Egypt is looking to fellow Arab nations to persuade Ethiopia to accept a legally binding deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the country's Foreign Minister said on Wednesday.
Ethiopia is building the dam, also known as Gerd, on the Nile, which Egypt fears will reduce its vital share of the river's waters.
Addressing an Arab League meeting in Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said he wanted fellow Arab nations to pressure Ethiopia to halt its “unilateral and unco-operative practices and embrace the necessary political will to accept one of the compromise solutions offered on the negotiations table”.
These solutions, he said, “fully realise Ethiopia's economic interests without hurting the fate of downstream nations”.
It was the first time that Egypt publicly called on fellow Arab nations to help it persuade Ethiopia to work towards a solution of their decade-old dispute over the dam. That, in turn, reflected Cairo's conviction that several Arab nations have leverage over the Ethiopian government because of their vast investments in the Horn of Africa nation.
“The continuation of Ethiopia's unilateral practices can potentially carry a grave danger for Egypt which suffers from a unique water scarcity … and because of its near total dependence on the river Nile,” Mr Shoukry told the Arab foreign ministers meeting.
A resolution issued at the end of the meeting called on Ethiopia to show “flexibility” on the Gerd issue.
Mr Shoukry later said at a news conference that Ethiopia must be made to realise that there is a joint Arab position on the dispute and that Addis Ababa has bilateral interests with Arab nations that it must safeguard.
“The dispute over the Renaissance Dam is linked to Arab national security,” he said.
Egypt maintains that a drop in its share of the Nile waters could wipe out millions of jobs in its agriculture sector and disrupt the delicate food balance for the nation's 104 million people.
Ethiopia says recommendations on the operation and filling of the dam should suffice and rejects a legally binding deal as an infringement of its national sovereignty.
The Gerd, whose construction is nearing completion, is built on the Blue Nile whose source is on the Ethiopian Highlands. It enters eastern Sudan and thunders north until it meets the White Nile near Khartoum, where the two rivers travel into Egypt. The Blue Nile accounts for more than 80 per cent of the Nile waters in Egypt.
The last round of negotiations on the Gerd between Egypt, fellow downstream nation Sudan, and Ethiopia were held in April 2021. They broke down over sharp disagreements.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Shoukry boycotted the beginning of the Arab foreign ministers' meeting to protest its chairmanship by the foreign minister of the Tripoli-based Libyan government, whose mandate Cairo says it had expired.
He entered the hall as the Libyan minister, Najla Al Manqoush, was leaving the podium after she delivered her comments and handed over the chairmanship to Egypt. The pair's paths did not cross.
Mr Shoukry subsequently chaired the consultative meeting of Arab League foreign ministers, held at the Cairo headquarters of the pan-Arab organisation.
The Tripoli-based government is considered by Egypt, as well as the rival administration in eastern Libya, to have lost its mandate.
Mr Shoukry stayed away from a similar meeting in September last year.
Libya’s continuing deadlock stemmed in part from the refusal by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who led the Tripoli-based transitional government, to step down.
In response, the country’s eastern-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister, Fathi Bashagha, who has for months sought to install his government in Tripoli.
Egypt, which shares a porous desert border with Libya, has for years supported the administration in eastern Libya and its military chief, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
Cairo's interest in Libya is rooted in it concern over the presence of militants in eastern Libya near its borders. Militant groups have, in recent years, staged cross-border attacks in western Egypt against security forces as well as members of the area's large Christian minority.
In his address, Mr Shoukry also strongly condemned Israel for what he said the actions it is taking and which were pushing the entire region into crisis and obstructing the peace process.
“Egypt has not and will not spare any effort in supporting the Palestinian people in the face of what they are currently subjected to of increasingly oppressive practices and violations of international law and human rights,” he said.
He spoke shortly after militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket and detonated an explosive on Wednesday, Israel said, hours after its soldiers killed six Palestinians in a raid in Jenin.
Those who died in the Israeli operation in the flashpoint West Bank town on Tuesday included a man suspected of shooting two Jewish brothers near Huwara last week. The raid left 26 wounded.
The resolution issued at the end of the meeting strongly condemned Israel's “crimes” against the Palestinians. It urged the International Criminal Court to speed up its investigation into Israeli actions against the Palestinians.