Al Monitor : How water has become a flashpoint in the Middle East

Is Egyptian agriculture at risk due to the lack of an agreement on the operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Here, an aerial view is seen of the Muweis canal of the Nile River and alongside it the villages of (top to bottom) Bani Ishbil, Kafr al-Jirayah and Bandaf in Sharqiyah province of Egypt's fertile northern Nile delta agricultural region, May 28, 2021. - AMIR MAKARAFP via Getty Images Read more

The disruption of water supply has long been a potential catalyst for conflict or instability in the arid Middle East. But it’s never been as prominent a risk as it is now.

Nile dam deadlock: Egypt looks to China to help

Ethiopia announced July 19 that it had completed this year’s filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which it is building on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River, which provides Egypt with over 90% of its water needs.

Egypt is weighing its next diplomatic steps, as Baher Al-Kady reports. On July 8, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told the UN Security Council that the GERD presents an « existential threat » and that the effect of the potential disruption of water flow to Egypt would be like a « malignant plague. »

Tunisia has drafted a resolution to back Egypt’s bid for the council to formally weigh in on behalf of an internationally mediated agreement for the management of the Nile water flows. That resolution is, forgive the metaphor, dead in the water. 

« Although the council has acknowledged the severity of the issue with a second meeting in two years on the dispute, » we wrote here, « a resolution is still a tough sell. Council members remain uneasy about the precedent of a resolution on ‘water issues.' »

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, speaking July 15, said any reduction of Egypt’s water supply is a red line that “cannot be crossed,” adding, “Before anything happens to Egypt, the army and I would have to be gone.”

Disappointed by Moscow’s neutral stance at the Security Council, Cairo is reaching out to China to help break the deadlock, as Amr Eman reports. While Beijing has never been a major diplomatic force in the region, it does have close ties with Addis Ababa. China also is heavily invested in Egypt as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, « as a gateway for Chinese goods into markets on the African continent, » Eman writes. READ MORE