Egypt’s El Sisi holds military meeting amid tension with Ethiopia

The two countries are at loggerheads over the downstream effects of Ethiopia's $4.8bn dam

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi on Tuesday chaired a meeting of his military's top brass, his office said.

The meeting took place at the Defence Ministry's headquarters and was attended by Defence Minister Mohammed Zaki and chief of staff Mohammed Farid.

It was held amid heightened tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over a $4.8 billion (Dh17.62bn) dam Addis Ababa is building on the Nile that Cairo insists will significantly reduce its share of the river's water, hurt its economy and threaten its food security.

Ethiopia did not attend a meeting in Washington last week that was supposed to result in the signing of a US-brokered agreement with downstream nations Egypt and Sudan on the operation of the $4 billion dam and the filling of its reservoir.

Ethiopia said it stayed away from the meeting to allow more time for domestic consultations on the issue and rejected the draft accord presented by the United States.

It also took exception to the US advising it not to test or fill the reservoir before an agreement was reached.

Egypt, on its part, said it would use “all means available” to protect the interests of the Egyptian people and accused Addis Ababa of adopting delaying tactics to avoid signing the agreement.

Egypt has officially refrained from publicly talking about military action to resolve the stand-off but the timing of Tuesday's meeting between Mr El Sisi and his commanders suggested that military action could be on the table as a last resort.

While Egypt does not share a border with Ethiopia, it recently acquired cutting-edge German submarines, French-made troop carriers and Russian-made helicopter gunships.

Mr El Sisi says Egypt's share of the Nile's water is a matter of life and death to its 100 million people. The mainly desert nation depends on the river for more than 90 per cent of its water needs.

Egypt's presidential spokesman Bassam Radi said Mr El Sisi and US President Donald Trump discussed the Ethiopian dam on on Tuesday.

Mr Radi said Mr Trump commended Egypt for signing the US draft agreement last week and called the move evidence of Cairo's "goodwill and genuine and constructive political will".

Like Ethiopia, Sudan, which is not expected to be greatly affected by the dam, has not signed the draft agreement.

The most populous Arab nation, Egypt has maintained – throughout five years of negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan – that it appreciates the dam's importance to Ethiopia's development.

But Cairo has also sought an agreement that would mitigate the effects of a reduced share of the river's water.

The dam has become a symbol of national pride to Addis Ababa and a centrepiece in its development and ambition to become Africa's largest electricity exporter, which would match its growing political influence in East Africa.

It recently said it was ready to repel an attack on the dam and that it would easily mobilise a million soldiers to defend it.