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GERD: The role of Egyptian public opinion

Any close observer of the relationship between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and the Egyptian citizen will reach a single conclusion: It is a relationship that has developed and cemented gradually, albeit quickly and solidly. President Al-Sisi came to power in response to a popular demand to save the country, meaning such relationship was basically built on absolute trust, then over time, it was further developed and consolidated. 

This gave rise to a number of positive principles governing the relationship, including credibility, transparency, openness, and living up to promises. An important aspect of such relationship is the way the president chooses to address the public. Rather than using formal speeches, the president addresses the public directly, out of the conviction that the Egyptians – as he likes to address them – are his main backers, which means that they should be acquainted with the state’s internal efforts and foreign challenges.   

Egypt’s implementation of the Economic Reform Program over the last years exemplifies the close interaction between the political leadership and Egyptians. On many occasions, President Al-Sisi confirmed the positive role of the Egyptians in making this ambitious program a success, shouldering the economic consequences satisfactorily trusting that the state’s efforts will play, after all, to their advantage and will promote Egypt’s strength regionally and internationally.

Given this genuine prelude, I’ll move to touch on Egypt’s public opinion on one of the most critical challenges Egypt is facing, i.e. the Ethiopian Dam (the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam or “GERD”). By nature, Egyptians are characterized by awareness, shouldering responsibility, dedication to defending their country, and tightly uniting in the face of any danger that could threaten their country. That was the general framework that has guided the Egyptians’ stance on the GERD crisis, fully realizing how it affects the future and present generations, which renders it an existential issue, to say the least.

It is no exaggeration to say that the GERD crisis has become a public opinion issue, falling within the circle of the public’s interests. Today, the general public follow developments and details of the crisis as a top priority than any other foreign issue. The UN Security Council’s session on 5 July on GERD received unprecedented public interest in Egypt. We recognize that the GERD crisis will remain a preoccupation for the public until this challenge is addressed, which is largely positive; however, such preoccupation should come within a disciplined framework.       

Given this interplay between the political leadership and citizens, President Al-Sisi has been keen, since taking office, to clearly state that Egypt deals with the GERD crisis from the standpoint of being a national security issue that is being addressed within a comprehensive vision, inherently based on the principle of “negotiating and seeking political solutions”. Egypt, a key founding member of the African Union (AU), strives for Africa to take its rightful place as to progress, development, stability, and prosperity and has conflicts between its nation states resolved, a goal that President Al-Sisi sought to achieve during Egypt’s presidency of the AU in 2019.

Signing the Declaration of Principles in Khartoum along with Sudan and Ethiopia on 23 March 2015, President Al-Sisi set the finest example of peaceful co-existence. Following signing this binding declaration, Egypt was engaged in marathon negotiations for four years. Then, given failure of negotiations to achieve any progress, the president called on the international community through the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019 to intervene to resolve the crisis. Already, Egypt has actively participated in all the negotiations by mediators including the United States, the World Bank, the European Union, and finally the AU, which played the mediator’s role for one full year.

Since all mediations have proved ineffective, offering no outcomes that would put an end to the crisis, Egypt turned to exercise its natural right granted by international law and –together with Sudan – brought the dispute before the UN Security Council, responsible for maintaining global peace and security, putting the council before its responsibilities and examining the nature of the role it can play to solve the crisis that threatens security and stability in the region.

As far as I can see, Egypt’s involvement in GERD negotiations for a whole decade, its acceptance of all mediations, and finally going to the UN Security Council was meant to send a clear message of peace that the Egyptian leadership will spare no effort to reach a political solution to the crisis, despite the continued Ethiopian intransigence. 

