Egypt Vs. Sudan?


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Talks are stalled over how to deal with the impact of a $5 billion dam that could threaten Egypt’s lifeblood.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, currently under construction, on May 15, 2016. (DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)

A diplomatic spat between Egypt and Sudan is spilling over into the long-running dispute over a dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile River, which Cairo sees as an existential threat.

On Thursday, Sudan officially warned of threats to its eastern border from massing Egyptian and Eritrean troops, while Egypt has also moved into a disputed triangle of territory claimed by both Cairo and Khartoum. Late last week, Sudan abruptly recalled its ambassador to Egypt, the latest chapter in a fight that started last summer with trade boycotts and that has only intensified in recent weeks.

At heart, the bad blood is part of a broader regional conflict pitting Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other countries against what they see as Turkey’s meddling in the region. Ankara has supported Qatar in its diplomatic battle with other Gulf States, and it is now jumping squarely into the Red Sea, making Egypt increasingly nervous. Cairo was particularly incensed when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Sudan in December 2017 and won rights to Suakin Island, a port city on the Red Sea, raising concerns that Ankara could build a military base there.

That diplomatic dustup is making it much harder to deal with another potentially explosive problem in the relationship: Sudan’s support for Ethiopia’s construction of a massive $5 billion dam on the Nile River that could choke off vital supplies of water downstream. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called the dam a matter of “life or death.”

All the regional rivalries around the Red Sea are intertwined, said Kelsey Lilley, associate director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, “but the dam itself is a big irritant among the three countries.”

And while the three countries have butted heads over the dam for years, the feud between Egypt and Sudan is escalating quickly.

“The tensions are significant and real and higher than they’ve been,” said Steven Cook, a North Africa and Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Things are starting to come to a head.”

The broader dispute has cemented a freeze in talks between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on how to manage the impact of the dam, even as the clock is ticking. The dam is more than 60 percent complete, and Ethiopia could start to fill the reservoir as soon as this summer, leaving little time to find workable solutions.

“This should act as a political wake-up call for immediate action for joint decision-making on the filling issue, because 2019 will be a critical year,” said Dr. Ana Cascão, an expert on Nile hydropolitics, who has written extensively about the dam.

A dam at the head of the Blue Nile in the Ethiopian highlands has been a dream since the 1960s. But it was only in 2011 — when Egypt was rocked by the Arab Spring and facing domestic upheaval — that Ethiopia unilaterally decided to start work on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the biggest hydroelectric project in Africa.

Ever since, Egypt has been terrified of the potential impacts. The dam, a huge power project at the head of the Blue Nile meant to meet fast-growing Ethiopia’s need for more electricity, will hold a year’s worth of river flow behind its concrete walls. Depending on how quickly Ethiopia fills the dam, downstream flows to Egypt could be restricted — a potentially fatal threat for a country dependent on agriculture that is already facing severe water shortages.

How Egypt Is Slowly Losing Its Hold Over the Nile River?

WPR

How Egypt Is Slowly Losing Its Hold Over the Nile River

For millennia, the Nile River has served as the backbone of Egypt, the lifeblood of its people. Gradually, though, the land of the pharaohs is losing its grip.

Late last month, Uganda hosted the first ever heads-of-state summit aimed at resolving disagreements over the waters of the Nile. But it produced no major breakthrough and appeared to be a flop. In coming months, the opening of a major dam in Ethiopia will truly test Egypt’s anxieties that countries upstream are refusing to bow to its demands. The dam’s opening will reveal just how much leverage Egypt has lost.

Egypt has a strong historical and legal claim to the Nile dating back to the colonial era, but that framework is being undercut by rapid development and population growth upstream. Currently, more than 430 million people live across the 11 countries that make up the Nile Basin: Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Eritrea. The population of the Nile Basin is likely to jump to nearly 1 billion by 2050.

The upstream countries “can’t wait forever for Egypt to get onboard,” says Aaron Wolf, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University. At the same time, he adds, the river is being valued less for its water supply and more as a means of producing electricity. “That whole conversation is shifting both the power balance and the interest to upstream states.”

