Wall Street Journal
June 5, 2013
As it struggles to replace lost tourism and foreign investment income, Egypt is facing another looming economic threat from a project taking shape hundreds of miles to the south.
Ethiopia’s move last week to begin construction work on a $4.2 billion hydroelectric dam project on the Blue Nile has sparked new worries about the effect on water supplies down river in both Egypt and Sudan, and the long-term threat to irrigation and electricity supplies.
A startling insight into Egypt’s alarm at the start of the dam construction was provided at a meeting hosted by Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi on Monday.
Prominent Egyptian politicians, unaware that the cameras were rolling, were filmed suggesting very undiplomatic ways to get Ethiopia to abandon the so-called Great Renaissance Dam project, up to and including the idea of sabotaging or attacking the dam.
Abu al-Ila Madi, a representative from the pro-Morsi Wasat party, suggested on camera that Egypt should discuss military action in order to push Ethiopia to the negotiating table.
In a similar vein, Ayman Nour, a prominent liberal politician, was broadcast saying that Egypt should spread rumors it plans to acquire new military aircraft to allow it to strike the dam. “This pressure, even if unrealistic, can yield results on the diplomatic track,” Mr. Nour told the gathering.
Other politicians suggested supporting Ethiopian rebel factions who could help Egypt sabotage the dam.
Though none of the politicans hailed from the government, the spectacle is likely to backfire on Egypt by reinforcing Ethiopia’s determination to proceed with the project, according to Hani Raslan, director of Sudan and Nile Basin unit at the state-run Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Egypt receives about 60% of its annual 55 billion cubic meters of river water from the Blue Nile, which the dam is expected to obstruct. According to Mr. Raslan, in the six years that it will take Ethiopia to fill the dam, Egypt is expected to lose up to 19 billion cubic meters of Nile water on an annual basis, causing hardship for millions of Egyptian farmers and their families.
On Monday, Egypt published the findings of an independent commission appointed to investigate the impact of the Ethiopian dam project. The commission’s 600-page report said that the country would suffer water shortages during flood season, and that electricity generated by the Aswan dam in Upper Egypt would fall sharply. It also criticized Ethiopia for failing to take into account the environmental and social impact of the dam project on Sudan and Egypt.
Egypt is already suffering from water and power shortages, as it struggles to deal with the economic difficulties that followed the toppling of former autocrat Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Egyptian authorities are currently in talks with Qatar, Libya and Iraq over supplies of oil and gas, needed to plug up an energy deficit at a time when recurrent power outages are hitting homes and businesses across the country.
Mr. Raslan estimated that energy supplies from the Aswan dam could be reduced by 25-40% once the new Ethiopian dam project is completed. At some point in the future, the lower supply of water could halt electricity generation altogether, he added.
President Morsi’s aide Pakinam El-Sharkawy apologized for failing to inform politicians that the talks with the president were being aired on live television.