Can social media campaigns change course of Nile dam talks?

The impact of Egypt’s social media campaigns promoting Egypt’s Nile water rights on decision-makers remains to be seen as Western countries have yet to openly back Egypt.

al-monitor An aerial view shows the Nile River before sunset in the Helwan suburb south of the capital Cairo, Egypt, June 20, 2020. Photo by KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images.

Jul 23, 2020

CAIRO — A group of Egyptian journalists announced July 1 the launch of a campaign to support Egypt in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations, according to Masrawy news website.

The campaign officials created pages on social media under the name “Let Nile Flow,” to assert Egypt's right to the Nile waters. The campaign aims to highlight the dangers of the Ethiopian dam on Egypt and to rebuke and respond to fallacies.

On June 26, the Egyptian Ministry of Immigration released a short documentary — "The Nile is Our Life" — on Egypt’s historical right to the Nile waters.

Immigration Minister Nabila Makram explained on Facebook that the documentary is being released in seven languages — English, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Arabic — and called on Egyptian expatriates to share it widely.

The day before, Makram had posted on Facebook the German-language film “Voice of Egypt,” as part of another campaign launched by her ministry to support Egypt's Nile waters right.

The ministry had launched on Facebook the Arabic hashtag #Support_Egypt_right_in_the_Nile, calling on all Egyptians and non-Egyptians to sign a petition — titled “Egyptians' Right to the Water of the Nile” — on change.org, a US website that publishes popular campaigns.

Maha Salem, the official spokesman for the Immigration Ministry, said the Egyptian state will rely on media campaigns in newspapers and on social media to shed light on the GERD issue and its impact on Egypt’s water security. This comes as part of the state’s efforts to use technology to advocate Egypt's Nile water rights through all diplomatic and popular means, she told Al-Monitor.

Salem said that the Egyptian government has prepared an integrated plan to defend its right to the waters of the Nile. “Egyptian media and social media campaigns and petitions are part of a plan to highlight Egypt's right to a fair quota of the Nile waters. Egypt does not seek to impede development in Ethiopia in any way, but seeks to guarantee the right of the Ethiopian people to development, while also [protecting] the right of the Egyptians to benefit from the Nile waters.”

The latest tripartite negotiations, sponsored by the African Union, reached an impasse after 11 days, on July 14. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the talks did not yield any results and failed to resolve the technical and legal points of contention between Egypt and Ethiopia.

Salem stressed that the ministry is aware of the importance of familiarizing other countries with the GERD issue. “We launched campaigns on social media sites and produced ‘The Nile is Our Life’ documentary in seven languages. This will familiarize citizens and officials in Western countries and all countries of the world with the details of the current crisis that could affect security in the area if it remains unresolved.”

Al-Monitor spoke to one of the officials in charge of the journalists’ campaign. He said on condition of anonymity that the campaign was launched in coordination with the Egyptian government’s campaigns and aims to clarify the dangers of filling the GERD unilaterally by Ethiopia without signing an agreement with the two downstream countries — Egypt and Sudan. 

The official added, “One of the misconceptions that Ethiopia is promoting about the dam is that it will not affect Egypt’s share of the Nile waters. This is not true as Egypt is one of the countries battling water scarcity. It registered an average of renewable fresh water per person per year below the international average of 1,000 cubic meters even before the GERD was built, let alone after its filling.” 

In 2018, Egypt's per capita annual water supply reached less than 600 cubic meters. 

He stressed the urgent need to use all means to pressure Ethiopia and to shed light on the seriousness of the situation on Egyptian citizens if the dam is built without a clear agreement on its filling and operation process during droughts and prolonged droughts.

Commenting on the journalists’ initiative, the source explained that it aims to underline the political and diplomatic responsibilities of the international community, especially African countries, to step up and try to ward off the repercussions ensuing from the construction of the dam without Egypt’s consent. “This [the dam] exposes Egypt to the risk of drought and thus affects African security. Three major African countries [Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia] are involved in this crisis and their population exceeds 260 million citizens, which is close to a quarter of the population of the entire African continent.”

Ammar Ali Hassan, professor of political science at Cairo University, believes that Egypt's strategy to promote its water rights internationally and launch media campaigns and various initiatives has been somewhat successful so far. But the problem is that these efforts, he said, have yet to be translated into an actual solution to the crisis and an agreement on the contentious points about filling the dam.

Hassan told Al-Monitor over the phone that the international community has become aware of the dimensions of the crisis and its impact on Egypt, whether through documentaries produced by the Ministry of Immigration or online petitions. “But these campaigns do not seem to sway the decision-makers in these countries as they have yet to openly back Egypt’s rights to its water security,” he added.

He noted that the representatives of Western countries have issued statements emphasizing the importance of dialogue between all parties to reach a peaceful solution that satisfies all parties. No actual intervention has been made and no warning was issued against filling the dam.

Hassan stressed the importance of Arab solidarity with Egypt on the GERD issue. “Arab solidarity is currently expressed through diplomatic pressure and official statements of a number of Arab countries confirming Egypt's right to the waters of the Nile,” he concluded. “Initiatives and campaigns on social media have yet to succeed in pushing Western countries to take a more decisive stance on this issue.”

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