Wed, Jun 05, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Aide to Egyptian president is sorry over on-air gaffe

AFP, CAIRO

An aide to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has apologized after she failed to inform politicians holding talks with the president that they were live on air, allowing viewers to watch them cook up plans to sabotage a dam in Ethiopia.

“Due to the importance of the topic it was decided at the last minute to air the meeting live. I forgot to inform the participants about the changes,” Egyptian presidential aide for political affairs Pakinam El-Sharkawi said.

“I apologize for any embarrassment caused to the political leaders,” she said on Twitter.

The talks, chaired by Morsi, revolved around a report of a tripartite Egypt-Sudan-Ethiopia commission on Ethiopia’s decision to divert the Blue Nile for a massive dam project, sparking fears of a major impact on downstream states Egypt and Sudan.

Seated around a large table, the politicians thinking this was a closed meeting began to suggest ideas for ways to stop the dam project.

Ayman Nour, head of the liberal Ghad Party, suggested spreading rumors that Egypt was buying military planes in order to put “pressure” on Ethiopia, he said.

He also suggested Cairo send political, intelligence and military teams to Addis Ababa because “we need to intervene in their domestic affairs.”

Yunis Makhyun, who heads the conservative Islamist Nur Party, said the dam constituted a “strategic danger for Egypt,” requiring Cairo to support Ethiopian rebels, “which would put pressure on the Ethiopian government.”

The meeting, a huge embarrassment both for the presidency and the opposition members who attended, caused a storm of ridicule and anger in the media.

“A scandal in front of the world,” read the headline of the independent daily al-Tahrir.

Talk show host Reem Magued, who aired parts of the meeting on her show, said: “It’s true that we asked for transparency from the government, but not like this, not to the point of scandal.”

Ethiopia has begun diverting the Blue Nile 500m from its natural course to construct a US$4.2 billion hydroelectric project known as Grand Renaissance Dam.

The first phase of construction is expected to be completed in three years, with a capacity of 700 megawatts. Once completed, the dam will have a capacity of 6,000 megawatts.

Egypt believes its “historic rights” to the Nile are guaranteed by two treaties from 1929 and 1959 which allow it 87 percent of the Nile’s flow and give it veto power over upstream projects. However, a new deal was signed in 2010 by other Nile Basin countries, including Ethiopia, allowing them to work on river projects without Cairo’s prior agreement.

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