Fahmy: Egypt seeks talks, not conflict, over Ethiopian dam


Egypt's Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy gives an interview to the  Agence France Presse at his office on November 9, 2013 in Cairo. Fahmy said he was growing "sceptical" that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal will be reached soon because of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. Fahmy's comments came on the eve of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's visit to Cairo. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIAMalabo, Equatorial Guinea — Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said he will continue to pursue “meaningful negotiations” with Ethiopia and Sudan to resolve the Nile water crisis involving Ethiopia’s controversial Renaissance Dam.

“Our goal is not to enter into a conflict,” Fahmy told Al-Monitor in an exclusive interview during a trip to Equatorial Guinea on May 10. Fahmy said he was awaiting Ethiopia’s response to initiating “fast-paced negotiations” and warned that Egypt will turn to the international community should it get the cold shoulder from Addis Ababa.

In regard to highly publicized human rights abuses in Egypt, including the detention of journalists and mass death sentences, Fahmy said, “What is occurring in Egypt affects the country’s overall image abroad. … I do not deny that mistakes were committed in certain instances.” Fahmy insisted, however, that the Egyptian government does not “interfere in the proceedings or sentences handed down against those accused.”

Cairo’s top diplomat stressed the road map to democratic transition was proceeding in Egypt, pointing to it as a key factor in reviving strained US-Egypt ties. “The more we implement the steps of the road map, the more American military aid we expect to be released. … The American side did request that the road map be implemented and that we uphold the promise made to our people concerning instilling democratic principles,” he said.

Egypt is also pushing regional and world powers to help resolve the Libyan crisis to stem the flow of weapons flowing into the country, Fahmy said. In the meantime, Egypt also continues to expand its relations with Moscow. “Egyptian-Russian cooperation came as a result of an Egyptian initiative, and our goal is to endeavor to strengthen it, to safeguard Egyptian interests,” he said.

The text of the interview follows:

Al-Monitor: Relations with Ethiopia remain tense as a result of the Renaissance Dam issue. What are the new steps that Egypt intends to take toward solving this crisis? Are there still chances for Egypt to safeguard its water quota, or did the Egyptian administration reach a dead end in this regard?

Fahmy: Our goal is not to enter into a conflict, as much as it is to begin negotiations with the other two parties: Ethiopia and Sudan. But, we continue to await Ethiopia’s response considering the discussions that I held with their foreign minister last month. If that response is positive, then we will begin fast-paced negotiations to attain solutions. In the absence of a response, our only option is to explain our position to the international community and emphasize the danger of failing to reach an agreement concerning Egypt’s water interests and the lack of legal conventions governing the management of transboundary rivers. Moreover, we must raise the issue of our reservations pertaining to details associated with the dam, such as its size, environmental effect, consequences upon water security and water management.

We affirm that we seek, first and foremost, to initiate meaningful negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan and that none of the parties’ interests can be achieved in the absence of solutions that satisfy us all.

Al-Monitor: As part of its international efforts to halt the construction of the dam, did Egypt try to put an end to international funding earmarked for the Renaissance Dam?

Fahmy: I prefer not to discuss what we did or did not do. However, I would like to focus on our efforts to explain the situation and its repercussions on Egypt as well as to affirm our desire to enter into meaningful negotiations with the Ethiopians and Sudanese, for that is the only possible way out.

Al-Monitor: The Egyptian administration has constantly pledged to restore security. Yet, instability continues to prevail, and violence is on the rise, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula. How do you explain that?

Fahmy: This issue can be easily explained. We now are witnessing the results of two revolutions in less than three years. It is evident and clear to all that Egyptian society is in a state of evolution and development, with tensions increasing as a result of it being subjected to violence and terrorism. Further exacerbating matters is the rise of violence in the Sinai and the emergence of terrorist organizations that resort to violence through sophisticated methods and weaponry.

This is a situation that we are facing [down] through legal measures while striving to implement the road map as the second electoral deadline looms in a few weeks, which will proactively signal the stabilization of the situation in Egypt and the establishment of an enduring democratic structure that would come to serve all those who respect the constitution and engage in all manner of political action.

