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Egypt warns Europe against illegal immigration amid Nile dam impasse

The Egyptian government has warned European countries against illegal immigration should Ethiopia continue to insist on filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam without a binding agreement with its downstream neighbors.
People gather on the quay as a wreck of a migrant boat raised by the Egyptian navy and maritime rescuers arrives in the Egyptian port city of Rosetta, Sept. 27, 2016.

CAIRO — Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Mohamed Abdel Aty, warned July 2 European countries against illegal immigration should the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) be completed.

Speaking at a conference organized by the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety, Abdel Aty said his country is one of the driest countries in the world — a situation that may be exacerbated if Ethiopia continues to insist on filling the GERD. He continued that the lack of water could cause the youth to make illegal travels to Europe, and many of them could end up joining terrorist groups, according to the ministry’s statement.

According to an Egyptian Irrigation Ministry statement, Abdel Aty explained during the conference that a shortage of 1 billion cubic meters of water will cause some 200,000 families to lose their main source of livelihood in agriculture, stressing that about 40 million Egyptians work in agriculture.

The Egyptian government has been demanding the signing of a fair and binding legal agreement for filling and operating the GERD, which ensures that Cairo’s share of the Nile waters, amounting to 55 billion cubic meters annually, is not affected.

Cairo has been intensifying its diplomatic moves to clarify its position on the GERD crisis. Ahead of a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the GERD issue, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met July 6 with French diplomat Nicolas de Riviere, permanent representative of France to the UN and president of the Security Council for the current month. This is in addition to meetings with UK and US permanent representatives to the UN in a bid to elucidate Egypt’s position vis-a-vis the GERD.

De Rivière said July 1 that what the Security Council can do is to invite Egypt and Ethiopia to return to the negotiating table, as the council does not have the experience to determine the share of water of each country.

During their meeting in New York July 8, Security Council members backed the efforts led by the African Union (AU) to mediate a solution to the crisis between the three countries. 

Observers believe that Egypt has the right to use all pressure cards in the GERD issue, even to raise the threat of illegal immigration to Europe.

Tarek Fahmy, professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt’s warning of illegal immigration is a way for Cairo to put more pressure on European countries and the international community to push Addis Ababa to agree to a binding agreement and to stop its unilateral steps.”

He said, “It is clear that the Security Council is being intransigent in dealing with the GERD crisis. Cairo is not really counting on the council but wanted to make a political stance before the world, conveying a message that it has exhausted all diplomatic options in case it decided to opt for military action.”

Fahmy added, “In case Egypt carried out a military strike, it would be limited. This will then be followed by another diplomatic battle within the UN Security Council to pressure Ethiopia to negotiate. But by that time, the international community would have realized that the crisis threatens international peace and security.”

Fahmy noted that there should be no future negotiations without a specific time limit, expecting the “Security Council not to adopt the Tunisian draft resolution, which could make the military option more urgent for Egypt if the talks fail and Ethiopia does not budge.”

Tunisia had submitted a draft resolution to the Security Council calling on Addis Ababa to stop the process of filling the dam. The draft resolution states that the Security Council demands Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to resume talks at the request of the AU president and the UN secretary-general to reach a binding agreement to fill and manage the dam within six months.

On July 5, Ethiopia informed Egypt that it has begun the second stage of the filling of the dam’s reservoir. 

Rakha Ahmed Hassan, former assistant foreign minister, told Al-Monitor, “The ongoing intransigent Ethiopian position and the failure to reach an agreement will have catastrophic economic consequences, causing the unemployment rate and illegal immigration to increase.”

“Egypt spoke about illegal immigration before the international community to highlight the extent of the risks of not reaching a binding agreement,” he said.

Commenting on the Security Council meeting, Hassan noted, “The council continues to believe that the AU could still handle the issue. Thus, its role for now will remain limited to urge the concerned countries to engage in negotiations until reaching a binding agreement.”

Meanwhile, Zohdy al-Shamy, deputy head of the Egyptian Socialist Popular Alliance Party, said in a Facebook post July 3 that Abdel Aty’s remarks to the international community about illegal immigration can be viewed as blackmail or intimidation, which is not acceptable and unconvincing, and could send a message that Egypt has capitulated to the Ethiopian will.

Egyptians hope that there will be European support for Egypt in the GERD issue and Ethiopia will be pressured to sign a binding agreement on the filling process.

In an article published June 26, following a meeting between editors of Egyptian papers and the head of the European Union Delegation to Egypt, Christian Berger, Emad al-Din Hussein, editor-in-chief of Egypt’s daily al-Shorouk, talked about some European countries’ strong, supporting and understanding position of Egypt in the showdown with Ethiopia regarding the GERD. He, however, said that most of these positions “are not strong enough to convince Ethiopia to stop taking unilateral steps and that its intransigence will cost it dearly in the international arena.”

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