Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Monday hardened his stance against Ethiopia and its construction of a Nile dam, warning that “all options are open” in dealing with the project that threatens to leave Egypt with a dangerous water shortage.
Speaking in a live televised speech before hundreds of supporters, Morsi said Egypt is not calling for war, but it is willing to confront any threats to its water security.
“If it loses one drop, our blood is the alternative,” he said to a raucous crowd of largely Islamist supporters that erupted into a standing ovation.
Ethiopia’s US$4.2 billion hydroelectric dam, which would be Africa’s largest, challenges a colonial-era agreement that had given Egypt and Sudan the lion’s share of rights to Nile water.
Experts estimate that Egypt could lose as much as 20 percent of its Nile water in the three to five years needed for Ethiopia to fill a massive reservoir.
“If Egypt is the Nile’s gift, then the Nile is a gift to Egypt,” Morsi said in his opening remarks.
The president’s speech reflected the importance of the Nile River to Egypt.
It provides almost all of the fresh water to a country that is otherwise largely parched desert. As much as 85 percent of the Nile’s water comes from Ethiopia.
“We are not calling for war, but we will not allow, at all, threats against our water security,” Morsi said, before adding: “All options are open.”
Morsi appeared to be using concern about Ethiopia’s mega-project to whip up nationalistic fervor ahead of protests planned against him later this month.
In the conference hall where Morsi delivered his speech, some of his supporters chanted slogans against Israel and accused it of colluding with Ethiopia to harm Egypt.
Blaming Israel for Egypt’s problems is common in Egypt. Israel denied any connection to the construction of the dam.
Morsi said he would be willing to approach opposition groups in order to unite Egyptians around a common position with regard to the dam. This came after two prominent opposition parties declined an invitation to meet Morsi last week, citing a lack of transparency in dealing with national issues and a failure to listen to them.
“The great Nile is that which all our lives are connected to. The lives of the Egyptians are connected around it ... as one great people,” Morsi told the crowd.
Shifting his tone later in the speech, Morsi said that Egypt considers Ethiopia a “friend,” adding that he has visited the country twice since taking office. He said his administration is in continuous dialogue with Ethiopia and Sudan to discuss water rights.
Earlier in the day, angry Egyptian lawmakers accused Morsi’s premier of doing nothing to prevent Ethiopia from building the dam. Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil had just finished addressing parliament about how the government planned to work diplomatically, legally and technically with Ethiopia over the dam when the session heated up.