Egyptian activists fight against Sisi's Ethiopia dam agreement

Published January 19th, 2017 - 02:00 GMT
Egyptian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by riot police during a Cairo demonstration against the handing over of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, April 25, 2016. (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed)
Egyptian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by riot police during a Cairo demonstration against the handing over of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, April 25, 2016. (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed)

A group of Egyptian lawyers and political activists are preparing a lawsuit to challenge President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s preliminary agreement on Ethiopia’s Nile dam project.

The agreement which asserted Ethiopia’s right to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has caused grave concern in Egypt over the prospect of the country’s water and electricity supply.

The deal was inked by Sisi, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in March 2015.

The group of lawyers and activists who seek to overturn Sisi’s decision argue that the agreement runs counter to the interests of Egypt.

The activists accuse the Ethiopian negotiators of taking advantage of the agreement and collecting international funding for the project.

The 2015 deal is aimed at setting principles which ensure that the construction of the dam would not harm the other countries and will compensate them in case of any damage. Many Egyptians – and Sudanese are concerned that their towns and villages will be swept away if the dam collapses.

The Nile supplies the bulk of Egypt’s drinking water, irrigates the Nile Delta and generates nearly half of the country’s electricity through the operation of the Aswan High Dam.

During the era of former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, Ethiopia made several attempts to build the dam, but Mubarak asserted that Egyptian access to its share of the Nile’s waters was out of question.

Following the overthrow of Mubarak, Ethiopia began building the GERD in April 2011 at a cost of $4.7bn and the project is expected be completed in July.

The news comes as Sisi already faces calls to be prosecuted for treason after the Supreme Administrative Court ruled against the government on Monday over the proposed transfer of the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia under a deal that provoked outrage among Egyptians.

The hashtags “One million signatures to prosecute Sisi” and “Sisi is a traitor by verdict of the court” are on top of Egypt’s trending hashtags.

Court ruling against transfer of islands to Saudi Arabia

Celebrations erupted over the ruling outside the court in Cairo, with human rights lawyer Khaled Ali who along with Malek Adly led the legal challenge to the government’s plan leading them.

Sisi announced on April 9, 2016 that the two islands fall within the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia as stipulated in a border accord signed between Cairo and Riyadh the previous day.

The deal triggered unprecedented mass demonstrations, with protesters slamming the arrangement as unconstitutional. A number of lawyers meanwhile filed a lawsuit in the administrative court to block the deal.

Demonstrators have accused Sisi of surrendering Egyptian territory in return for Saudi money amid reports that Cairo was receiving $20 billion in aid from Riyadh to relinquish sovereignty of the islands. Egyptian courts have given jail terms to hundreds of protesters.

Back in June 2016, a lower administrative court rejected the agreement, prompting the country’s State Lawsuits Authority, representing the Sisi government in legal cases, to lodge an appeal.

Late last month, the Cairo government endorsed the contentious maritime border agreement in defiance of the June 2016 ruling and sent it to the parliament for ratification. The Monday’s ruling is final and could not be appealed again.

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