Egypt’s share of the Nile River’s waters are “untouchable,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said on Tuesday in a stark warning apparently to Ethiopia, which is building a giant dam on the Nile’s main tributary.
The comment comes amid a deadlock in the years-long talks over the dam between the countries in the Nile Basin, which also includes Sudan.
Al-Sisi told a news conference in Ismailia of “instability that no one can imagine” in the region if the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is filled and operated without a legally binding agreement.
“No one can take a single drop of water from Egypt, and whoever wants to try it, let him try,” he said. “No one imagines that it will be far from our capabilities.”
Al-Sisi did not name Ethiopia in his remarks, the strongest on the dam’s dispute by an Egyptian official in years.
A media officer at the Ethiopian embassy in Cairo declined to comment on al-Sisi’s remarks.
The Egyptian leader was firm while discussing the dam dispute.
He visited the Seuz Canal following its reopening on Monday.
It had been closed for six days after a hulking container ship became stuck in the crucial waterway.
“I repeat that the waters of Egypt are untouchable and touching them is a red line,” he said.
However, al-Sisi said that his country prioritizes negotiations to resolve the lingering dispute before Ethiopia continues filling the dam’s giant reservoir during this year’s rainy season.
Addis Ababa began filling the reservoir in July last year, a move that was strongly criticized by Egypt and Sudan.
“Our battle is a battle of negotiations,” the Egyptian leader said, adding that Cairo seeks a legally binding agreement based on international laws and norms that govern cross-border rivers.
“We are serious about achieving a win-win [deal] for everyone, no one is going to get everything alone,” he said.
Al-Sisi said that a new round of negotiations is expected in the coming weeks.
He did not elaborate further on whether international players would join the talks as mediators as Khartoum and Cairo have demanded.
Ethiopia has rejected a Sudanese proposal backed by Cairo to internationalize the dispute by including the US, the UN and the EU as mediators in talks that have been mediated by the African Union.
The dispute centers on the speed at which a planned reservoir is filled behind the dam, the method of its annual replenishment, and how much water Ethiopia would release downstream if a multiyear drought occurs.
Another point of difference is how the three countries would settle any further disputes.
Egypt and Sudan call for a legally binding agreement on the dam’s filling and operation, while Ethiopia insists on guidelines.
Egypt depends on the Nile for almost all of its water needs.
It fears that a quick fill would drastically reduce the Nile’s flow, with potentially severe effects on its agriculture and other sectors.
Ethiopia says that the US$5 billion dam is essential, arguing that the vast majority of its population lacks electricity.
The dam would generate more than 6,400 megawatts of electricity, a massive boost to the country’s current production of 4,000 megawatts.
Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on the dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River.
The Blue Nile meets with the White Nile in central Sudan before passing through Egypt.
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