Egypt’s president on Monday hardened his stance against Ethiopia and its construction of a Nile dam, warning that “all options are open” in dealing with the project that threatens to leave Egypt with an alarming water shortage.
Speaking on live television before hundreds of supporters, Mohammed Morsi said Egypt is not calling for war, but it is willing to confront any threats to its water security.
“If it loses one drop, our blood is the alternative,” he said to a raucous crowd of largely Islamist supporters that erupted into a standing ovation.
Ethiopia’s $4.2bn hydroelectric dam, which would be Africa’s largest, challenges a colonial-era agreement that had given Egypt and Sudan the lion’s share of rights to Nile water. Experts estimate that Egypt could lose as much as 20% of its Nile water in the three to five years needed for Ethiopia to fill a massive reservoir.
“If Egypt is the Nile’s gift, then the Nile is a gift to Egypt,” Morsi said in his opening remarks.
The president’s speech reflected the importance of the Nile River to Egypt. It provides almost all of the fresh water to a country that is otherwise largely parched desert. As much as 85% of the Nile’s water comes from Ethiopia.
“We are not calling for war, but we will not allow, at all, threats against our water security,” Morsi said before adding, “all options are open.”
Morsi appeared to be using concern about Ethiopia’s megaproject to whip up nationalistic fervour ahead of protests planned against him later this month.
In the conference hall where Morsi delivered his speech, some of his supporters chanted slogans against Israel and accused it of colluding with Ethiopia to harm Egypt. Blaming Israel for Egypt’s problems is common here. Israel denied any connection to the construction of the dam.
Morsi said he would be willing to approach opposition groups in order to unite Egyptians around a common position with regard to the dam. This came after two prominent opposition parties declined an invitation to meet Morsi last week, citing a lack of transparency in dealing with national issues and a failure to listen to them.
Shifting his tone later in the speech, Morsi said that Egypt considers Ethiopia a “friend” and noted he has visited the country twice since taking office.