CAIRO (AP) — Politicians meeting with Egypt’s president on Monday proposed hostile acts against Ethiopia, including backing rebels and carrying out sabotage, to stop it from building a massive dam on the Nile River upstream.
Some of the politicians appeared unaware the meeting with President Mohammed Morsi was being carried live on TV. Morsi did not directly react to the suggestions, but said in concluding remarks that Egypt respects Ethiopia and its people and will not engage in any aggressive acts against the East African nation.
Morsi called the meeting to review the impact of Ethiopia’s $4.2 billion hydroelectric dam, which would be Africa’s largest. Egypt in the past has threatened to go to war over its “historic rights” to Nile River water.
Morsi’s office later said he had directed his foreign and irrigation ministers to maintain contact with the Ethiopian government to obtain more information on the dam and its likely impact on Egypt’s share of the Nile water.
His office’s statement included an ominous-sounding note, saying: “Egypt will never surrender its right to Nile water and all options (to safeguard it) are being considered.”
Ethiopia last week started diverting the flow of the Nile to make way for its hydroelectric plant dubbed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. On completion, it is expected to produce 6,000 megawatts, and its reservoir is scheduled to start filling next year.
An independent panel of experts has concluded that the dam will not significantly affect downstream Sudan and Egypt, which are highly dependent on the water of the world’s longest river, said an Ethiopian official, who spoke Saturday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the topic.
But in Cairo on Monday, Younis Makhyoun, leader of an ultraconservative Islamist party, said Egypt should back rebels in Ethiopia or, as a last resort, destroy the dam. He said Egypt made a “strategic error” when it did not object to the dam’s construction.
Makhyoun said Ethiopia is “fragile” because of rebel movements inside the country. “We can communicate with them and use them as a bargaining chip against the Ethiopian government,” he said.
“If all this fails, then there is no choice left for Egypt but to play the final card, which is using the intelligence service to destroy the dam,” said Makhyoun, whose Nour party won about 25 percent of parliament’s seats in elections in late 2011 and early 2012.
Another politician, liberal Ayman Nour, proposed spreading rumors about Egypt obtaining refueling aircraft to create the impression that it plans an airstrike to destroy the dam.
“This could yield results on the diplomatic track,” Nour said.
Abu al-Ila Madi, leader of the pro-Morsi Islamist Wasat party, suggested that a rumor that Egypt planned to destroy the dam could scare the Ethiopians into cooperating with Egypt on the project.
Magdy Hussein, another Islamist politician, warned that talk of military action against Ethiopia is “very dangerous” and will only turn Ethiopians into enemies. He suggested soft diplomacy in dealing with the crisis, including organizing a film festival in Ethiopia and dispatching researchers and translation missions.
Ethiopia’s decision to construct the dam challenges a colonial-era agreement that had given Egypt and Sudan rights to the Nile water, with Egypt taking 55.5 billion cubic meters and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic meters of 84 billion cubic meters, with 10 billion lost to evaporation.
That agreement, first signed in 1929, took no account of the eight other nations along the 6,700-kilometer (4,160-mile) river and its basin, which have been agitating for a decade for a more equitable accord.
Ethiopian Minister of Water and Energy Alemayehu Tegenu has said Egypt should not worry about a diminished water share.
“We don’t have any irrigation projects around the dam. The dam is solely intended for electricity production … So there should not be any concerns about a diminished water flow,” Alemayehu told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Eighty-five percent of Nile waters originate in Ethiopia, yet the nation utilizes very little of them, and the country has become synonymous with famine.