Egypt will be resuming negotiations on Monday with Ethiopia on a disputed Nile dam, which soured the two African countries’ ties for more than a year.
An Egyptian delegation, led by Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Hossam Moghazi, is due to arrive in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Sunday for the new round of talks, which will also be attended by water ministers of Ethiopia and Sudan.
The negotiations come nearly two months after a landmark meeting between Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi and Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on the sidelines of an African summit in Equatorial Guinea.
During their meeting, both leaders agreed to open a “new chapter in relationships” after tensions caused by Ethiopia’s construction of the Renaissance Dam on the Nile. Negotiations over the facility were suspended in January this year after both sides failed to reach an agreement.
Cairo-Addis Ababa ties deteriorated last year when Egypt’s then Islamist president, Mohammad Morsi, and other politicians threatened in a meeting, broadcast live on state television, to bomb Ethiopia over its building of the $6.4 billion (Dh23.51 billion) dam.
Months later, Al Sisi led the army’s ouster of Morsi following enormous street protests against his troubled one-year rule.
The Khartoum negotiations are seen as a test of the latest thaw in ties between Egypt and Ethiopia.
“There are a number of fixed principles that will be emphasised prior to the negotiations, including our respect for Ethiopia’s right to benefit from the Nile without harming our water rights, based on the joint statement issued by the Egyptian and Ethiopian leaders,” said Moghazi.
“President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi has confirmed that Egypt’s understanding of Ethiopia’s development needs will be maintained so long as Egypt’s water security is heeded.”
The Ethiopian dam has triggered wide fears in Egypt, which heavily relies on the Nile to cover the water needs of its population of 87 million people.
The Egyptian minister added that all points of disagreements with Ethiopia will be put up for negotiations “within a specific time-frame”. They include reassurances sought by Egypt on the safety of the dam body against potential collapse. Another point of contention is related to the dam’s storage capacity estimated at 74 billion cubic metres, which Egypt sees as too high and may affect its water share.
“Negotiations will not be easy,” said an official at the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources. “They may take time, but the presence of political will and sincere negotiations can help reach a solution,” the official added on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.
Egypt’s annual quota of the Nile waters is estimated at 55.5 billion cubic metres. Water sharing among the 10 Nile Basin countries is regulated under a colonial-era treaty. Some Nile Basin countries have said the treaty is unfair.
Ethiopia has been urging the riparian countries to ratify the Comprehensive Framework Agreement to replace the 1959 treaty that gives Egypt and Sudan the lion’s share of the Nile waters. Six countries have already signed the 2010 pact amid Egyptian protests.