Will Egypt still get its fair share of Nile water?


The Declaration of Principles signed in Khartoum by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia reopened the unresolved dispute over the sharing of Nile water, and raised once more the thorny issue of the Renaissance Dam. The declaration aims to set the main principles that would protect the interests of downstream countries, whose share is expected to be threatened by the completion of the Ethiopian dam.

The declaration has been met with mixed reactions. Many question how binding it is on the Ethiopian side, while others see it as a positive step toward ending a crisis that is detrimental to Egypt’s security.

Amr Hamzawi, professor of political science, said the state opting for negotiating to end the standoff is in itself a promising step. “Establishing this kind of dialogue shows that Egypt respects Ethiopia’s development aspirations as represented by the Renaissance Dam while making sure its own rights are not compromised,” he wrote.

“The declaration also eliminates any possibility of a military conflict between the two countries and instead initiates a stage of cooperation in tandem with Sudan and later other Nile Basin countries as well as foreign parties like the U.S., the EU, China, and international financial organizations.”


However, Hamzawi said there were still reasons for concern. “The state has not been transparent enough about how this declaration can actually save Egypt from the impending danger of losing much of the water it badly needs. We have not been informed of the core of this declaration and several questions are not answered like the capacity of the new dam’s reservoir as well as the bilateral talks between Sudan and Ethiopia and the way the two countries would guarantee not infringing on Egypt’s rights.”

Despite his concerns, Hamzawi criticized political factions that saw objection to the agreement as a way of expressing opposition to the government. “Several parties were quick to condemn the agreement without knowing the details and without proposing any alternative solutions to the problem. Voicing valid objections to some of the regime’s practices is one thing and objecting for the sake of objection is another.”

Hamzawi said opposition forces could still criticize the government while objectively supporting its reasonable steps toward maintaining Egypt’s strategic interests.

Nader Nour al-Din, professor of irrigation and water resources, sees the declaration as a mere formality that jeopardizes rather than guarantees Egypt’s rights. According to Nour al-Din, who said he consulted a renowned international law expert on the matter, Ethiopia is the party that emerged victorious after signing the declaration.

“Through signing the declaration, Egypt is bestowing legitimacy on the Renaissance Dam,” he said. “Now that the three Eastern Nile countries have signed the declaration, all international funding for the dam will resume right away. This means $5.5 billion from the National Bank of China, $1 billion from Italy and $1 billion from South Korea, in addition to support from the World Bank.”

The declaration, he added, does not include guarantees that Egypt’s share will be maintained, since Ethiopia did not commit to a specific amount of water to reach Egypt following the construction of the dam. “With this declaration, Ethiopia took everything and Egypt ended up with nothing.”

Nour al-Din said in earlier statements that the World Bank refused to fund the dam because of the harm it would do to Egypt and Sudan, and because of Ethiopia’s history of violating the water rights of its neighbors.

“Ethiopia harmed Kenya by constructing three dams, thus violating an earlier pledge to construct only one dam,” he said. “This deprived Kenya of huge amounts of water and led to the displacement of 5 million Kenyans.” He says Ethiopia “will betray Egypt and keep all the water.”


Hani Raslan, head of the Water Resources Unit at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said the declaration was not binding on any of the parties, but only offered a general framework for future dealings between the signatories. However, he disagrees that the declaration harms Egypt’s interests.

“Nothing in the declaration says that Egypt approves the capacity of the dam’s reservoir since this issue is still being negotiated,” he wrote. “Also, the declaration is not about Egypt’s share of Nile water but only about the dispute over the dam, which means that there is no infringement on Egypt’s historical right to the Nile and the agreements that regulate it.”

Raslan said the declaration is based on the principles of international law and the U.N. Charter, and provides political benefits. “Signing the declaration will improve Egypt’s image on the regional and international levels after the shameful way the Muslim Brotherhood government dealt with the dam issue,” he said.

Raslan was referring to the conference presided over by ousted President Mohamed Mursi and broadcast live without attendees’ knowledge, in which several politicians made derogatory remarks against Ethiopia and suggested hostile ways of dealing with the crisis.

