With tensions heating up along the Nile Basin as Ethiopia presses forward on its plans to build a $4.2 billion hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile,Μ Egypt’s government is undertaking an international diplomatic offensive aimed at thwarting this effort. Cairo sees the Renaissance Dam project as a serious threat to its national security and though other political issues in Egypt have dominated international attention, the standoff with Ethiopia over the dam issue has continued to escalate behind the scenes.
Earlier this week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy met with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to discuss the brewing crisis around the project. An Egyptian foreign ministry spokesperson was later quoted by Al-Ahram saying that the response from Kikwete was positive and the leader “was understanding on the situation and stressed that no country should suffer or be harmed from the consequences of the Renaissance Dam.” Fahmy also took care to address Egypt’s relationship with the African Union, from which it has been suspended since the military coup against Mohammed Morsi last July— an issue which has only exacerbated the distinct geopolitical disadvantage Egypt has come up against following decades of neglect of African regional affairs by Cairo.
Cairo’s diminished position in the face of continuing construction on the project should explain the robust efforts the government has taken to lobby members of the Supreme Committee for the Nile Waters which includes representatives from all Nile River Basin stakeholders. This strategy of engagement is a distinct departure from the overt entitlement and intransigence shown by Cairo on the issue at earlier stages in the standoff. Egypt’s government appears to have finally realized that the aura of entitlement it projected regarding the Nile — rooted as it is in colonial-era laws — was not endearing it to the African nations that helped to empower Ethiopia in its plans.
Giving the appearance of making nice with African stakeholders isn’t Egypt’s only plan, though. According to Al-Monitor, Egyptian officials have also been meeting with the European countries helping to finance and develop the dam project in order to make their case and will also embark on even broader campaigning efforts:
“Muttalib stated there are a number of scenarios that the Egyptian government has agreed to implement in order to deal with the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis. Among them is an effort to raise awareness in the world regarding the truth of Egypt’s position toward development of the Nile River Basin, which he insists is not opposed to development in the countries of the basin, contrary to the version of events Ethiopia propounds.”
In short, look for Egypt to attempt a slightly more savvy approach to its international PR on the sensitive issue. The country should, however, be prepared if the international goodwill it is looking to harness does not come gushing forth. After all, there are consequences to a flagrant disregard for international opinion — something Egypt has grown over-confident about indulging in since the July coup.