International law experts review Egypt’s position on water agreements

The government has been relying on foreign international law experts to revisit the water treaties that the country signed with Nile Basin states, Al-Masry Al-Youm has learned. The agreements under review include ones signed during the British occupation and others ratified after the July revolution of 1952.
Experts predict that Egypt will prepare a file on the historic agreements over Nile water to submit to international arbitration in the event that downstream states sign a separate deal excluding Egypt and Sudan. 

According to a classified report submitted to the government, the review by foreign experts has found that past agreements and treaties cannot be revoked and hence maintain international legitimacy. Experts argue that the Hague judged in 1989 that water deals are similar to frontier agreements, in the sense that they cannot be changed without a consensus between the concerned parties. Experts also suggested that President Mubarak commission the government to establish a new ministry that will coordinate cooperation with Nile Basin states, eliminating the problems that block investments in these countries, and work with other ministries to activate common joint projects in order to benefit from the river’s resources.

The government is currently preparing a comprehensive file of Nile Basin negotiations and the reasons for their failure, also tackling the future consequences of the crisis on a legal level. A commission of Egyptian experts in water issues is also planned to be set up, and the government intends to request that experts from the British government provide documents to strengthen Egypt’s position, since London has maintained copies of all treaties signed during its occupation of Egypt.
The government is also readying itself with responses to Ethiopian allegations that no deals were signed between the two countries to regulate the construction of dams and Nile resources. Egypt will use as evidence a letter of intent issued by the presidents of both countries in 1993, which was approved by the UN. The letter includes a pledge by Ethiopia not to implement any project that will impact the water flow to Egypt, and also grants the latter the right to obtain its share periodically.

Former Irrigation Minister Mahmoud Abu Zeid told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the letter is counted among the conventions that enjoy international legitimacy.

A government entity is now reviewing the results of the rounds of negotiations between Egypt and Nile Basin countries and the reasons for the failure of the talks held in Sharm el-Sheikh last week. All findings will be submitted to Mubarak so that he may make an appropriate decision.

Senior government sources said that the president stressed the importance of boosting cooperation with Nile Basin countries, making this a foreign policy priority.

On the other hand, former president for Monufiya University, Meghawri Shehata Diab, a water expert, said it was wrong to convene a meeting of Nile Basin leaders at this stage, which, he believes, will end in failure. He emphasized the importance of self-restraint on the Egyptian side.

Diab also said there is no international law regulating cross-border rivers. He warned that, in the scenario that downstream states sign a separate deal excluding Egypt and Sudan, Egypt should be ready to turn to international arbitration.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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