Raslan said the declaration made Ethiopia morally committed before the world to respecting Egypt’s water rights. “At least, Ethiopia is now acknowledging a set of principles that it had earlier denied.”

Water resources expert Ahmed Fawzi refuted claims that signing the declaration means Egypt’s approval of the construction of the Renaissance Dam. “The declaration makes Ethiopia committed to the report that is to be issued by the international consultative office on the impact of the dam on downstream countries,” he said.

Fawzi was referring to the office that is to be chosen by the Tripartite Committee of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, made up of the declaration’s three signatories, and whose findings are to be respected by the three countries as the declaration stipulates. “This is the first time Ethiopia signs an official document that recognizes Egypt’s rights, and the first time it doesn’t contest historical agreements that warrant those rights.”

Damage limitation

Political science lecturer Rawia Tawfik said the declaration was a manifestation of “the diplomacy of managing losses.” After Ethiopia’s insistence on going ahead with the construction of the dam, Egypt had no choice but to resort to negotiations, she said. “The balance of power is now in favor of Ethiopia based on its location as an upstream country that controls 85% of Nile water flowing from the Ethiopian Highlands,” she wrote.

Tawfik said it was important to consider that Ethiopia had since the 1950s been against agreements that guaranteed Egypt’s share of Nile water. “Ethiopia has always considered those agreements an insult to its national dignity since being the country that provides the Nile with most of its water it was not consulted in any of them,” she wrote. “Against this backdrop, the declaration seems a step forward.”

However, Tawfik said Ethiopia would benefit from this declaration more than Egypt. “While Ethiopia is seeing its national dream come true, Egypt is only trying to minimize the damage.”

Egypt’s New Capital: The Promise and the Illusion

Egypt’s New Capital: The Promise and the Illusion

The highlight of Egypt’s three-day investment conference held in mid-March was the announcement of a new capital city. The news also proved to be the most controversial of the international gathering, where Egypt concluded dealssurpassing all previously announced expectations. The 700-square kilometer new capital, the first phase of which it is estimated will cost $45 billion, will be home to administrative facilities currently located in the heart of Cairo, including the parliament, ministries, embassies, and consulates, as well as the presidential palace, and residential areas expected to accommodate more than 7 million people. The government is anticipating the completion of the new capital in a short five to seven years. While the scale model displayed at the conference venue in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh and the documentary played for conference attendees unveiled an impressive megaproject that seems capable of solving Cairo’s chronic problems, skepticism over its success, let alone the feasibility of such an over-ambitious plan has given rise to a heated debate.

Economic expert and former International Monetary Fund official Fakhri al-Fekkisupports the establishment of a new administrative capital to reduce pressure on the densely populated Cairo. “Transferring government buildings to a new city is now a necessity,” he said, adding that Cairo will remain the official capital. Fekki, however, objects to the choice of location. “National security was not put into consideration when choosing a place that is close to the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula.” Fekki is also opposed to the timeframe for completing the project. “The current economic situation in Egypt would not allow the immediate implementation of a project of such magnitude,” he explained. “True, it is important to lay the foundations for a new administrative capital, but not start working on it right away. This could be done gradually as the Egyptian economy picks up and as Egypt’s ability to attract investment increases.”

Professor of International Economics and former Dean at the National Planning Institute Mahmoud Abdel Hayy also supports the idea of an administrative capital, but argued that it is not a priority at the present time. “Investing in water, electricity, oil, and land reclamation should be the topmost priority because this is what offers real security for citizens,” he said, adding that the new city will be another replica of upscale suburban areas built outside Cairo during the Mubarak era. “Those cities only widen the gap between the rich and the poor because only the rich can afford to live there and the poor won’t be able to work there because of the cost of commuting.”

Associate Professor of Economics Ehab al-Dessouki, however, says the advantages of the new capital cannot be overlooked. “Establishing the new city will lead to developing a large part of the desert and will expand Cairo all the way to the coastal city of al-Ain al-Sokhna,” he said. “It will also reduce the pressure on Cairo’s infrastructure and will eventually result in less pollution and congestion.” The project, Dessouki added, will introduce Egyptians to the possibility of going out of the old capital and seeking opportunities in a new city that is expected to offer a large number of jobs. Dessouki, however, noted that there is no guarantee that Egyptians who will work or live in the new capital will not remain attached in one way or another to the old one, which will therefore continue to suffer from the same kinds of pressure it faces today.