In this regard, it seems necessary to reiterate the principles governing Egypt’s leadership’s vision toward the GERD crisis, which are as follows: 1) Ethiopia has the right to achieve the economic development it seeks, provided that it does not harm Egypt’s water interests; 2) the Nile River must create a space for peacebuilding, cooperation, and common development, and it shouldn’t provide a scope for ​​disagreement and conflict; 3) dialogue and negotiation are the shortest and most important path to ending this crisis; 4) Ethiopia must have the political will to resolve this issue; 5) failure of the tripartite negotiations to achieve the desired results imposes the need for external mediators capable of putting forward suggestions and compromises that overcome the obstacles posed; and 6) it is not logical for negotiations to continue indefinitely  without achieving any results, particularly after a decade of futile conversations.

In parallel, the political leadership was required to confirm to the Egyptian public and the entire world the importance and sensitivity of this issue. Hence came President Al-Sisi’s statements on various occasions underscoring that a) Egypt will not give up a drop of water, b) water, for Egypt, is an existential issue, c) Egypt’s share of water is a red line, and d) all options are on the table. In my opinion, these statements are a faithful reflection of the position of not only the political leadership but every concerned Egyptian who is aware of the greatness and strength of their country and the value of every drop of water.

The political leadership’s integrated stance on GERD reflected the concordance between the public and leadership positions on this defining issue. This congruence will surely be maintained till the dispute is put to an end, meaning we now have a unified public position that is based on Egyptian’s absolute trust in their political leadership and its ability to independently take, God willing, the right decision in the interests of Egypt, whether by continuing negotiations or otherwise, given its calculations which we trust being accurate and sound.

Speaking of Egypt’s water rights, Egypt’s wise political leadership never made a mention of a “war” or a “military action” as a way of resolving the issue. Even when President Al-Sisi once used the word “battle”, he associated it with “negotiations” from the premise that political negotiations are genuinely a fierce battle.   

Egypt’s continued adherence to dialogue and peaceful solutions reflects its keenness to set an example for the international community that a country the size, value, and strength of Egypt is still seeking to resolve any crises by peaceful means. And this is no wonder. Egypt’s position lines up with its status being one of the founding countries of the United Nations, a country that has always respected the international law and seeks to revitalize the role of international organizations.

It wouldn’t be a threat nor an exaggeration to say that Egypt has a military force capable of protecting its interests toward any crisis it might face at anytime from anywhere. Here, I’ll be pick the statements of President Al-Sisi while inspecting the forces in the Western Military Zone in June 2020, where he stated that the Sirte-Jufra line is a red line for Egypt. This statement served as a decisive and strong peace message that Egypt will not allow anyone, whoever they may be, to threaten its national security. The statement gave rise to the gradual dissolve of the Libyan crisis, acknowledging the strength and seriousness of the Egyptian stance.

Therefore, if the Egyptian public opinion tends to escalate its positions on the GERD crisis, this comes out of being afraid for their country. However, Egyptians’ greatest responsibility now is to side with their political leadership and fully trust its ability to protect Egypt’s interests. The public mandate given to the political leadership seven years ago must continue as is without any hesitance and every citizen should deeply trust that the national leadership has all the accurate calculations – that may not be available to the public – on how to maintain Egypt’s national security.

Likewise, I hope that the media show a similar trend. I do not at all question the patriotism of media professionals and I really appreciate their enlightening role in the GERD crisis. What is needed from the media is to elaborate to the public the nature of developments of the dam’s crisis without underestimating or exaggerating, backing the political leadership not putting more pressure on it. I’m fully confident that we have a conscious, informed, and strong leadership that carefully considers every step and goes beyond all details and specifics so that the decision taken is the soundest. The internal and external achievements that we see are a prime example of the credibility and soundness of the political leadership’s decisions.  

Eventually, our leadership is faced with a highly complicated sensitive issue and it really deals with it seriously, with accurate visions and calculations. As ordinary citizens, at various popular, institutional, and media levels, we have nothing to do but back our leadership, give it more space and freedom to take the right decision, and avoid exaggerating, yielding, or responding to any unsolicited provocations in this phase, whatever their source.

In the New Republic, Egypt advances and takes steady steps in a difficult equation combining building, development, stability, and protecting national security. We trust that President Al-Sisi is up to the task.

Gen. Mohamed Eldewery
Deputy Manager

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