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Middle East

Mursi aide apologizes over embarrassing live Egypt gaffe

File - In this Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 file, a traditional felucca sailing boat carries a cargo of hay as it transits the Nile river passing the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

CAIRO: An aide to Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi has apologized after she failed to inform politicians holding talks with the president that they were live on air, allowing viewers to watch them cook up plans to sabotage a dam in Ethiopia. “Due to the importance of the topic it was decided at the last minute to air the meeting live. I forgot to inform the participants about the changes,” presidential aide for political affairs Pakinam al-Sharkawi said.

“I apologize for any embarrassment caused to the political leaders,” she said on Twitter.

The talks, chaired by Mursi, revolved around a report of a tripartite Egypt-Sudan-Ethiopia commission on Ethiopia’s decision to divert the Blue Nile for a massive dam project, sparking fears of a major impact on downstream states Egypt and Sudan.

Seated around a large table, the politicians, thinking this was a closed meeting, began to suggest ideas for ways to stop the dam project.

Ayman Nour, head of the liberal Ghad Party, suggested spreading rumors that Egypt was buying military planes in order to put “pressure” on Ethiopia, he said.

He also suggested Cairo send political, intelligence and military teams to Addis Ababa because “we need to intervene in their domestic affairs.”

He slammed Sudan’s stance as “disgusting” for not standing by Egypt in stronger terms.

Yunis Makhyun, who heads the conservative Islamist Nur Party, said the dam constituted a “strategic danger for Egypt,” requiring Cairo to support Ethiopian rebels “which would put pressure on the Ethiopian government.”

The meeting, a huge embarrassment both for the presidency and the opposition members who attended, caused a storm of ridicule and anger in the media and prompted even those who didn’t attend to apologize on behalf of Egyptians.

“Sincere apologies to the people and governments of Ethiopia & Sudan for the irresponsible utterances at the president’s ‘national dialogue,’” wrote leading dissident and former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohammad ElBaradei on Twitter.

“A scandal in front of the world,” read the headline of the independent daily Al-Tahrir.

Popular talk show host Reem Magued, who aired parts of the meeting on her show, said: “It’s true that we asked for transparency from the government but not like this, not to the point of scandal.”

In Addis Ababa, Water and Energy Minister Alemayehu Tegenu said he had not heard about the incident, but insisted that Ethiopia’s relationship with Egypt remained “healthy.”

“I believe that our relationship will continue in a very healthy way,” Alemayehu told AFP. “We don’t believe in military intervention for such peaceful Ethiopian efforts to overcome poverty.”

He insisted that water levels would not be affected by the construction of the dam: “Why diversion is a headache for some groups, I am not clear about. Any layman can understand what river diversion means.”

Ethiopia has begun diverting the Blue Nile 500 meters from its natural course to construct a $4.2 billion hydroelectric project known as Grand Renaissance Dam.

The first phase of construction is expected to be complete in three years, with a capacity of 700 megawatts. Once complete the dam will have a capacity of 6,000 megawatts.

Egypt believes its “historic rights” to the Nile are guaranteed by two treaties from 1929 and 1959 which allow it 87 percent of the Nile’s flow and give it veto power over upstream projects.

However, a new deal was signed in 2010 by other Nile Basin countries, including Ethiopia, allowing them to work on river projects without Egypt’s prior agreement.

Alemayehu insisted Ethiopia was committed to sharing Nile resources with the region.

“Ethiopia’s agenda is development, Ethiopia is a country which is fighting against poverty and Ethiopia is a country that is developing with its resources to benefit its people and wants to live with neighboring countries peacefully, sharing its resources,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 05, 2013, on page 9.

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