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Minister stresses Egypt's right to Nile water in Parliament

20 April 2010
CAIRO: Egypt won't sign any agreements that would hamper its "historical rights" to Nile water, the Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources told Parliament Monday.

"If Nile basin countries unilaterally sign a water-sharing agreement, it will be in violation of international law and the Nile basin initiative which was signed in 1959," Minister Mohamed Nasr Eldin Allam said.

"Egypt will not be obliged by this agreement which will not be legal," he added.

Minister of Legal Affairs and Parliamentary Councils Mofid Shehab reiterated that international laws governing international rivers prohibit any of the countries through which the river passes from any act that would hamper navigation, affect its water or threaten the interests of other countries.

Shehab referred to numerous agreements struck with all Nile basin countries -- 1891, 1906, 1925, 1929, 1959 and 1991 -- that continue to be valid regardless of regime change.

In 1929 Egypt had signed an agreement with Britain as a representative of the occupied Nile basin countries, which gives Egypt 55.5 billion cubic meters of water each year -- 87 percent of the Nile's flow -- and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic meters.

"Egypt reserves the right to take whatever course it sees suitable to safeguard its share," Allam said.

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"If the Nile basin countries unilaterally sign the agreement, this would be considered a declaration of the Nile Basin Initiative's death," he said.

But many maintain that diplomacy remains the only viable solution to any conflicts arising over water rights.

During the parliamentary session Zakaria Azmi, chief of the presidential staff, objected to National Democratic Party MP Abdel-Rehim El-Ghoul's statement that future wars would be over water and "we welcome this war if it is imposed to us."

Azmi explained that "this is a serious issue which should be handled with diplomacy." In response, El-Ghoul retracted his statement and asked to delete it from the PA records.

Parliament Speaker Fathi Sorour commented that the relationship between Nile basin countries must be conducted in a spirit of brotherhood.

During negotiations held in Sharm El-Sheikh last week, however, the 10 African governments failed to reach an agreement.

In addition to maintaining its current share of Nile water, Egypt insisted on having veto power over any new irrigation projects undertaken by the other nine countries.

The Sub-Saharan African states have rejected the clause and called for the signing of a revised agreement.

By Magdy Samaan

© Daily News Egypt 2010

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