Under a 1959 agreement, rights to virtually all of the Nile’s water was split between Egypt, which is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic meters, and Sudan, with 18.5 billion. Egyptians and Sudanese depend on the water much more than their upstream neighbors; Egypt in particular receives practically no rainfall, and relies on the mighty river for 97 percent of its water. But over the years, upstream countries have taken issue with the terms of that decades-old agreement, to which they were never parties.

In 1999, nine riparian countries formed the Nile Basin Initiative to try and manage the waters. South Sudan became the 10th member after it gained independence in 2011; Eritrea sits as an observer. The initiative began work on a new framework for governing the river, but Egypt and Sudan refused to sign on to a deal reached by other nations in 2010, known as the Entebbe Agreement. Egypt subsequently froze its participation in the initiative and has held out ever since, insisting it won’t return unless it is guaranteed notification before the construction of any new project on the river and until all decisions are made by consensus.

Other nations are loath to give Cairo de facto veto power over their domestic infrastructure plans. But to hear Egypt tell it, any major change to the framework and its historical water rights could leave it dying of thirst.

Sissi has made a noticeable push toward greater engagement with his African neighbors south of the Sahara, but the dispute over the Nile is proving to be a stubborn obstacle.

That position inspired Egypt’s initial opposition to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is scheduled to open along the Blue Nile at some point in the next three or four months. Ethiopians view the dam, which will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric facility, as a source of national pride that they hope will power the continent’s fastest-growing economy. When construction is complete, the dam will stand more than a mile wide and 570 feet tall, and will more than double the country’s current capacity to generate energy. Waters from the Blue Nile comprise roughly 80 percent of the river that traces its way into Egypt.

For decades, Egyptian politicians have discussed any interference with the Nile’s waters as an existential threat. In 2013, Egyptian politicians unknowingly mused about sabotaging the Ethiopian dam on live television. Before construction began in 2011, Egypt reportedly considered a military response to block Ethiopia from interfering with the river’s flow. Decades earlier, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat declared that water was “the only matter that could take Egypt to war again.”

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan—where the Blue and White Niles meet to form the great river—signed a deal to resolve their dispute in 2015. Egypt has since offered grumbling support for the dam, suggesting it recognizes the need to support upstream nations’ demands. Once the dam opens, no one expects Egypt to take a rash step and follow up on Sadat’s old threat.

But Egypt’s internal politics have made it difficult to back down entirely, so some amount of posturing is likely. Yet Cairo has few cards to play.

The more apocalyptic predictions about the dam’s impact on Egypt’s waters are likely overstated, says Kevin Wheeler of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. “There’s a lot of hyperbole, ranging from some believing it’ll do nothing, to others claiming that it will devastate Egypt,” Wheeler says. “Neither of those two extremes are accurate, and there’s a lot of space in the middle for reality.” If anything, the dam could help regulate water flowing into Egypt and keep the country supplied during times of drought.

The biggest test will be in the first few years, as Ethiopia plugs up the Blue Nile to fill a vast new reservoir. If Egypt and Ethiopia are on the same page, Wheeler says, they will be best positioned to mitigate any droughts or water shortages. After that, water is likely to flow downstream at a constant pace.

The Ethiopian dam was not explicitly on the agenda during the recent Nile summit. But Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi were the only two foreign leaders who bothered to show up, suggesting that other nations want them to resolve their differences before anything else can be accomplished.

The summit began inauspiciously, when presidential guards for Sissi and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni got into a shoving match inside the State House, Uganda’s presidential residence. It didn’t get much better when technical teams from multiple countries reportedly walked out at one point during the discussions. Analysts said little of consequence had been achieved.

Sissi has made a noticeable push toward greater engagement with his African neighbors south of the Sahara, but the dispute over the Nile is proving to be a stubborn obstacle. Still, his presence in Kampala suggests that he recognizes Egypt’s changing position and is trying to maintain some authority.