Al-Monitor: Many incidents resulted in human rights being violated in Egypt, with freedom of expression and opinion repressed as well as violations against political activists and journalists. How do you justify that?

Fahmy: Egypt’s image abroad improves every time a milestone is achieved on the espoused road map. Such breakthroughs are achieved by our firm restoration of security within the confines of the law. We cannot deny the fact that what is occurring in Egypt affects the country’s overall image abroad; therefore, if excesses are committed on the security level, then they must be addressed. Still, those excesses are mostly individual in nature, but there is no denying that some issues do affect our image abroad. Egypt’s legal system affords the accused all their civil procedural rights, and we do not interfere in the proceedings or sentences handed down against those accused.

Al-Monitor: Would you agree to receiving delegations from international organizations tasked with monitoring human rights in Egypt?

Fahmy: This is not required, and Egypt has its own civil society organizations, which have all the rights to monitor the state of human rights in the country. Though I must emphasize that there are no secrets in this matter, and nothing that we do is done in secret. Everything is made public internally and externally, and we always try to explain the situation and correct information. If mistakes are made, then they should definitely be addressed, and I do not deny that mistakes were made in certain instances. In any case, the international community must not be ignored.

Al-Monitor: There are Egyptian fears that the border region might slip out of its control and arms begin pouring in, particularly from Libya. How do you envision solving this crisis?

Fahmy: I attended a meeting in Rome concerning securing the situation and controlling the flow of Libyan arms. Consultations are ongoing with the secretary-general of the Arab League [Nabil Elaraby], with separate negotiations underway with the Libyan foreign minister, concerning the security and political aspects of the situation in Libya. I have also contacted the Emirati foreign minister and US Secretary of State John Kerry to coordinate efforts during my last visit to Washington. We also called for two meetings to be held between Arab ministers of justice and interior, to bolster cooperation in the war against terror, and a meeting is expected to be held in Egypt between countries of the region to find a solution to the Libyan crisis.

Al-Monitor: The United States has begun releasing part of the military aid to Egypt. What do you think is needed to strengthen and improve relations with the United States?

Fahmy: The more we implement the steps of the road map, the more US military aid we expect to be released. Remaining is approximately half the promised aid, regardless of the fact that I do not agree with the conditionality of said aid. But, the US side did request that the road map be implemented and that we uphold the promise made to our people concerning instilling democratic principles.

Al-Monitor: What about the Russian arms deal? Is it still being worked on? And was Saudi Arabia the main financier for the deal?

Fahmy: In principle, I do not comment on the details of specific deals. But cooperation has been underway with Russia for the past 10 months, and as a result of precise steps toward that end, relations have greatly evolved both politically and economically. We expect cooperation to continue in the coming period with the aim of diversifying the channels of international communication available to us. Egyptian-Russian cooperation came as a result of an Egyptian initiative, and our goal is to endeavor to strengthen it, to safeguard Egyptian interests.

Al-Monitor: Concerning Egyptian efforts to restore friendly relations with African nations and the attempts to reinstate Egypt as an active member of the African Union, what are your expectations concerning the future of Egyptian-African relations?

Fahmy: Following the recent African round of visits and Egypt’s diplomatic efforts to clarify the prevailing situation in the country, we noted strong indications that many African countries recognized the validity of Egypt’s positions and were cognizant of the reality on the ground inside Egypt. There was also great sympathy and support for Egypt resuming its activities as part of the African Union, which the country played a pivotal role in establishing.

The decision to suspend Egyptian participation in African Union meetings was one that we objected to, and we hope that it will be reconsidered during the African Union summit scheduled for the end of next month in Malabo. Egypt has undertaken a multipronged effort with the participation of Egyptian officials, such as [interim] President Adly Mansour, the prime minister and myself as foreign minister, to pave the way for the Peace and Security Council to take a decision allowing Egypt to resume its activities in the union. Egyptian efforts will not cease until we are satisfied that the right decision will be taken.