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Good news from Addis Ababa
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 07 - 02 - 2018

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi spared no effort since taking office four years ago to improve relations with Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, despite differences and serious concerns over Ethiopia's ongoing project to build a major dam on the River Nile that will certainly affect the share of over 100 million Egyptians in scarce drinking water. For Egypt, Nile water is not so much a matter of national security as a matter of simple survival.
Even though studies on the pace of building the Ethiopian dam and the negative impact it will have on Egypt's water share were repeatedly delayed, Egypt stuck to negotiations and good will as the only strategy to deal with both Ethiopia and neighbouring Sudan. Thus, it was no surprise that President Al-Sisi and his Sudanese and Ethiopian counterparts came out following a lengthy meeting in Addis Ababa on Monday holding hands, and declaring that an agreement was expected to be reached soon over key issues related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which Ethiopia has been building at a fast pace over the past few years. This is very good news coming from Addis Ababa.
President Al-Sisi told reporters that Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia were “one people,” and “spoke in one voice,” stressing again that cooperation and strengthening ties are the best means to surpass differences. After attending the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, the presidents of Egypt and Sudan and the prime minister of Ethiopia agreed to form a high-level committee that will include foreign and irrigation ministers, as well as intelligence officials, to work on solving all issues of dispute within one month.
Al-Sisi declared that there would be no mediators to solve differences between Egypt and Ethiopia, and that “no people among the three countries will be harmed as a result of issues related to water.” Earlier, the Egyptian president held a separate meeting with Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, and the two also agreed to hold meetings among senior officials to overcome recent differences that led to Khartoum's decision to recall its ambassador to Egypt a few weeks ago. It is likely a matter of days before the Sudanese ambassador to Egypt returns to Cairo to resume his job, following the successful meetings held in Addis Ababa.
In recent weeks, there have been several false reports over a possible escalation among the three neighbours, with angry statements issued by several Sudanese and Ethiopian officials. However, Egypt's strategy was not to respond, and to choose instead quiet diplomacy to overcome differences. Cairo did not recall its ambassador from Khartoum, and expressed a desire for dialogue instead of escalation.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was also well-received in Cairo during his recent visit, though he did not address the host parliament, like President Al-Sisi did when he first visited Addis Ababa shortly after taking office.
For the current Egyptian government, cooperation with neighbouring countries, particularly in Africa, is not a tactic or a temporary measure, but part of an overall strategy to strengthen Egypt's ties worldwide to the benefit of the people of Egypt and the rest of the continent. Unlike former president Hosni Mubarak, who stopped attending African Union meetings since the attempt to assassinate him during a visit to Addis Ababa in 1995, President Al-Sisi has not missed a single African Union summit. Several key African leaders have also visited Cairo, and many cooperation agreements were signed.
The latest African Union Summit, that concluded Monday in the Ethiopian capital, recognised Egypt's positive attitude and desire to strengthen ties with the continent Egyptians belong to, and where Egypt's main source of drinking water comes from. Therefore, Cairo was proud that African leaders agreed that Egypt will be the chair of the African Union in 2019.
President Al-Sisi is fully aware that this region cannot shoulder further disputes, particularly when it comes to neighbours and countries with which Egypt has maintained strong relations with over thousands of years, such as Sudan and Ethiopia. With good will, and a genuine desire to improve the living standards of the peoples of the three countries, all differences can be solved, and that's the strategy that the leaders of the three countries have agreed on.

We all hope to see positive results in one month, and in the upcoming months and years.


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