With Egypt’s population set to grow by nearly 30 million by 2030, its own demand for water will increase. All the while, climate change will increase the variability of the river’s flow by 50 percent, according to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Nile’s volume is likely to rise by 10 to 15 percent, researchers predict, but there will also be more years of drought as well as years of surplus. All that instability might make it more appealing to rely on a system of dams that regularize and control the river’s flow.

The passage of time will force Egypt into signing on to a new or modified river management agreement, predicts Salman M. A. Salman, a consultant and former water law adviser for the World Bank. “Egypt will look right and left and will find that the dam is completed, that Ethiopia is trying to build other dams and the only alternative left for them is to cooperate,” Salman says. “Time is not on their side.”

Julian Hattem is a journalist based in Kampala, Uganda. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmhattem.

Former President Mubarak considered using Tu-160 to destroy Ethiopian dam

Egyptindependent

An unverified voice recording attributed to Egypt’s Former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has generated great controversy among Egyptian social media users.

The recording, which surfaced on a Facebook page titled ‘Ana Asef Ya Rais’ [‘I’m sorry Mr. President’], featured statements from Mubarak on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam ‘GERD’.

Mubarak relinquished power in 2011 following the 25 January Revolution and has been subjected to judicial trials since.

In the unverified voice clip, Mubarak said that Ethiopia did not dare to establish GERD during his era, adding that he had the ability to destroy it with Russian-made Tupolev Tu-160 fighters, if it had.

Mubarak also asserted in the recording that Egypt is currently considered a weak country, unlike in the past when the world saw it as powerful one.

Egypt Independent made several attempts to reach administrators of the Facebook page that broadcast the voice recording of Mubarak.

WHAT EGYPT’S EL-SISSI WANTS FROM TRUMP

 

Egypt President el-Sisi Says There is “No Doubt” that Donald Trump Would Make A Strong Leader
Image result for EL-SISI and trump

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi visits the White House to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump.

El-Sissi’s first visit to the White House is important for U.S.-Egypt relations. Both leaders have repeatedly expressed admiration for each other, and Cairo appears eager to push for a stronger bilateral relationship that it perceives will do more to benefit its interests than its strained relationship with the Obama administration.

Ahead of the visit, the White House released a statement praising the “positive momentum [Trump and el-Sissi] have built for the United States-Egypt relationship.” Cairo has also been vocal in expressing support for strategic U.S.-Egypt ties and enhanced cooperation under the Trump administration.

In addition to the overall strengthening of ties, el-Sissi likely has four major priorities for this visit: securing U.S. support for Egypt’s counterterror interests, pressuring the United States to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, promoting Egypt’s economic reform program, and presenting Egypt as a leading regional power.

Security and Terrorism

Egypt presents itself as being on “the frontlines of the global war against terrorism” and extremism. That narrative drives much of the Egyptian rhetoric surrounding U.S. military assistance to Cairo.

04_03_Sisi_Trump_02Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in New Delhi in September 2016. Elissa Miller writes that el-Sisi’s visit comes amid Trump’s proposed budget cuts, which would significantly reduce spending on U.S. foreign aid. However, the administration is unlikely to cut foreign military financing to Egypt, which makes up the bulk of the $1.3 billion in annual assistance the United States gives to Egypt.CATHAL MCNAUGHTON/REUTERS

During a recent visit to Washington, meetings included those with Deputy National Security Advisor K. T. McFarland and Senior Director for Middle East policies on the National Security Council Derek Harvey. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called for continued U.S. assistance for Egypt’s counterterror operations and efforts as crucial to maintaining regional stability. He further described Egypt as “the country most capable [of confronting] extremist ideology amidst a region engulfed in conflicts and disputes.”

Cairo has also made efforts to present military assistance to Egypt as beneficial for U.S. interests in the region. On March 30, Egyptian Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Mahmoud Hegazy met with the Commander General of U.S. Army Central Michael Garrett to discuss military cooperation. A statement from the Egyptian military said that the meeting focused on the importance of continuing coordination and strengthening ties “in a way that serves the mutual interests [of both countries].” This rhetoric will certainly be echoed by el-Sissi during his Washington visit.

