By Lamessa Hata’u
It is now almost a year since Egyptian politicians were inadvertently caught on live television broadcasting the proposal of military action to sabotage the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) at a meeting called by the then Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi. During this meeting, which was triggered by Ethiopia’s diversion of the Blue Nile to make way for the construction of the GERD, participants suggested hostile acts against Ethiopia to stop it from building the Dam.
Their suggestions were all centred on military action to curb what they claimed to be a threat to Egyptian national security. To pick some of the suggestions, Ayman Nour, head of the Ghad Party, suggested spreading rumours that Egypt is buying military planes in order to create the impression that it is planning an airstrike to destroy the dam. Yunis Makhyun, who heads the Islamist Nur Party, on his part, said the Dam constitutes a strategic danger for Egypt, requiring it to support Ethiopian rebels who would put pressure on the Ethiopian government.
Others raised the possibility of sending special forces in to destroy the dam. These suggestions have no power to change anything considering the stance of Ethiopia on the GERD, but there is the necessity to be vigilant enough towards these suggestions.
After these embarrassing statements on live transmission, several commentators, including Egyptians, forwarded severe criticisms against these politicians. But I have doubts as to whether the majority of the critics from the Egyptian side were against the suggestions or against the intention of the live transmission of such a meeting.
On the other hand, the Ethiopian Government did not perceive it as something different to the usual bullying by Egypt when it comes to the Nile issue. The spokesperson of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Getachew Reda, went to the extent of saying the suggestions were “day dreaming!”
Nevertheless, the government has not undermined what was being suggested by the politicians, but rather summoned the resident ambassador of Egypt to Ethiopia and seek an explanation about the hostile remarks. Whatever the reactions were, there were two possibilities: either the incident was just the customary bullying style of the Egyptians or the Egyptian government are actually considering what was mentioned. Considering some recent developments in the region (the Horn of Africa), which seem to have been initiated by Egypt, I am obliged to accept the latter scenario that the Egyptian government is approving what was proposed by the politicians.
At that time, President Morsi did not directly react to the suggestions, but said in concluding remarks that Egypt respects Ethiopia and its people and will not engage in any aggressive acts against it. However, during Morsi’s presidency or thereafter, several incidents can be raised to illustrate that the Egyptian government is following the blueprint of the angry politicians.
An important incident is the frequent Egyptian high level officials’ ventures to Eritrea. For instance, in January 2014, the Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Envoy of the interim President Adly Mansour, Ambassador Hamdi Sanad Loza, paid a visit to Eritrea and discussed regional and bilateral issues. In addition, on March 2014, a senior Egyptian intelligence team visited Eritrea and talked about regional security issues, with a probable special focus on Ethiopia.
These visits may have been organised to find ways to destabilise Ethiopia by assisting rebels headquartered in Eritrea. Eritrea is suitable for this mission, as it is already playing a destabilising role in the region for which it is already sanctioned by the United Nations, African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Surely, this was one of the strategies suggested by the angry politicians, although it had not been strange to Egypt. One can clearly understand from the timing of the visits (soon after Ethiopia diverted the Nile River) that Egyptians have no other urgent agenda other than the GERD to discuss with Eritrea at the time. Had it not been the issue of the GERD, there would be no need for such frequent travel, especially for high level security officials.
I do not think Eritrea would risk its national security by providing a military base to Egypt, as Eritrea remembers the consequence of the last war with Ethiopia. Hopefully, it also understands the current situation in Ethiopia, which entails an improving democratic system, stability, economic development, military strength and so forth – in which Eritrea lags far behind Ethiopia.
Therefore, the only thing that Egypt may consult with Eritrea on is the way to assist Ethiopian armed groups in order to destabilise the country and, in doing so, divert its attention from building the dam.
Yet another incident is the news of Egypt’s plan to purchase fighter jets and other military armaments from Russia. At that provocative meeting, Ayman Nour, of the Ghad Party, suggested spreading rumours that Egypt is buying military planes in order to create the impression that it is planning an airstrike to destroy the dam.
Although we cannot be sure if Egypt is really set to buy fighter jets or if the news is just being spread as a rumour, as Nour suggested, we cannot deny the connection between the proposal and the news. Some media even reported that the arms deal had been concluded, which makes the dream of Nour come true.
It is also worth noting the attempt of Egypt to exploit the current demonstrations over the Addis Abeba Integrated Master Plan. Egypt tried to exploit the demonstration held in Cairo on May 7, 2014 by some members of Oromo Diaspora Community.
In alliance with their plan of destabilising Ethiopia by assisting the opposition, the Egyptian security forces supported the protest in Cairo. As some regional security experts commented, protest law in Egypt was not applied, but facilitated the Oromo community protest in Cairo.
As we know, the recent protest law of Egypt has been sparking anger among political activists, who considered it as a means to limit the freedom of expression. Surprisingly, this law was not considered when some members of Oromo Diaspora community took their case to Tahrir Square.
Finally, the recent arrest of three Egyptians in the Gambella Region can be mentioned as an even more solid incident, displaying the fact that the government of Egypt is working on the proposals of the politicians. The politicians suggested the possibility of sending special forces in to sabotage the dam.
Amazingly, those arrested are believed to be spies, who might have been sent to investigate any possible way of sabotaging the Dam. Fortunately, they could not go any further; they were arrested near the border, thanks to our active security force.
Of course, when Spokesperson Getachew said the proposals were like “day dreaming”, it seems like Ethiopia ignored what the politicians were talking about. But what we witnessed in the case of these three Egyptians does not imply that Ethiopia has ignored the possible threat that may emanate from the suggestions of the politicians
After all, Ethiopia has to give further emphasis to each and every assumption from the circle of those influential politicians, as the Egyptian government is always ready to take into account their ideas, however crazy they may be. Out of desperation, there is nothing that Egyptian politicians would not suggest.
By the same token, although the Egyptian Government is believed to act in a slightly more responsible way than many of their politicians, there is no guarantee that the Egyptian government is independent from the emotion that comes from this circle.