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Jordan backs Egypt in Nile dam dispute

Jordan's foreign minister has declared his country's support for Egypt regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, stressing that water security is integral to Arab security.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi is pictured in the Jordanian capital Amman during an international meeting to discuss the Israel-Palestinian peace process, on September 24, 2020. (Photo by Khalil MAZRAAWI / POOL / AFP) (Photo by KHALIL MAZRAAWI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

CAIRO — In the wake of the tripartite meeting between Egypt, Jordan and Iraq on Oct. 13 in Cairo, Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi said, “Water security is part of Arab security and Jordan stands by Egypt in all its steps regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.” He added, “Egypt has taken a rational stance that aims at a consensual solution for the GERD that preserves the rights of all parties and is based on international law.”

Egypt is counting on Arab support in the GERD negotiations. During the March 4 Arab League foreign ministers' meeting, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry called on the Arab League to support Egypt's draft resolution as presented to the UN Security Council. Shoukry said that such support will show Ethiopia that the Arab states back Egypt and Sudan’s positions.

At another extraordinary session of the Council of the Arab League, held at the request of Egypt on June 23, Shoukry called on “all brotherly Arab countries to support [Egypt’s] moves in this vital issue that affects the capabilities of over 150 million citizens living on the banks of the Nile River in both Egypt and Sudan.”

The GERD negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan under the auspices of the African Union have been stumbling since the negotiating parties failed to reach a binding legal agreement for operating and filling the GERD during the latest negotiation session on Aug. 28.

Egypt's former Assistant Foreign Minister Mohamed Hegazy told Al-Monitor over the phone, “Jordan's position in support of Egypt in the GERD crisis is in line with general Arab diplomacy at this stage. Just as the Arab League clearly expressed its support for the Egyptian position, Jordan supported the Egyptian stance that seeks to achieve security, stability and development in a way that serves the interests of the three countries: Ethiopia’s by guaranteeing its right to generate electricity from the GERD and advancing development, and Egypt’s and Sudan’s by preserving their inalienable rights as they are both downstream states and partners in the international river.”

On June 23, the Council of the Arab League issued several statements regarding the GERD crisis, stressing that water security for both Egypt and Sudan is an integral part of Arab national security and emphasizing the need for all parties to abstain from unilateral measures, including filling and operating the dam, as it would be an explicit violation of the Declaration of Principles signed by the three countries in Khartoum on March 23, 2015.

Hegazy added, “Perhaps these regional and international positions may push the Ethiopian side to realize the importance of cooperation, stability and fairness in the use of water in a way that achieves development and preserves Egypt's share of water.” He mentioned that the United States had imposed sanctions by cutting $100 million worth of aid due to its "obstinate stance" on the GERD, according to a Sept. 2 Reuters report. According to Hegazy, the US sanctions and the decisions of the Arab League show that these countries are aware of the main obstacles to the GERD issue and its negotiations.

He said that Egypt has expressed its appreciation for its brotherly Arab countries' expected support, which will create pressure on Ethiopia and encourage the public to reject the Ethiopian stance.

Egypt, which is already suffering from water scarcity, is concerned the GERD will affect its Nile share of about 55.5 billion cubic meters of water. Ethiopia began construction of the Blue Nile dam in 2011 on the Ethiopian-Sudanese border, at an estimated cost of about $4.6 billion with a maximum capacity of 74 billion cubic meters. The GERD will also affect agriculture in Sudan by retaining sediment, and dropping water levels will affect downstream fisheries. Ethiopia insists that the dam is crucial for its economic development, as it will provide it and neighboring countries large amounts of electricity.

Kamel al-Sayyed, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor over the phone that "the new government in Jordan" "politically and morally supports Egypt.”

He said that the Arab League had already made a decision in support of Egypt in this dispute, and Jordan's position is an endorsement of what has been agreed upon in the Arab League though Amman does not wield any influence over Ethiopia.

Sayed noted, “The key development here was the Oct. 14 phone call between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is the AU chairperson, sponsoring the current GERD negotiations. During the call, Ramaphosa stressed the need to resolve the current situation and reach a balanced, fair agreement for this vital issue.” Sisi reiterated Egypt's position regarding the GERD and rights to the Nile waters.

Ahmed Fouad Abaza, a member of the Egyptian Parliament's Arab Affairs Committee, told Al-Monitor over the phone, “The support Jordan has shown toward Egypt comes within the framework of the strong ties the two countries have always enjoyed, and as part of the vision that they share on many issues.”

Egypt and Jordan have strong relations on various levels. They share several political visions and goals, the most important being the Palestinian cause, in which the two parties play a prominent role, in addition to fighting terrorism. Economic cooperation has grown between the two countries, as trade between Egypt and Jordan increased between January 2019 and November 2019; reaching $858.3 million, an increase of 52.3% compared to the same period in 2018, according to Egypt’s State Information Service.

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