El-Sissi’s meeting with Trump also comes on the heels of two other major global meetings, both of which offered Cairo an opportunity to discuss Egypt’s counterterror vision ahead of el-Sissi’s visit with Trump.

On March 22, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hosted a 68-member meeting of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS in Washington. At the meeting, Foreign Minister Shoukry emphasized Egypt’s efforts to fight extremist ideologies through “religious moderate platforms.” In 2015, el-Sissi called for a “religious revolution” and urged Islamic scholars to engage in reforms that would help combat extremism.

Cairo has been battling militants in the Sinai since 2013; in late 2014, the militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged loyalty to ISIS. Days later in Amman, Jordan, at the 28th Arab summit, el-Sissi called for a “comprehensive” approach to fighting terrorism in the Middle East that underlines the role religious institutions, particularly Egypt’s al-Azhar, can play in that effort.

Sissi’s visit also comes amid Trump’s proposed budget cuts, which would significantly reduce spending on U.S. foreign aid. However, the administration is unlikely to decrease foreign military financing to Egypt, which makes up the bulk of the $1.3 billion in annual assistance the United States gives to Egypt.

Still, Egypt may also use the visit and the surrounding security rhetoric to advocate for the renewal of cash flow financing (CFF), a perk allowing Egypt to buy U.S. defense equipment on credit, which the Obama administration ordered to be terminated by 2018. In the current budget climate, it appears unlikely a decision would be made to continue CFF in its current form post-2018, despite efforts by some U.S. lawmakers to push legislation to reverse the Obama-era decision.

Muslim Brotherhood

In the aftermath of the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Egypt banned the Muslim Brotherhood and labeled the group a terrorist organization. While there has been much debate in Washington since Trump’s inauguration regarding the possible designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization by the United States, the administration has reportedly put on hold an executive order on the Brotherhood, possibly following an internal State Department memo, which advised against such an action.

Still, Egypt will continue to push for Trump to make the designation. An Egyptian delegation that included several members of parliament visited the United States ahead of el-Sissi’s arrival with the goal of pressuring the U.S. administration and members of Congress to designate the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

However, the administration is unlikely to follow through on such a step anytime soon because the Brotherhood is a global organization and labeling it a terrorist organization would impact U.S. policy in other countries. Brotherhood-affiliated political parties are major U.S. allies, including those in Jordan and Tunisia. Indeed, the Tunisian Islamist party Ennahda has played a key role in Tunisia’s transition toward democracy.

Economy

Egypt will also seek to promote its economic reform and attract U.S. investments. As part of its economic reform program, Egypt has adopted a flexible exchange rate, enacted a value-added tax and increased fuel prices.

In November 2016, Egypt signed a three-year $12 billion agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that aimed to help the country achieve macroeconomic stability and promote inclusive growth. Egypt has also been negotiating funding agreements to fulfill its ambitious commitments in the IMF program with France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and other G8 member countries.

U.S. investments in Egypt are important as Cairo seeks to attract more foreign direct investment. Last week, Egyptian Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr chaired a conference with the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt. Nasr highlighted new investment opportunities in the country, which included new legislation that aims to minimize obstacles to would-be investors.

At the conference, AmCham Egypt President Anis Aclimandos said he was optimistic that the United States would increase investment in Egypt. Notably, el-Sissi will be accompanied in Washington by representatives from AmCham Egypt and the U.S.-Egypt Business Council, who will meet with U.S. businessmen to explain Egypt’s economic reform plans.

It is also worth noting that Egyptian intelligence recently hired two public relations firms in Washington to boost the country’s image in the United States and highlight, among other things, Cairo’s economic development efforts.

Regional Matters

Regional challenges will be high on the agenda during the Trump and el-Sissi meeting—not least of which is Israeli-Palestinian peace. El-Sissi is among the Arab leaders in Jordan this week for the 28th Arab summit, a major focus of the summit being Palestinian statehood.

