 billion cubic meters of water, not 74 billion cubic meters, which represents the final storage volume,” he added.
In the context of a strategic approach supported by several international and regional parties to reshape and strengthen Ethiopia’s influence and turn it into the greatest power in East Africa and the Nile basin, Addis Ababa has plans to export hydroelectric power.

Egypt authorizes Sputnik, AstraZeneca virus jabs

Updated 25 February 2021

Egypt authorizes Sputnik, AstraZeneca virus jabs

  • The agency had previously given emergency authorization for the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and the AstraZeneca jab produced in India
  • Russia’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF said Egypt is the 35th country Sputnik V
CAIRO: Egypt’s pharmaceutical authority on Wednesday approved the use of the Sputnik V and AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines, a month after the North African country kicked off its inoculation campaign.
The drug body had “provided emergency authorization for the use of the two vaccines, Sputnik V, and AstraZeneca... imported from South Korea,” it said in a statement on its Facebook page.
The agency had previously given emergency authorization for the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and the AstraZeneca jab produced in India and marketed under the name Covishield, it added.
Russia’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF said in a statement that “Egypt is the 35th country in the world to approve Sputnik V.”
Egypt began its Covid-19 immunization program on January 24, becoming one of the first countries in Africa to vaccinate its citizens, with a doctor and a nurse receiving the Sinopharm jab.
The Arab world’s most populous country, with over 100 million people, received its first batch of the Sinopharm vaccine in December, and its first doses of the Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine at the end of January.
Egypt has officially registered more than 179,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and over 10,400 deaths.
Health officials have warned that low testing rates mean the real number could be at least 10 times higher.

Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute

Updated 25 February 2021

Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute

  • The dispute centers on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries would settle any future disputes
  • Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile

CAIRO: Egypt said Wednesday it has endorsed a Sudanese proposal to internationalize arbitration in a years-long dispute with Ethiopia over a massive dam Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said Cairo backs the formation of an “international quartet” including the US, the European Union, and the UN, along with the African Union to facilitate reaching a deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.
The dispute centers on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries would settle any future disputes. Egypt and Sudan also call for a legally binding agreement on the dam’s filling and operation, while Ethiopia insists on guidelines.
Shukry said Egypt wants to develop the negotiating mechanism to reach a “legally binding agreement” at the earliest possible opportunity.”
He announced Egypt’s position during a meeting Wednesday in Cairo with Alphonse Ntumba Luaba, the coordination of Democratic Republic of the Congo’s current leadership of the African Union.
There were no immediate comments from Washington, Brussels, or the UN
Sudan has announced its proposal earlier this year after AU-led talks failed to achieve progress. Since then, Khartoum has become vocal against Ethiopia’s plans to start the second filling during the next rainy season.
Prime Minister Abddalla Hamdok said earlier this month that the dam threatens at least 20 million Sudanese, roughly half the country’s population.
Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River. The Blue Nile meets with the White Nile in central Sudan from where the Nile winds northward through Egypt and flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
There was no comment from Ethiopia that had left a US-led attempt to mediate the dispute, alleging bias. The administration of former President Donald Trump last year sanctioned Ethiopia over the dam’s first filling before reaching a deal with Egypt and Sudan.
On Friday, President Joe Biden’s administration said it has de-linked the sanctions from the dam dispute.
About 85 percent of the Nile’s flow originates from Ethiopia. Officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023, helping pull millions of its people out of poverty.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with over 100 million people, called the dam an existential threat and worries that it would reduce its share of Nile waters. The country relies almost entirely on the Nile to supply water for agriculture and its people.

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Updated 25 February 2021

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

  • Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them

CAIRO: Qatar and Egypt have agreed to appointment envoys and reopen their embassies in the wake of the AlUla agreement to mend relations with Doha.

The resolve came after delegations from both countries held talks in Kuwait to plan the normalization of links between the nations.

“The two parties agreed to resume the work of their diplomatic missions … followed by the appointment of an Egyptian ambassador in Doha and a Qatari ambassador in Cairo,” an Egyptian diplomatic source said.

Qatar’s permanent representative to the Arab League, Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al-Sahlawi, was expected to become Doha’s envoy in Cairo, the source added.

During the meeting in Kuwait, Egypt was said to have set out its conditions for settling relations with Qatar, which included strict demands for Doha not to interfere in Egyptian internal affairs.

The AlUla agreement, signed on Jan. 5 during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held in the ancient city, saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt restore ties with Qatar, ending a dispute which started in 2017.

A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “The two sides welcomed the measures taken by both countries after signing the AlUla agreement as a step toward building confidence between the two brotherly countries.”

The meeting discussed ways to enhance joint work and bilateral relations in areas including security, stability, and economic development.

Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them and for its efforts to heal the rift and promote Arab unity.

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently announced that Cairo and Doha had exchanged two official memoranda agreeing to restore diplomatic relations and on Jan. 18 flights between Egypt and Qatar resumed after having been suspended for more than three years.

Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions

Updated 25 February 2021

Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions

  • World Bank threatens to suspend its backing for the country’s vaccination drive

BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers who allegedly jumped the queue and received the first shot of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on Tuesday are feeling pressure to defend their actions.

Eleven politicians, some of them younger than 75 years old, even had their vaccines “delivered” to Parliament.

A spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the organization in charge of monitoring the country’s vaccination plan, “was unaware that President Michel Aoun, his wife and his work team had received the vaccine on Friday, which is a violation to the terms of the national plan.”

As a result, the ethics officer of Lebanon’s vaccination committee, Dr. Talia Arawi, resigned on Wednesday.

It also prompted representatives from the World Bank, the Lebanese Health Ministry, the country’s COVID-19 vaccination committee and other commissions to meet and discuss the breach within the national vaccination plan. 

The World Bank, represented by its Beirut-based office, said it “will continue supporting Lebanon, but with respect to priority groups. If necessary, it is ready to suspend the financing for vaccines.”

Lawmakers who received the vaccine early were on the defensive Wednesday.

“How are lawmakers at fault?” Elie Ferzli, the Parliament's deputy speaker, asked. “Twenty-five lawmakers have been infected in parliament so far, along with 25 other employees. The latest infections occurred during the Procurement Law Committee’s meeting.”

Ferzli said he and other officials registered on the platform, based on the ministry’s request. Of those who registered, 27 lawmakers received approval for the vaccine, because they were 70 or older. Sixteen said they were inoculated in hospitals while the other 11 received the vaccine in Parliament.

Ferzli cited an American University of Beirut (AUB) report that said more than 50 percent of those who have received the vaccine did not register on the national platform.

He accused World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha of “playing a political role”. He said: “This reflects the lack of ethics that a World Bank representative should have. If this is how the bank is planning to deal with us in financing the vaccination plan, forget about the vaccines.”

Ferzli also attacked activists on social media who criticized the lawmakers, describing them as “ridiculous” and “electronic flies.”

Ghazi Zaiter, a politician and former minister, who was summoned for questioning by the former judge leading the probe into the Beirut port explosion, also tried to defend himself. He took to social media, claiming that “he is more Lebanese than others, which gives him the right to the vaccine before the others.”

Zaiter was heavily criticized, with some even calling on him to leave the country. Using a hashtag that was trending on Twitter, online activists said he “considers himself above the law and citizens.”

The AUB called on the ministry to clarify and apologize for the alleged breach of the vaccination plan. It also suggested more transparency when it comes to publishing criteria for those who are eligible for the vaccine, the number of inoculated people in each center, who should not be included in the priority groups and why.

The country’s vaccination campaign started 11 days ago. Yet half of the 12,000 doctors who are members of the medical association have not been vaccinated, nor have 55 percent of the nursing staff.

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

Updated 25 February 2021

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

  • Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office

ISTANBUL: A Turkish lawyer has been arrested and charged with “insulting the president” over a controversial tweet that included sexist remarks directed at ruling Justice and Development Party MP Ozlem Zengin. 

Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office.  

Zengin sparked widespread anger recently with dismissive comments on alleged human rights violations and strip searches in Turkish prisons, ridiculing the claims of dozens of conservative women who said they had been subjected to intrusive searches in recent years. 

“An honorable woman, a woman with morals, wouldn’t wait a year (before complaining). This is an imaginary narrative,” Zengin said on Feb. 19. 

Amid public debate on the topic, Zengin said that women were falling pregnant on orders from various “illegal” groups seeking to trigger public anger over babies growing up in prisons.

“These people are having babies upon directives so that they can assert ‘there are pregnant women or women with babies in jails’,” she said on Feb. 21.

Yasar responded to this latest statement with a furious tweet, targeting the MP: “If the presidential cabinet is given the right of the first night, will Ozlem Zengin close her mouth?” he tweeted, sparking anger among women’s rights activists from all sides of politics. 

Fahrettin Altun, presidential communications director, immediately issued a statement urging the “independent Turkish judiciary to punish this creature named Mert Yaşar in the severest way possible.”

“What will the opposition do in the face of this dishonor? They will, most probably, hide their heads in the sand. We will follow it up,” he said. 

Yasar was arrested on charges of insulting the president according to Article 299 of the Turkish penal code — which critics say points to the disproportionate use of this clause since his tweet targeted an MP, not the president himself. 

Article 299 stipulates that the person who insults the president shall be punished by imprisonment from one to four years, and if the crime is committed publicly, the punishment will be increased by one to six years.

Between 2014 and 2019, about 128,872 investigations were carried out into alleged insults against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with prosecutors launching about 27,700 criminal cases.

A total of 9,556 defendants were sentenced by Turkish courts, while about 900 minors aged between 12 and 17 also appeared before the court on the same charge. 

“The politicization of the judiciary continues with unlawful arrest and false accusation,” rights activist Nesibe Kiris said. 

Several female politicians and right activists offered examples of their personal experiences with insults that failed to lead to criminal proceedings, sparking debate about the “politically motivated” implementation of such penal clauses. 

“All kinds of insults, threats, sexist attacks on me and all opposing women are free and even they provide a reason for a decision of non-prosecutions. But when it comes to an AKP politician, it becomes a reason for his arrest. It is a tailor-made judiciary. The people’s scales of conscience will weigh all of you when the day comes,” Canan Kaftancioglu, Istanbul head of the opposition Republican People’s Party tweeted. 

A group of lawyers issued a message in support of Yasar, saying that his arrest “is the continuation of the judicial practice that makes decisions under the pressure of social media and political power.”

The arrest was also attacked as being a warning against any vocal criticisms on social media.