Thirteen Islamist political parties in Egypt convened Wednesday at the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party headquarters in Cairo to reduce the broad political polarization plaguing the country and plan a course of action to deal with Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam project, Arab dailies lead off.
The Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera reports that the parties agreed that there is a “real need for coordination between all national forces, and especially within the Islamic forces” in order to assume responsibility for the threats the country faces. The Islamic parties apparently vowed to cooperate with all political forces and partners at home, stressing that dialogue among all factions and institutions of the state is the only way to settle any differences of opinion.
The leadership of the National Salvation Front, the leading opposition movement in Egypt that comprises mostly left-wing and secular parties, was not invited to the meeting.
Regarding the Nile water crisis, the Islamic parties confirmed their full support for the state “to use all options to safeguard Egyptian rights.” Since Ethiopia began construction on the dam a week ago, Egypt has become ablaze with hostility.
“Egypt should not even consider entering into negotiations with Ethiopia until the Ethiopians halt all construction on the dam,” says Dr. Amr Hamzawy, a political science professor at Cairo University, in an interview with the Doha-based media channel Al-Arabiya. “Egypt should not be forced to sacrifice even one drop of water. Ethiopia must respect Egypt’s interests.”
Dr. Hamzawy stresses that over the past few years, when active negotiations were under way between the two countries to determine the future effects of the Grand Renaissance Dam, Ethiopian negotiators deliberately misled their Egyptian counterparts.
As a result, Egypt is refusing to sign the Cooperation Agreement Framework, a formal understanding between the 10 Nile Basin countries to re-work the allocation of the Nile River’s resources. In addition to Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also refused to sign the agreement.
“Egypt will not tolerate any drop in its existing Nile resources,” asserts Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation Mohammed Bahaa El Din to the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.
According to the minister, Egypt’s argument rests on the fact that since 1959, Egypt has not demanded access to any additional Nile River resources, despite the fact that its population has more than tripled. Mr. El Din did not mention that the populations of many of the other Nile Basin countries have also grown dramatically.
In an op-ed in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi entitled “Egypt threatens Ethiopia with war,” the outspoken Abdel Bari Atwan writes that Egyptian military action against the Ethiopian dam would be perfectly reasonable if the Ethiopians refuse to cease construction on their own.
“This is a matter of life and death (for Egypt),” says Atwan. “The Egyptian public unanimously supports the Egyptian government’s orientation on this issue of whether to declare war because it knows that a reduction of their Nile resources would mean death.”
However, help may actually be on the way. The Saudi-owned Al-Sharq Al-Awsat states that on Tuesday a group of Saudi businessmen met with Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil to discuss investing in desalination and treatment plants. Saudi Arabia is known for being cautious in its dealings with the Morsi administration, which it looks at with suspicion.
Still, any potential investment by Saudi businessmen would be welcome in debt-ridden Egypt. The crisis over Ethiopia’s dam notwithstanding, Egyptians frequently experience severe power outages and fuel shortages due to the sheer consumption needs of Egypt’s population of 80 million.
What threatens to derail any potential investment though is the continuing decline of Egypt’s capital market. The Egyptian Stock Exchange remains in free fall, having reached its lowest level in two months.
While President Morsi may be able to distract the public for the time being from the country’s economic woes by propagating impending doom due to Ethiopia, his grip on power may be further threatened if the economy continues to sputter.