The Renaissance Dam: What does Egypt expect from the UN Security Council?

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry officially requested the UN Security Council intervene in the crisis of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) “urgently,” due to what it said was continued Ethiopian obstinacy, which could “constitute a threat to international peace and security.”

This came in a letter addressed by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to the permanent French delegate to the UN Security Council in his capacity as the current president of the council on the crisis of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Shoukry said in his letter that given the seriousness of the situation and in light of Ethiopian obstinacy, I ask the UN Security Council to intervene in this matter quickly. He added that Egypt chose to refer this issue to the UN Security Council after it “examined and exhausted every way to reach an amicable solution to this situation by concluding an agreement on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” that preserves and promotes the rights and interests of the three riparian states of the Blue Nile.

The letter stressed that the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is a huge issue that will have huge repercussions for Egypt as Ethiopia continues to insist on starting the filling of the dam unilaterally during the rainy season in the coming July, in violation of its international legal obligations. Legal experts say that Egypt submitted a formal complaint to the Security Council based on Article 35 of the United Nations Charter, after all the negotiations that took place between Cairo and Addis Ababa failed.

The Egyptian regime seeks to obtain a binding resolution by the Security Council, within Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, which would mean that the Security Council passes a resolution binding on all parties to the dispute, and that it takes all means to obligate those parties to the decision, including the use of military force. But observers say that going directly to binding decisions under Chapter VII, is unlikely. Given that the major powers (that have the right to veto) have no interest and will not be affected by the GERD crisis, and therefore it will not authorise military force.

The issue is also subject to political tensions and the veto can be used by any of the five permanent members of the Security Council, in the interest of Ethiopia. The second track is to deal with the issue in accordance with Chapter VI, which gives the council the right to issue (non-binding) recommendations similar to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

These recommendations could include the parties resorting to the International Court of Justice, returning to the negotiating table to resolve the crisis, or going to the African Peace and Security Council. All of these recommendations are of course not binding on any of the parties, but they may reinforce the position of the Egyptian regime internationally.

Legal experts suggest that the second track is the candidate in the current period, so that the council considers the Renaissance Dam crisis in accordance with Chapter VI, through which the council recommends what it deems appropriate to resolve the conflict. This is due to the fact that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi signed a tripartite agreement in which he recognised Ethiopia’s right to build a dam on the Nile and to exploit the water of the river.

This agreement included grand words that did not preserve the right of Egypt or mention its annual share of the Nile water, which made the use of Chapter VII, unexpected. Although these recommendations are expected to reinforce the position of the Egyptian regime, experts point out that the problem is that the Egyptian regime turned to the Security Council for help very late.

The Ethiopian government plans to start filling the GERD reservoir in the month of July, which means that the Egyptian regime will have no time to take advantage of these recommendations. The Egyptian regime hopes that the UN Security Council will clearly refuse this. But if this is through Chapter VI, that is, it is non-binding recommendations, Ethiopia can refuse to implement the recommendation.

Even in the long-term, legal experts exclude the International Court of Justice, given that going to the court requires the acceptance of all parties, and the Ethiopian party will most likely not agree. Mediators and experts during the stalled Renaissance Dam negotiations more than once in recent years have suggested the International Court of Justice, and Ethiopia has repeatedly rejected this.