Cairo - Egypt will demand Ethiopia stop building a dam on
one of the main tributaries of the Nile, a senior government aide said on
Wednesday, ramping up a confrontation over the project that Egypt fears will
affect its main source of water.
Ethiopia set off alarm bells in Cairo last week when it
began diverting a stretch of the river to make way for the $4.7bn hydroelectric
Countries that share the river have argued over the use of
its waters for decades - and analysts have repeatedly warned that the disputes
could eventually boil over into war.
The high stakes involved were underlined on Monday when
senior Egyptian politicians were caught on camera advising President Mohammed Morsi
to take hostile action to stop the project, and one went as far as suggesting
Cairo destroy the dam.
Egypt, which has been involved in years of troubled
diplomacy with Ethiopia and other upstream countries, said Ethiopia must now
halt work on the dam.
"Demanding that Ethiopia stop construction of the dam
it plans to build on the Blue Nile will be our first step," said Pakinam
el-Sharkawy, the presidential aide for political affairs, in comments carried
on the state news agency MENA.
"The national committee that will be formed to deal with
this issue will determine the steps that Egypt has to take."
No one from the Ethiopian government was immediately
available to comment.
Caught on camera
Senior Egyptian politicians called in to discuss the crisis
with Morsi on Monday were apparently unaware their meeting was being broadcast
live on television.
The leader of Egypt's Ghad party, Ayman Nour, suggested
spreading false reports that Egypt was building up its air power.
"We can 'leak' news information claiming that Egypt
plans to buy advanced aircraft to increase its aerial presence etc., to put
pressure, even if not realistic, on diplomatic discourse," he said.
Younis Makhyoun, leader of the Salafi Islamist al-Nour
party, was filmed saying Egypt should back rebels in Ethiopia or, as a last
resort, destroy the dam.
The broadcast triggered widespread ridicule, particularly
among Egypt's vast army of users of social networks.
"Among Morsi’s achievements: the first 'secret' meeting
in the world to be aired live," read one joke that made the rounds.
Egypt has so far not apologised to Ethiopia for the
broadcast - el-Sharkawy's main response on Twitter was to say she was sorry members
of the meeting did not know they were being broadcast.
The most prominent expression of regret came from leading
opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, who was invited to the meeting but did not
"Sincere apologies to the people and governments of
Ethiopia and Sudan for the irresponsible utterances at the president's national
dialogue," he tweeted.
Ethiopia has laid out plans to invest more than $12bn in
harnessing the rivers that run through its rugged highlands to become Africa's
leading power exporter.
The centrepiece of the plan is the Grand Renaissance Dam
being built in the Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan. Now 21%
complete, it will eventually have a 6 000 megawatt capacity, the government
says, equivalent to six nuclear power plants.
Cairo argues that Ethiopia has not properly considered the
dam's impact on the river, saying that a report put together by experts from
Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia is insufficient.