El-Sissi has sought to position Egypt as a leading regional actor on this issue. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with el-Sissi in Cairo ahead of the Arab summit to discuss the U.S. administration’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue as well as Palestinian economic development and security. These issues were also discussed in Foreign Minister Shoukry’s meetings with Trump administration officials prior to the el-Sissi visit, who, according to the foreign ministry, were “keen to listen to the Egyptian perspective.”

Finally, el-Sissi is expected to discuss other critical regional issues, including the war in Syria, conflict in Yemen and instability in Libya. Egypt has worked to position itself as a regional leader on counterterrorism and a bastion of stability in a turbulent region. El-Sissi will likely present Cairo as a key U.S. partner in tackling regional instability.

Conclusion

There are certainly several topics that are not likely to be on the table for discussion. One of these is the imprisonment of U.S. citizen Aya Hegazy, who has been held in pretrial detention in Egypt for more than a year. The verdict in her case was recently postponed to April 16.

Other human rights issues or concerns are also unlikely to find a place on the agenda. And while it is worth noting that Egypt expressed dissatisfaction with the State Department’s recent 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Cairo linked its discontent to the previous administration, saying it “reflected the view of the former Obama administration which had always sought to tarnish the image of Egypt in any way.”

Deputy Foreign Minister for Human Rights Laila Bahaaeddin said the Egyptian government “decided not to make a lot of fuss in the media on a negative report which was issued by the outgoing administration” because Trump “has said he wants closer relations with Egypt.” Closer U.S.-Egypt ties in this context refer to strengthened U.S. support for Egypt’s national security interests, while issues of democratic governance and respect for human rights will be pushed aside.

Ultimately, we are unlikely to see any major developments come out of el-Sissi’s meeting with Trump. Rather, optics will dominate over substance.

The visit provides an important opportunity for the Egyptian government to take advantage of positive rhetoric from the White House regarding the U.S.-Egyptian partnership and to continue to push the idea of a “renewed” strategic relationship with this administration.

Elissa Miller is an assistant director at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

WHAT EGYPT’S EL-SISSI WANTS FROM TRUMP

 

Egypt President el-Sisi Says There is “No Doubt” that Donald Trump Would Make A Strong Leader
Image result for EL-SISI and trump

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi visits the White House to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump.

El-Sissi’s first visit to the White House is important for U.S.-Egypt relations. Both leaders have repeatedly expressed admiration for each other, and Cairo appears eager to push for a stronger bilateral relationship that it perceives will do more to benefit its interests than its strained relationship with the Obama administration.

Ahead of the visit, the White House released a statement praising the “positive momentum [Trump and el-Sissi] have built for the United States-Egypt relationship.” Cairo has also been vocal in expressing support for strategic U.S.-Egypt ties and enhanced cooperation under the Trump administration.

In addition to the overall strengthening of ties, el-Sissi likely has four major priorities for this visit: securing U.S. support for Egypt’s counterterror interests, pressuring the United States to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, promoting Egypt’s economic reform program, and presenting Egypt as a leading regional power.

Security and Terrorism

Egypt presents itself as being on “the frontlines of the global war against terrorism” and extremism. That narrative drives much of the Egyptian rhetoric surrounding U.S. military assistance to Cairo.

04_03_Sisi_Trump_02Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in New Delhi in September 2016. Elissa Miller writes that el-Sisi’s visit comes amid Trump’s proposed budget cuts, which would significantly reduce spending on U.S. foreign aid. However, the administration is unlikely to cut foreign military financing to Egypt, which makes up the bulk of the $1.3 billion in annual assistance the United States gives to Egypt.CATHAL MCNAUGHTON/REUTERS

During a recent visit to Washington, meetings included those with Deputy National Security Advisor K. T. McFarland and Senior Director for Middle East policies on the National Security Council Derek Harvey. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called for continued U.S. assistance for Egypt’s counterterror operations and efforts as crucial to maintaining regional stability. He further described Egypt as “the country most capable [of confronting] extremist ideology amidst a region engulfed in conflicts and disputes.”