Adham Selim, architect and researcher at the Frankfurt-based Städelschule,disagrees with the theory that a new city will reduce pressure on Cairo at all. “If you build a new capital that close to the old one, it is impossible for the problems of the latter not to affect the former,” he said. “In fact, the services and utilities that need to be provided for the new city are bound to constitute a burden on the networks already suffering in the old capital, so the more the new capital demands, the worse the services in the old one will become.” Selim added that even if the new capital offers job opportunities, workers will most likely commute from the old capital. “This will lead to tremendous pressure on public transportation between the two cities especially during rush hour.” According to Professor of Urban Planning Ashraf Fahim, this problem will not be solved unless the government starts new bus lines that connect the old and new capitals and extends the subway to cover the new areas. “Yet, even after doing so, traffic between the two capitals will remain a problem especially since people currently working in ministries and main government facilities live in Cairo,” he said. “Only building housing complexes at the new capital for those employees and making them available for rent at cheaper prices than Cairo would eliminate this obstacle.” Fahim, however, does see a new capital as a step forward for Egypt, provided that it is implemented in the right way. “All government bodies should coordinate to make this project work in a way that really allows Egyptians to get out of the 6 percent [of land] to which they have been confined for hundreds of years,” he said, adding that the government cannot cancel the project after it was officially announced to the world at the conference.

Urban policies researcher Yehia Shawkat argues the policy of constructing new cities to alleviate pressure on Cairo has so far proven a failure because the percentage of the population that actually moves there is meager. “Around twenty new cities have been built throughout the past decades. The total number of housing units in those cities amounts to one million, only a quarter of which are inhabited,” he said. “It is clear that the policy of redistributing the population is not working, yet the government keeps building more cities.” Shawkat added the majority of Cairo’s inhabitants are workers who are tied to the places where they run their small businesses. “They are not going to move to a new city that mainly offers administrative services and they are the biggest population block,” he said. “A study about who is to live in the new city has to be conducted.” In addition to agreeing with many experts as far as increasing the burden on Cairo’s resources is concerned, Shawkat noted that the construction sector will focus on the new city and neglect the old one, which is in dire need of maintenance and development. “This will make the new capital an enterprise which creates an economic bubble, meaning that it will lead to temporary and unreal economic prosperity.”

The initial euphoria over the construction of the new capital is gradually fading with a sizable number of experts underlining the negative impact of the project, and downplaying the economic and demographic benefits it is expected to bring. Some have also questioned the completion of the megaproject, pointing to Egypt’s recent history of similar plans that have failed to materialize. Linking this project to other equally ambitious ones, like the new Suez Canal, might play a role in increasing concerns as many wonder if the state’s image as the initiator of major development projects takes precedence over what it can actually achieve on the ground.

Post-revolution, what have Egyptian women gained?

Feminists and women’s rights activists were among the most hopeful when the Jan. 2011 revolution took place with promises of equality. However, women’s rights issues remains a subject of much controversy. Four years since the first post-revolutionary International Women’s Day, is the annual celebration being matched by changes on the ground?

Hassan al-Shamy, a member of the Arabic Organization for Human Rights (AOHR), said Egyptian women have not been rewarded for their role in the revolution. “Women paid with their lives and… participated in all important political events that followed the revolution, yet weren’t adequately appreciated.”

Shamy said allocating half of parliamentary seats for women is among the most crucial steps that need to be taken toward gender equality. “Women should also have access to all kinds of official positions.”

An AOHR statement expressed concern over the safety of women during protests, and cited the recent death of leftist activist Shaimaa al-Sabagh in a peaceful march commemorating the fourth anniversary of the revolution. “Sabagh’s fate is an indication of the spread of violence against women even though article (11) of the constitution grants women full rights,” said the statement.

The Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions issued a statement highlighting the reasons why women have not been granted enough rights post-revolution. “On the financial level, most women are still dependent on the male members of their families and on the political level, they are still not equated… even though the 2014 constitution prohibited discrimination between men and women.”

