x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Egypt politicians call to sabotage Ethiopia's Nile dam project

Politicians meeting with Egypt's president proposed hostile acts against Ethiopia, including backing rebels and carrying out sabotage, to stop it from building a massive dam on the Nile.

One politician said Egypt made a 'strategic error' when it did not object to Ethiopia's dam construction. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo
One politician said Egypt made a 'strategic error' when it did not object to Ethiopia's dam construction. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo

CAIRO // Politicians meeting with Egypt's president proposed hostile acts against Ethiopia, including backing rebels and carrying out sabotage, to stop it from building a massive dam on the Nile.

Some of the politicians appeared unaware the meeting with Mohammed Morsi was being carried live on television. Mr 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 it.

Mr Morsi called the meeting to review the effect of Ethiopia's Dh15.4 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 water.

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.

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.

Mr 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."

"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 Mr Makhyoun, whose Al Nour party won about 25 per cent of parliament's seats in elections in late 2011 and early 2012.

Another politician, the liberal Ayman Nour, proposed spreading rumours about Egypt obtaining refuelling aircraft to create the impression that it plans an air raid to destroy the dam.

"This could yield results on the diplomatic track," Mr Nour said.

Abu Al Ila Madi, the leader of the pro-Morsi Islamist Wasat party, suggested that a rumour that Egypt planned to destroy the dam could scare the Ethiopians into co-operating 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 organising a film festival in Ethiopia and dispatching researchers and translation missions.