Egypt, by mid-June 2013, had begun taking a two-pronged strategic approach — overtly diplomatic, covertly combative — to its dealings with Ethiopia over alleged (or potential) to its dealings with Ethiopia over alleged from the newly-commenced Renaissance Dam project.1
But it was increasingly clear that this was a determined effort by the Presidency and hardline Egyptian Islamist groups to distract public attention away from domestic issues, and particularly from the planned and major nationwide protests in Egypt against the present Government there.
Observers in Cairo noted that the outbursts by Egyptian Pres. Mohammed Morsi and jihadist Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimin) adherents against possible Ethiopian interference with the flow of the Blue Nile were an attempt to build up a distraction, and an external threat to Egypt, in the run-up to the planned June 30, 2013, major demonstrations against the Government.
Significantly, after the public outbursts began against Ethiopia — and most of the attacks were widely- condemned by many Egyptian military and civil observers — Cairo changed some of its public diplomacy to promote the prospect of negotiation and cooperation. Some more radical officials, however, continued to make inflammatory statements against Ethiopia’s dam- building, while Egyptian defense officials indicated that any attempts to resolve the issue through military means would not be viable.
Discreetly, Pres. Morsi and the Egyptian Intelligence Community began ramping up efforts to undermine security and stability in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian officials had, though, been muted in their response to the Egyptian outbursts. Indeed, the Ethiopian Parliament had waited until after the Egyptian elections before ratifying the new Nile treaty, signed by all the Upper Nile riparian states. But on June 13, 2013, the Council of People’s Representatives (Yehizbtewekayoch Mekir Bet) ratified an accord which essentially replaced the only document which attempted to define the uses of the Nile waters. It was a 1929 document, drafted by Britain (then the colonial power controlling Egypt and Sudan), awarding Egypt and Sudan the majority of the water from the Blue and White Nile. The document, however, had no force or legality in international law, given that the Upper Nile riparian states were not party to it, and, in any event, did not recognize Britain’s rights to determine Nile water usage.
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A 10-person Egypt-Sudan-Ethiopia experts panel concluded that the dam would not “significantly affect” water flow to Egypt and Sudan, and the Government of Sudan said that it accepted the outcome of the finding, and, in June 2013, announced that it supported the Renaissance dam project. Nonetheless, given the closeness between Cairo and Khartoum, the Sudanese Government was in June 2013 still giving sanctuary to some radical jihadist Ethiopian Muslims who have been supporting anti-Government protests in Ethiopia.
Discreetly, Egyptian intelligence and military officials were, in June 2013, following Pres. Morsi’s directives to apply security pressures on Ethiopia. Apart from the moves to provide weapons and training to the Somalian Army (with encouragement to take over neighboring independent Somaliland), it also sent an intelligence emissary to the pro- Islamist Government of Somaliland, apparently to sound out the prospect of moving Somaliland away from its friendship with Ethiopia. Somaliland provides access to to Ethiopia to trade through the Somaliland port of Berbera on the Red Sea.
At the same time, Tigrai Online website on June 13, 2013, noted:
“Encouraged by Egypt’s emp- ty threats and loud noise ordered by Morsi, Shaebiya [Shaebia, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice: PFDJ, the ruling party of Eritrea2] sent some mercenaries to northern Ethiopia, Tigrai [Tigré] State. The toothless Shaebiya could not fight face to face with Ethiopia so it resorts to sneaking terrorists.”
“The squad which consisted [of] nine terrorists was trained in Eritrea for a long time in various terrorist techniques. The Eritrean terrorist team was transported through Sudan to the town of Hamdait in the border and then they traveled to Kafta, Humera Bereket Kebele. They were apprehended by the Ethiopian security forces in Berket Kebele with help of the population.”
“Five of the terrorists including the squad leader were killed and the four others were captured alive. Three M14, six Kalashnikovs, two military goggles, 15 handgrenades, four cell phones and 2,490 bullets were also captured.”
“The terrorists were stopped before they did any damage to the population or property.”
On June 14, 2013, Defense & Foreign Affairs sources on the ground confirmed that Eritrea was making military moves along the border with the Eritrean border with the Ethiopian state of Tigré. The source in Tigré noted: “There are some military movements on the other side of the border. Shaebia is mobilizing soldiers at Badme.”
Under the former Egyptian Government of Pres. Hosni Mubarak, the Eritrean Government received significant financial and other support from Cairo to fund insurgent operations against Ethiopia.
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Meanwhile, Sudanese Pres. Umar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir arrived in Asmara on June 13, 2013 on a three-day official visit to Eritrea, accompanied by Presidency Affairs Minister Bakri Hassan Saleh, Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Karti and the Director of the General Security Organization (Jihaz al-Amn al-Am), Mohamed Atta. What was significant was that he was reported to have been met at Asmara International Airport by Pres, Isayas Afewerke. Media coverage, however, did not show that meeting, but, if correct, it would indicate that Pres. Isayas was at least in better health than over the past year.
What seems clear is that the Government of Sudan is attempting to be cautious with Ethiopia, given that Sudan could benefit from hydro- electric power generated from the new dam, but is equally supporting the Egyptian position of applying pressure to Ethiopia via Eritrea. Khartoum is clearly aware of the close relationship between Addis Ababa and Juba, the South Sudan capital, which is not to Sudan’s liking. Equally, Sudan cannot ignore the concerns and pressures of Cairo.
What is significant, too, is that the present Government of the Republic of Somaliland, which has been ambivalent in its dealings with Somalia and the al-Shabaab Islam- ist movement in Somalia, has found itself with few real allies in the region other than Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Government has committed strongly to the defense of Somaliland’s independence, but the Somaliland leadership in Hargeisa still, in June 2013, found it expedient to meet with a secret emissary of Egyptian intelligence. This, despite the fact that it has been Egypt which has spearheaded all efforts to ensure that Somaliland independence has not been recognized by the African Union (AU), the Arab League, or by the United Nations.
The Somaliland Government of Pres. Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo and the Kulmiye party certainly feels that it has more to offer Egypt — because of the pervasive Islamist bent of Kulmiye’s key leaders and because of Egypt’s now-Islamist Morsi Government — than the previous Administration in Hargeisa. Certainly, although Somaliland cannot function well (economically or in a security sense) without Ethiopia at present, there is a strong suggestion that its political team under Minister for the Presidency Hersi Ali Haji Hassan (Somali: Xirsi Xaaji Xasan), who are supportive of al-Shabaab, may try to do a deal to appease Cairo and Mogadishu.
By. Gregory R. Copley