Arab League Backs Calls for UN Intervention in Dam Dispute

United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City. (Patrick Gruban)

Arab foreign ministers Tuesday backed calls for the United Nations Security Council to intervene in the contentious case of Ethiopia’s massive dam, built on one of the main tributaries of the Nile River.

The decision came during a diplomatic meeting in Qatar called by downstream Nile countries Egypt and Sudan.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a press conference that the Arab countries will press for the Security Council to hold an urgent session on the decade-long dame dispute.

The Doha meeting came after years of failed negotiations between Ethiopia, on one side, and Egypt and Sudan on the other. Egypt and Sudan have both previously called for the U.S., the European Union and the U.N. to join the talks as mediators along with the African Union, which is leading efforts to reach a deal. Ethiopia has rejected the idea.

The main sticking points in past negotiations have been determining a mechanism to deal with future water disputes and how the river’s waters should be allocated during droughts.

Tuesday’s development came amid diplomatic and political pressure by Egypt and Sudan on Ethiopia ahead its planned second phase of filling the dam.

“There is a united Arab position,” Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said in the same press conference following the meeting attended by 17 foreign ministers from the region. “Water security is about survival for mankind, and for the peoples of Sudan and Egypt.”

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said Friday it had sent a letter to the Security Council to explain its position. It accused Ethiopia of failing to help reach a “fair, balanced and legally binding” agreement in previous talks overseen by the African Union.

There was no immediate comment from Ethiopian leaders. Ethiopia has maintained that the dam, which it has fully financed, will help pull millions of its nearly 110 million citizens out of poverty and make the country a major power exporter.

Doha’s hosting of the meeting marks a new beginning for the Egypt-Qatar relationship and Qatar’s re-emergence on the regional diplomatic stage after years of relative isolation. Egypt, along with other Gulf countries, was party to a boycott of Qatar that was based largely on its ties to Turkey and Iran.

A January declaration put an end to the diplomatic crisis that began in 2017 with a rift between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on one side and Qatar on the other.

The four countries had jointly boycotted Qatar and hoped an embargo and media blitz would pressure it to end its close relations with Turkey and Iran. Egypt and the UAE have viewed the support by Qatar and Turkey of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood as a security threat. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were primarily concerned about Qatar’s ties with Iran.

The countries accused Qatar of cozying up to Iran and financing extremist groups in the region, though Doha denied the charges. Qatar-based satellite news network Al Jazeera was at the center of the dispute. The four nations demanded its closure among other measures, which Qatar rejected.


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