The statement added that constitutional and legal rights will never be efficient as long as social constructs are not drastically altered. “We still live in a patriarchal society where tradition takes precedence and where women are still expected to be confined to the domain of the house while men dominate public space.”

Haitham al-Hariri, a member of Al-Dostour party, said the state cares about women only as voters. “Only during times of elections and referenda are women given extra care and their participation in the political scene is promoted as crucial. Yet when this isn’t the case, women are still raped and sexually assaulted in the streets.”

The next parliament, Hariri added, will be an indication of whether actual change will take place. “The percentage of women in the previous parliament was shameful,” he said, in reference the predominantly Islamist parliament elected after the revolution.

Mixed bag

However, writer Ola Abdullah wrote that the 2014 constitution, drafted after the toppling of President Mohamed Mursi, has done great justice to women. “Women have a special status in the 2014 constitution. Around 20 articles in this constitution are directly about women and focus especially on equality between men and women in all civilian, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, granting women access to senior official position, and protecting women from all sorts of violence.”

Some things, she adds, have also been achieved since 2011. “The percentage of women occupying official positions reached 36.3% in 2013 and the current government features five women ministers while the diplomatic representation of women rose to 22.5% in 2012.”

On the downside, Abdullah said the percentage of women in the judiciary does not exceed 4 percent, and women are still unable to join the General Prosecution Authority or the State Council. “There are also certain offices that women have never occupied like president, prime minister, and governor.”

Abdullah said the number of female registered voters rose to 48 percent in 2012, which translates to 23 million, and the participation of women in the various polling processes since the revolution was historic, yet this is not reflected in female representation.

“Women constituted only 2% of the 2012 parliament and the new constitution did not specify a quota of women in upcoming parliaments and only allocated one quarter of municipal councils to women.”

Abdullah said violence against women remains the toughest challenge. “A 2014 report showed that 91% of women in the country and 85% in the city are subjected to female genital mutilation. And 99.3% of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed.”

This issue, said Abdullah, still awaits the next parliament which will look into a draft law prepared by the National Council for Women and aimed at countering violence against women.

A study by the Cairo Center for Development and Human Rights said cancelling the women’s quota is a major reason why their representation in the 2012 parliament was very weak.

This “is bound to limit the number of seats women will get in the 2015 elections,” said Amr Samir, a researcher in political sociology and a participant in the study. “This issue won’t be solved until article (11) of the 2014 constitution about gender equality, which is one of the best since the 1923 constitution, is implemented through a set of legislations.”

The study recommends allocating 60 percent of each electoral list to women and 50 percent of the total number of seats. “Other recommendations include exempting women from the administrative fees of candidacy, and giving women space and airtime equal to men to promote their political agendas,” said Ali Hossam al-Din, a political researcher and another participant in the study.

Political manipulation?

Some analysts view the underestimation of post-revolutionary achievements in women’s rights as influenced by international reports that magnify the problems facing women in Egypt. Howaida Mustafa, professor of mass communication, said members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been living in Europe since Mursi’s ouster, and have infiltrated many organizations to tarnish the image of Egypt.

“That’s why those reports are biased and only focus on condemning violations committed against women and ignoring all achievements,” she said. “The state is actually keen on including women in different decision-making positions, but the problem is that this isn’t shown in the media to counter outside claims.”

Mona Omar, former secretary-general of the National Council for Women, refuted allegations about the rise of sexual harassment and the prevalence of human trafficking in Egypt. “Egypt is witnessing a remarkable development in the field of women rights. The National Council for Women prepared a comprehensive plan for countering violence against women in coordination with 11 ministries.”

Omar said a special unit of female police has been created by the Interior Ministry to deal with sexual harassment. “The ministry is paying close attention to this issue, and the recent verdicts against harassers provide the ultimate proof.”

Hoda Badran, head of the Egyptian Feminist Union, said: “Women’s problems in Egypt are extremely exaggerated. This is only a political campaign.”

Why are Egyptian parliamentary elections postponed?


Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the first since the ouster of President Mohammad Mursi, have been suspended until further notice. The Supreme Constitutional Court ruling was based on the unconstitutionality of the Electoral Districts Law that divides the country into constituencies.

While the office of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the law will be modified as soon as possible, it is still unclear if this is the only obstacle, and if the verdict can be overturned with the drafting of a new law. It is also unclear when the elections, originally due to start on March 21, can be held.

According to official statements, the law will be modified as soon as the reasons for judging it unconstitutional are clear. “We are waiting for the report of the Supreme Constitutional Court to know what exactly was wrong with the law and whether we need to add or remove seats,” said General Refaat Qomsan, the prime minister’s advisor for electoral affairs.

The presidency’s statement stressed its full respect for court rulings and promised quick action. “Being keen on ensuring the legitimacy of all state institutions, the president ordered the drafting of a new law in not more than a month,” said the statement.

“It is very important for the president to carry out the third phase of the road map agreed on by all Egyptians,” the statement added, referring to the political agenda that followed Mursi’s ouster, which consisted of three stages: the constitution, the president and parliament.


Zaid Ali, senior advisor on constitution-building for International IDEA, said issuing a new law is expected to take much more time than estimated by the presidency, especially as there is no guarantee that the constitutionality of the new law will not be contested.

“The law’s drafters will now have to go back and redraft the law on the basis of the decision, which will take a while, and then the new versions of the law will also be subject to appeal,” he said, adding that the elections have practically been postponed indefinitely.

Saber Ammar, constitutional expert and member of the Supreme Committee for Legislative Reform, agreed: “The verdict of the Supreme Constitutional Court means that constituencies for individual candidates have to be divided from the beginning, which will take long, especially that this time those who draft the law need to be very meticulous so that no other appeals are filed.”

The process is not just about the law, he added. “All the procedures will be repeated from the beginning, including the applications and selection of candidates.”


Mohamed Abul Ghar, activist and chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, criticized the state for drafting laws before verifying their constitutionality. “The president does not want a parliament now,” he said. “That is why the call for holding the elections was delayed, and why the state keeps issuing laws that violate the constitution.”

Abul Ghar added that if the elections are eventually held, the resulting parliament will likely be very fragile and unable to make decisions. “This is exactly what the state wants: a parliament that does not act as a watchdog.”

He criticized the alleged interference of security apparatuses in the electoral process. “The National Security Bureau met with several wanna-be candidates, and asked some of them to run and others not to run,” he said, adding that the entire mechanism of parliamentary elections needs to be changed. “Otherwise, it will be just a postponement of another failing round of elections.”

Wahid Abdel Meguid, professor of political science and deputy chairman of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, blames the committee that drafted the law. “While drafting the law, the committee should have sent a memorandum to the Supreme Constitutional Court requesting clarification on articles of the constitution that concern parliamentary elections,” he wrote.


Abdel Meguid said terms such as “fair representation” are very broad, and it is unclear how they can be applied to the division of constituencies. “The calculation the committee did to determine the average number of citizens the MP represents was quite faulty, and led to a huge difference in the weight of each vote from one constituency to another,” he said.

Abdel Meguid blamed the state for not consulting experts and political parties before issuing the law. “The law should have… been brought forth for a communal discussion in order to have its defects underlined and redressed.”

Professor of constitutional law Dawoud al-Baz said while the division of constituencies is not usually mentioned in constitutions, and while there is no precedent for a fixed regulation for such a matter, there are several factors that need to be taken into consideration while drafting that law.

“The drafters of the law have to be very accurate in dividing constituencies in a way that makes sure there is no remarkable discrepancy in the number of voters in each constituency, and the imbalance that characterized the disputed law was bound to render the parliament itself illegitimate if the elections were held,” he said. “It is also important to consult politicians and statisticians while dividing constituencies.”

Baz added that it is necessary to abide by the main principles of the constitution while working on the law, in reference to the articles of the constitution (4,9, 53, 87 and 102) that the law violates by not treating citizens and voters equally.

“The division of constituencies for individual candidates shows that the drafters of the law did not observe the rules of fair representation for voters and citizens,” said the verdict. “The law discriminates between voters without any logical basis.”