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Egypt hopeful Congo AU presidency will help in Nile Dam crisis

Egypt stressed its support for the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the presidency of the African Union to lead joint African action next year, most notably in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis.

CAIRO — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hosted Nov. 4 a high-level Congolese delegation headed by Fortna Beasley, special adviser to the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

During the meeting, Beasley conveyed a message to Sisi from Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, expressing deep appreciation for Egypt’s unlimited support to maintain peace and stability in the DRC and its tireless support at all regional and international forums, Egyptian presidency spokesman Bassam Rady said in a statement. The delegation further praised the distinguished fraternal relations and friendship between the two countries and expressed the DRC’s willingness to further boost bilateral ties at all levels, especially in areas regarding development.

For his part, Sisi stressed that Egypt will continue to support the DRC at all levels in order to achieve stability, development and progress, as part of the distinguished historical relations between the two countries that represent a model for cooperation and joint coordination within the African continent.

Rady said the meeting touched on a number of issues of common interest in the African arena, especially as the DRC gears up to take over the presidency of the African Union (AU). Sisi affirmed Egypt's support to the DRC during its upcoming presidency of the AU. He also expressed confidence in Tshisekedi’s success to assume this important responsibility to lead joint African action over the next year.

Hurriya Mujahid, professor of African political systems and thinking at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor that Egypt seeks to build strong relations with all African countries. “Egypt is currently expanding the base of its relations with the African continent.”

After assuming the AU presidency in February 2021, the DRC will have a role in the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) crisis between Egypt and Ethiopia, Mujahid said, adding, “It (Congo) is one of the Nile Basin countries and may end the conflict between the two (Egypt and Ethiopia).”

The AU’s decision in the GERD crisis is not binding, and the parties to the conflict enjoy discretion to approve it or reject it. But the DRC seems adamant to exploit its relationship with Egypt and Ethiopia to solve the dispute.

Amani al-Taweel, director of the African program at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, praised Egypt's relationship with the DRC. “The DRC has supported the Egyptian state in the Entebbe Agreement and in the Nile Basin issue. It is true that the AU presidency has no powers to end the GERD crisis, but it may give a consultative opinion,” she told Al-Monitor.

Taweel believes the DRC will have a positive role in favor of Egypt in the GERD. “The crisis between Egypt and Ethiopia needs an intervention by the international community alongside the AU.”

For his part, Mustafa el-Gamal, director of the Arab and African Research Center, told Al-Monitor that Egypt supports the DRC in many issues and also in the presidency of the AU, with the aim of completing the Congo River project. “This project will benefit Egypt in the future, although it is costly and agreements with river basin countries and execution will take a long time.”

Gamal believes the AU will not make any decision on the GERD issue. “In the event a decision is made on the issue of the GERD between Egypt and Ethiopia, it will not be implemented. Egypt chaired the AU but failed to raise the GERD issue since it was convinced this will not help to resolve the crisis. Egypt was in a critical situation and couldn’t raise the GERD issue during its presidency of the AU.”

He said the conflict over the Nile River water between Egypt and Ethiopia will only end when the two countries reach a political solution, through arbitration, or following the intervention of the US or the UN Security Council. “Egypt will suffer water scarcity if Ethiopia completes the GERD construction,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Abdel-Karim Ahmed, research coordinator for the Africa unit at the Institute for Future Studies in Beirut, argued that Egypt has been following a positive diplomatic approach with the DRC since Sisi took office for many reasons.

He explained to Al-Monitor that Egypt is seeking to dismantle the alignment of the Nile Basin countries behind Ethiopia, which it succeeded to do to a large extent. “Cairo also seeks to boost its presence on the [African] continent alongside one of the most important allies of the US in sub-Saharan Africa (the DRC) after the demise of the Kabila regime in 2019.”

On another note, Ahmed believes Cairo views South Africa’s presidency of the AU as a very negative experience. “South Africa has devoid the AU mediation in the GERD talks of its seriousness and failed to impose binding timetables on Addis Ababa. It rather enabled Ethiopia to stage repeated maneuvers to dodge abidance by the rules set by the mediator.”

“By assuming the AU presidency, the DRC, a Nile Basin country with a more understanding and balanced position on the GERD crisis, could show flexibility and greater understanding of Egyptian concerns,” Ahmed said.

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