An Egyptian protester joins a demonstration against the construction of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Image Credit: EPA

Cairo: If Ethiopia fails to reach an agreement on its controversial new dam project on the Blue Nile, Egypt could take the matter to International Court of Justice (ICJ), a government source told Gulf News.

“Egypt has a strong legal case to insist that its share of the Nile water is preserved – this is not just from a political perspective but also from a legal perspective,” said an Egyptian government source who preferred not to be named.

On Tuesday, Ethiopia began diverting the course of the Blue Nile, one of the Nile River’s two major tributaries, as part of its “Renaissance Dam” project for electricity production.

The reserve of the Renaissance Dam requires 74 billion cubic metres of water. Ethiopia has an initial plan to fill up the reserve in five years, which could cause Egypt a cut of over 20 per cent in five successive years, contributing to Egypt’s existing water shortages.

The Egyptian annual share is decided by a series of international agreements that were signed in the first five decades of last century. Ethiopia has been arguing that agreements concluded during the colonial era should be revisited by independent African states.

“Ethiopia’s argument is not a legal one. There are precedents by which the ICJ had stipulated the observation of international agreements reached during the colonial era by African states; we have a strong case if we were to go to the ICJ; that is for sure,” the source said.

For Egypt and Ethiopia to pursue the arbitration of the ICJ, both countries have to accept the intervention.

“If Egypt was to propose this intervention and Ethiopia declines, it would put itself in a very unfavourable political situation,” the same source said.


This option, Egyptian officials say, is not the immediate choice of Cairo. “We hope to fix the matter through negotiations; we might have a joint mechanism to decide the matter and we have had the firm assurances of Addis Ababa that it will not harm our water interests,” said another government official.

“We already have an idea of what we could do but we are waiting for the release of the report of the impacts of the Renaissance Dam which is being put together by experts from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on Saturday,” he said.

The report is likely to highlight the possible negative repercussion of the “proposed dam” on Egypt’s share and to recommend the need for a consensual scheme to fill up the reserve.

The report may also raise questions about the possible negative environmental impact of the dam on the course of the river Nile. Other questions about the safety of the dam itself are also yet to be addressed.

However, the report would not go as far as recommending the cancellation of the project.

Using Suez Canal to press on China and Italy, Egyptian Popular Current leader Hamdeen Sabahi suggests that Egypt could close the Suez Canal to ships from countries that help Ethiopia build a dam on the Blue Nile in the event it threatens Egypt’s supply of Nile water.

“Egypt is capable of holding talks with the countries financing Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam project, especially China and Italy,” Sabahi said.

He went on to assert that Egypt was capable of prohibiting ships from those countries from transiting the Suez Canal “until they stop harming Egypt’s interests”.

He also said that Ethiopia’s decision to go ahead with the project – only days after President Mohammad Mursi’s state visit to the country – was “extremely humiliating to Egyptians”.

Sabahi also called on Egyptians to support the government in its dispute with Ethiopia over the dam.

He said that while he fully supports Ethiopia’s right to increase its energy production, Egypt would not accept any reductions in its annual water supply.

If matters escalate, he said, a drop of water would exceed a drop of blood in value.


General Mohammad Ali Bilal, commander of Egyptian forces during the Gulf war, told Al Arabiya satellite channel on Wednesday that it is “impossible” to strike the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

“Such an attack would bring Egypt into a conflict with China and Israel, whose citizens are involved in the construction of the dam. Egypt is not in a position to stand up to all those countries,” Bilal added.

He emphasised that the US had planned its construction and that Israel is providing technical support.

The only way to tackle the crisis, according Bilal, is to persuade the US to intervene on Egypt’s behalf and convince the Ethiopians to mitigate the impact construction of the dam will have.

Major General Ahmad Abdul Halim, a security and strategic expert, said that striking the dam would not bring the aspired results.

“As a last resort, Egypt could present its case to the International Court of Justice, the Security Council, and the International Criminal Court.”