Cairo has also made efforts to present military assistance to Egypt as beneficial for U.S. interests in the region. On March 30, Egyptian Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Mahmoud Hegazy met with the Commander General of U.S. Army Central Michael Garrett to discuss military cooperation. A statement from the Egyptian military said that the meeting focused on the importance of continuing coordination and strengthening ties “in a way that serves the mutual interests [of both countries].” This rhetoric will certainly be echoed by el-Sissi during his Washington visit.

El-Sissi’s meeting with Trump also comes on the heels of two other major global meetings, both of which offered Cairo an opportunity to discuss Egypt’s counterterror vision ahead of el-Sissi’s visit with Trump.

On March 22, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hosted a 68-member meeting of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS in Washington. At the meeting, Foreign Minister Shoukry emphasized Egypt’s efforts to fight extremist ideologies through “religious moderate platforms.” In 2015, el-Sissi called for a “religious revolution” and urged Islamic scholars to engage in reforms that would help combat extremism.

Cairo has been battling militants in the Sinai since 2013; in late 2014, the militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged loyalty to ISIS. Days later in Amman, Jordan, at the 28th Arab summit, el-Sissi called for a “comprehensive” approach to fighting terrorism in the Middle East that underlines the role religious institutions, particularly Egypt’s al-Azhar, can play in that effort.

Sissi’s visit also comes amid Trump’s proposed budget cuts, which would significantly reduce spending on U.S. foreign aid. However, the administration is unlikely to decrease foreign military financing to Egypt, which makes up the bulk of the $1.3 billion in annual assistance the United States gives to Egypt.

Still, Egypt may also use the visit and the surrounding security rhetoric to advocate for the renewal of cash flow financing (CFF), a perk allowing Egypt to buy U.S. defense equipment on credit, which the Obama administration ordered to be terminated by 2018. In the current budget climate, it appears unlikely a decision would be made to continue CFF in its current form post-2018, despite efforts by some U.S. lawmakers to push legislation to reverse the Obama-era decision.

Muslim Brotherhood

In the aftermath of the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Egypt banned the Muslim Brotherhood and labeled the group a terrorist organization. While there has been much debate in Washington since Trump’s inauguration regarding the possible designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization by the United States, the administration has reportedly put on hold an executive order on the Brotherhood, possibly following an internal State Department memo, which advised against such an action.

Still, Egypt will continue to push for Trump to make the designation. An Egyptian delegation that included several members of parliament visited the United States ahead of el-Sissi’s arrival with the goal of pressuring the U.S. administration and members of Congress to designate the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

However, the administration is unlikely to follow through on such a step anytime soon because the Brotherhood is a global organization and labeling it a terrorist organization would impact U.S. policy in other countries. Brotherhood-affiliated political parties are major U.S. allies, including those in Jordan and Tunisia. Indeed, the Tunisian Islamist party Ennahda has played a key role in Tunisia’s transition toward democracy.

Economy

Egypt will also seek to promote its economic reform and attract U.S. investments. As part of its economic reform program, Egypt has adopted a flexible exchange rate, enacted a value-added tax and increased fuel prices.

In November 2016, Egypt signed a three-year $12 billion agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that aimed to help the country achieve macroeconomic stability and promote inclusive growth. Egypt has also been negotiating funding agreements to fulfill its ambitious commitments in the IMF program with France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and other G8 member countries.

U.S. investments in Egypt are important as Cairo seeks to attract more foreign direct investment. Last week, Egyptian Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr chaired a conference with the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt. Nasr highlighted new investment opportunities in the country, which included new legislation that aims to minimize obstacles to would-be investors.

At the conference, AmCham Egypt President Anis Aclimandos said he was optimistic that the United States would increase investment in Egypt. Notably, el-Sissi will be accompanied in Washington by representatives from AmCham Egypt and the U.S.-Egypt Business Council, who will meet with U.S. businessmen to explain Egypt’s economic reform plans.

