Egyptian Ambassador To Addis Ababa And AU Says ‘Hard Work Is Still Ahead’

Anticipating the participation of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in the African Union summit at the head of the Egyptian delegation later this month and at the African-American summit, upon an invitation expected to be handed over by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Ambassador Mohamed Idris said that the high-level presentation of Egyptian at African quarters should launch the beginning of efficient and committed Egyptian engagement in Africa.

Speaking to Ahram Online from Addis Ababa by phone following the lifting of Egypt’s suspension from the African Union imposed after the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian ambassador to the AU and Addis Ababa said that there is a definite wish on the side of African countries to see Egypt restoring its committed interest in the affairs of the continent but that it is no longer enough for any of the African states to hear Egypt speak of this commitment without acting accordingly. 

“We over-stretched references to the role of Egypt in helping the African liberation movement during the colonial era; the past was good but it was followed by years of relatively reluctant interest and we need to really pick up on the ground rather than just talk about the way things were,” Idris stated.

The Egyptian ambassador also denied news reports suggesting that the return of Egypt to the activities of the African organisation is conditional. 

“No; it is not; it was based on the commitment that Egypt showed to the road map, the positive assessment of the AU monitoring mission that was in Egypt for the presidential elections and the contacts that Cairo had at so many levels with the AU and its member states,” he explained.

However, he added, that the firm commitment of Egypt to pursue the last stop of the road map with the imminent start of the parliamentary elections is certainly “a clear indication and message to the African countries that Egypt is pursing the path of democracy in its own style and in line with the wish of its people.”

Idris acknowledged the “support” of some Gulf countries to Egypt’s full return to the AU but insisted that this support does not amount to pressure, “not at all”.

“The Gulf states have been generally supportive of political transition of Egypt and this support did have many diplomatic and political layers – it was not just economic,” he argued.

According to Idris, concerned bodies within the Egyptian state are currently working on formulating a coherent vision for Egypt-African relations. “We will not be moving on bits and pieces we will have a comprehensive vision that we will work on in cooperation with our African partners”.

Improving relations with Africa was set as a top priority by an advisory paper that was drafted by the foreign ministry for the attention of the new head of state last month. Cooperation with Africa, according to this paper, needs to have solid economic base just as wide political context. It should also have multi-faceted cultural element.

These are the three bases that Egypt’s ambassador to the AU says will be included in the vision that Egypt is to adopt on Africa.

“We do want to have comprehensive and holistic relations and integrated interests in the full sense of the word,” he said.

The coming weeks and months, Idris said, will see several high-level Egyptian-African meetings that would help pave the way towards the evolution of relations. “The president would be personally attending high-level African meetings – and he is keen to do this; he will also be giving a lot of attention to bilateral visits and of course Ethiopia is a top priority in this respect,” he explained.

“In any case the president is expected to be having a bilateral session on the fringe of the African summit later this month with the prime minister of Ethiopia,” he said.

He explained that this session would be dedicated to the full aspects of the bilateral relations between the two east African countries “of course including the file of the Nile water shares and the Renaissance Dam.”

Idris admitted that the matter of the huge Ethiopian dam under construction on the Blue Nile, that Egyptians argue could have a major negative impact on Egypt’s share of the Nile waters, is still not nearing resolution. He added, however, that the beginning of high-level meetings “in a positive atmosphere” could help consolidate the technical efforts of the concerned officials on both sides.

“Obviously the political will is crucial in this matter and the political will could be generated through the high-level meetings,” he said.

Idris is convinced that if both Cairo and Addis Ababa gave the matter a dedicated effort “a win-win solution could be reached to help Ethiopia secure its aspired electricity generation capacity without causing Egypt harsh damage to its water share.”

The Egyptian ambassador to Addis Ababa said that there are serious intentions for technical and financial support in this respect from the concerned development partners – including the US, EU and the GCC.

According to Idris it is still premature to anticipate a reconsideration of the changes on the water shares of the Nile Basin countries. “This would take a lot more work and we should not get too euphoric here,” he said. “But we should not think that we are looking at an impasse despite the way the situation may seem today because we are having constant diplomatic consultations on the matter,” he added.

For Idris, who arrived in Addis Ababa right after the 25 January Revolution, taking relations with Africa back to the high-engagement phase is a matter of incremental work. “It should not at all be perceived about an incident here or a visit there,” he argued.

Having been in the Ethiopian capital for the last three years, Idris has been keen not to confine the bilateral Cairo-Addis Ababa ties to the single even if crucial file of the Nile water. He said he opted for wider economic cooperation “with Egyptian investments in Ethiopia now nearing $2 billion” and for cultural cooperation as for cooperation among top institutions including the Orthodox Church of Egypt and its counterpart in Ethiopia.

“We are working on having more of this multi-dimensional relation – so while we are planning to resume the strategic dialogue between the two countries and to upgrade it possibly we are also working to see Egyptian and Ethiopian novelists being translated respectively in Amharic and Arabic,” he said.

According to Idris this would be the way forward with all the African states – “with of course a first phase focus on the bigger African countries and those of the east continent and the Nile Basin countries “with which we have closer geographic proximity and strategic interests”.

Source : Ahram online