Egyptian sources have revealed that the last round of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam negotiations, which were
held in Washington between January 13 and 15, were “catastrophic,” contrary to what Egyptian officials tried to
Washington hosted what was supposed to be the last round of talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan regarding
the rules of filling and operating the dam. But negotiations were extended, and the various parties agreed to meet
again on January 28 and 29 to finish the agreement.
Insufficient joint statement
The Ethiopian dam will cause great damage to Egypt, because it will reduce its historical share of the Nile’s water,
amounting to 55 billion cubic metres, which will lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, low annual
economic output and the desertification of millions of acres of agricultural land.
The dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia is currently focused, as announced, on how to fill the dam during
periods of drought. Egypt calls for maintaining the water level in the High Dam in Aswan otherwise this will cause
the loss of more than a million jobs, $1.8 billion of economic output annually and electricity worth $300 million.
Egypt also calls on Ethiopia to guarantee the flow of at least 40 billion cubic metres of dam water annually, while
Ethiopia proposes 35 billion cubic metres.
According to the joint statement, the three parties agreed to start the process of filling during the rainy season
between July and August, with the possibility of continuing the process during the month of September of this
year in accordance with some conditions that were not specified.
The initial filling allows water to reach a level of 595 metres above sea level, enabling Ethiopia to start generating
electricity, with adequate measures to mitigate the damage to the other two countries in the event of severe
drought during this phase, without specifying what these measures are.
Subsequent stages of filling will be carried out according to an agreed mechanism based on the hydrological
conditions of the Blue Nile and the level of glass blocks. The mechanism is supposed to address the goals of the
filling process, electricity generation and appropriate mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan during long
periods of drought.
Abbas Sharaqi, head of the Natural Resources Department at the African Research Institute at Cairo University,
said that the statement fulfills Ethiopia’s goals in generating electricity, because filling the Renaissance Dam in
the later stages is supposed to be according to hydrological conditions, i.e. rain, rather than the state of water
storage in the High Dam.
“What the statement mentioned in the event of drought takes into account the fact that Egypt and Sudan are not
harmed, but there is no confirmation of Egypt’s share and that it will not be affected whether significantly or not,
maintaining the flow of the natural revenue of the Blue Nile after filling and the passage of a certain amount or
percentage of the annual river’s revenue,” he said.
Former Minister of Irrigation Nasr Allam said that until now there is only agreement on the initial water storage
because of its importance to Ethiopia, as there are difficult problems that have not been solved over the rest of the
storage stages as well as the procedures and rules for operating the dam. This may be due to disputes over
Ethiopia’s demands for water share, some drought criteria and the responsibility to manage drought periods. The
term ‘natural flow’ has been excluded and replaced by the ‘hydrological conditions,’ possibly due to an Ethiopian
request to obtain a share of the Blue Nile water.
US pressure, lack of support from Saudi, UAE
Mada Masr, an independent Egyptian online newspaper, quoted Egyptian sources familiar with the negotiations,
that the American administration pressured Egypt to accept the least possible conditions, and because of that the
negotiation period was extended to January 15, instead of ending on the 14 as was planned. The United States
refused to end the talks without concluding a joint statement.
According to an adviser to the Egyptian Minister of Irrigation, the Trump administration is trying to persuade
Egypt to accept the Ethiopian position in exchange for compensation from the World Bank in the event of any
shortage of water. However, the nature of the compensation is not yet clear.
According to the same source, Ethiopia refuses to adhere to a number of key points set by Egypt, namely: Egypt’s
share of water not be less than 40 billion cubic metres annually; Ethiopian commitment to alerting Egypt early
when the dam is operating; the operation of the Renaissance Dam being compatible with the safe operation of the
High Dam in Aswan, so that the latter can generate enough electricity.
The adviser said: “Egypt does not receive support from anyone regarding these demands,” adding that Cairo is in
a weak negotiating position, as it cannot move completely against the will of the United States, nor does it receive
the expected support from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The Ministry of Irrigation estimates that Egypt will not receive sufficient support from international institutions
such as the United Nations Security Council or the African Union during the negotiations. Egypt also will not
have strong allies in Africa when Ethiopia begins filling the dam next summer, as president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
will end his term as president of the African Union, while the president of South Africa will take over at that time.
The Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation denied that Egypt was under any pressure to give up its demands in the
negotiations, explaining that the meeting of foreign and irrigation ministers in Washington touched on many
important points, some of which were previously mentioned in a previous meeting in the American capital last
December. This includes talking about the quantities of water to be stored and the amount of years it will take to
fill the dam. The latter will be according to the river’s hydrology in the sense that it depends on the flood amounts
changing from year to year, and this concept does not depend on the number of years and quantities stored each
year in a specific or fixed manner.
Sharaqi criticises the adoption of the river’s hydrology mechanism instead of the water storage conditions in the