It is also worth noting that Egyptian intelligence recently hired two public relations firms in Washington to boost the country’s image in the United States and highlight, among other things, Cairo’s economic development efforts.

Regional Matters

Regional challenges will be high on the agenda during the Trump and el-Sissi meeting—not least of which is Israeli-Palestinian peace. El-Sissi is among the Arab leaders in Jordan this week for the 28th Arab summit, a major focus of the summit being Palestinian statehood.

El-Sissi has sought to position Egypt as a leading regional actor on this issue. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with el-Sissi in Cairo ahead of the Arab summit to discuss the U.S. administration’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue as well as Palestinian economic development and security. These issues were also discussed in Foreign Minister Shoukry’s meetings with Trump administration officials prior to the el-Sissi visit, who, according to the foreign ministry, were “keen to listen to the Egyptian perspective.”

Finally, el-Sissi is expected to discuss other critical regional issues, including the war in Syria, conflict in Yemen and instability in Libya. Egypt has worked to position itself as a regional leader on counterterrorism and a bastion of stability in a turbulent region. El-Sissi will likely present Cairo as a key U.S. partner in tackling regional instability.

Conclusion

There are certainly several topics that are not likely to be on the table for discussion. One of these is the imprisonment of U.S. citizen Aya Hegazy, who has been held in pretrial detention in Egypt for more than a year. The verdict in her case was recently postponed to April 16.

Other human rights issues or concerns are also unlikely to find a place on the agenda. And while it is worth noting that Egypt expressed dissatisfaction with the State Department’s recent 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Cairo linked its discontent to the previous administration, saying it “reflected the view of the former Obama administration which had always sought to tarnish the image of Egypt in any way.”

Deputy Foreign Minister for Human Rights Laila Bahaaeddin said the Egyptian government “decided not to make a lot of fuss in the media on a negative report which was issued by the outgoing administration” because Trump “has said he wants closer relations with Egypt.” Closer U.S.-Egypt ties in this context refer to strengthened U.S. support for Egypt’s national security interests, while issues of democratic governance and respect for human rights will be pushed aside.

Ultimately, we are unlikely to see any major developments come out of el-Sissi’s meeting with Trump. Rather, optics will dominate over substance.

The visit provides an important opportunity for the Egyptian government to take advantage of positive rhetoric from the White House regarding the U.S.-Egyptian partnership and to continue to push the idea of a “renewed” strategic relationship with this administration.

Elissa Miller is an assistant director at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

Egypt Boosts Navy As Part Of Red Sea Controlling Strategy

By Amr Emam,  

Over the past two years, Egypt spent bil­lions to upgrade its navy, buying helicopter carriers from France, frigates from Russia and subma­rines from Germany. Photo by AHMED XIV/Wikimedia

CAIRO, Egypt — By establishing a naval force in the Red Sea, Egypt aims for more than protecting navigation in the Suez Canal, a vital wa­terway for international trade, mili­tary experts said.

“The force will be the backbone of Egypt’s new Red Sea strategy,” former Assistant Defense Minis­ter Hossam Suweilam said. “There is a marked surge of unrest in the southern entrance to the Red Sea, which needs an aggressive policy.”

The new force utilizes recently acquired naval equipment, includ­ing a French-made multifunction helicopter carrier.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the new force would help his country protect its coast. Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi said the force would help Egypt impose control on its territorial waters in the Red Sea.

Cash-strapped Egypt spent bil­lions of dollars to upgrade its navy over the past two years. It bought two helicopter carriers from France, frigates from Russia and subma­rines from Germany. Cairo does this for a purpose, military experts said.

In 2015, Egypt spent almost $8 billion to dig a parallel channel to shorten transit time in the Suez Ca­nal. It also dug tunnels under the canal to deliver water and ease the movement of people and goods to and from Sinai.

These huge investments are only part of Egypt’s vision for the Suez Canal region, one that cannot be implemented without proper secu­rity in the Red Sea, experts said.

Egypt wants to turn the banks of the canal into an investment mag­net where vast industrial zones, huge logistics areas and extensive service facilities are planned. Egypt plans to attract hundreds of bil­lions of dollars in investments to the region. In 2015, revenues from the Suez Canal totaled $5.2 bil­lion, which did a lot to buoy Egypt’s struggling economy.

Analysts in Cairo said Sisi does not squander the limited funds available at the central bank with a purpose in mind.

Last April 8, Sisi ordered Prime Minister Sherif Ismail to sign a mar­itime border demarcation agree­ment with Saudi Arabia. The deal includes the handover of two dis­puted Red Sea islands to Riyadh. Egyptians now debate whether the islands are Saudi.

Absent from the conversation, however, are the reasons Sisi insists to demarcate the maritime border with the Saudis. He has said Egypt cannot explore its territorial wa­ters for oil without defining its sea boundaries.

He mentioned a similar agree­ment with Greece and Cyprus. A few months after Egypt signed the agreement with both states, Italian state-owned petroleum company Eni announced the discovery of the East Mediterranean’s largest natu­ral gas field off Egypt’s coast.

There is a strong probability of Egypt’s territorial Red Sea waters containing wealth so huge that Sisi is ready to risk angering his people with the maritime border demarca­tion deal with Saudi Arabia.

“Such a potential wealth is badly in need of a military power to pro­tect it,” said Nasr Salem, a lecturer at Nasser Military Academy, the army’s strategic and military sci­ence institute. “We cannot leave the billions of dollars we spend on investments in the Red Sea without protection.”

Parliament is to debate the deal soon. Analysts expect that after deal approval, Egypt would offer concessions to international oil firms to explore Red Sea territorial waters.

Fear for these investments and potential wealth lies, meanwhile, more southward, near the coast of restive Yemen where the Houthi militia controls key port cities near the Bab el Mandeb strait, politi­cal experts said. The Houthis have threatened Red Sea navigation many times.

The establishment of the new Egyptian naval fleet comes after pro-Saudi forces in Yemen failed to capture the country’s port cities.

The fear in Egypt is that the Houthis can threaten traffic in the strait, which would deal an irre­versible blow to the Suez Canal.

Close to 4 million barrels of oil pass through the Bab el Mandeb strait en route to markets in Europe and the United States every day, most of which is moved through the Suez Canal, the U.S. Energy In­formation Administration said.

A disruption of traffic at the strait would be catastrophic to Egypt and the world.

“This is exactly why Egypt takes the security of this area very seri­ously,” said Mohamed Kamal, a political science professor at Cairo University. “Whoever controls the southern entrance to the Red Sea will control the Suez Canal and Egypt cannot leave this control in the hands of anybody else.”

This article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.

What is the Beef between South Sudan and EPRDF?

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — South Sudan’s ambassador to Ethiopia is dismissing reports that relations are strained between the two countries after President Salva Kiir visited Egypt and met with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo earlier this month.

South Sudan’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union, James Pitia Morgan, made the remarks after some Ethiopian and South Sudanese media outlets reported that South Sudan and Egypt signed what they called a “dirty deal” to arm Ethiopian opposition groups based in South Sudan who aim to sabotage the big dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile River.

Egypt has long felt that the massive dam Ethiopia is currently building will decrease its share of Nile waters, despite Ethiopia’s assurances that it won’t. This raised tensions between the two countries and the Ethiopian Prime Minister recently charged that “some elements within the Egyptian government” are supporting the unrest in his country.

Despite the tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt, South Sudan wants to have good relations with both, said Morgan.

Tewolde Mulugeta, spokesman for the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, agreed with the ambassador’s remarks saying that South Sudan and Ethiopia enjoy good relations.

Ethiopia currently hosts close to 300,000 South Sudanese refugees, most of whom fled after conflict broke out in the world’s newest nation in December 2013, according to U.N estimates.

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