News from Egypt, Ethiopia and Russia

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on February 11, 2014

Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour

Egypt will elect a president before voting on a parliament, interim President Adly Mansour said on January 26, amending a road map laid down last summer.

Parliamentary elections were supposed to be held first under a timetable agreed to after Egypt’s army deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsy in July following mass protests against his rule.

Voters in the Arab world’s most populous nation this month overwhelmingly approved a new constitution with 98.1% in favor, the Electoral Commission said.

“I had previously held a series of sessions for dialogue with some of the major political stakeholders and representatives of the different political groups which indicated a majority in favor of holding presidential elections first,” Mansour said in a televised address.


Egypt’s army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

“In this light, I have taken the decision to amend the road map for the future, so that presidential elections are held first, and are followed by parliamentary elections.”

Mansour did not give dates for the elections.

Egypt’s army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said he would run for president if the Egyptian people wanted him to, state media reported recently.

 ETHIOPIA and EGYPT – Battle of the Nile:  Egypt, Ethiopia clash over mega-dam

KHARTOUM, Sudan | Egypt and Ethiopia remain at loggerheads over Addis Ababa’s plan to build a $4.2 billion, 6,000-megawatt dam on a major tributary of the Nile River that Cairo says will greatly reduce the flow of water that is Egypt’s lifeline.

Tension between the two African states rose sharply in January after Ethiopia rejected Egypt’s demand it suspend construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the 4,130-mile river, the world’s longest.

image1288Egypt has vowed to protect its “historical rights” to the Nile “at any cost” and says it could lose 20 percent of its water if the giant dam in northwestern Ethiopia, one of several hydroelectric projects planned by Addis Ababa, is completed.

“It would be a disaster for Egypt,” Mohamed Nasr Allam, a former Egyptian water minister, lamented to the Guardian daily of London in 2013. “Large areas of the country will simply be taken out of production.”

Despite Cairo’s tough declarations, and Addis Ababa’s insistence on pressing ahead with the massive dam — which it denies will damage Egypt to any critical extent — there’s little likelihood of the two states going to war, if only because of the vast distance that separates them.  …

Ethiopia’s Chinese-backed dam program will, if completed, produce abundant supplies of electricity that could transform the economies of the regional states long mired in poverty.

Egypt’s position has been seriously weakened by the December defection of Sudan, its southern neighbor and longtime ally, in the Nile dispute with Ethiopia and other upstream African states.

That has left Egypt isolated in a long-running dispute with those states, which all want a greater share of the Nile water than they are accorded under British colonial era agreements that gave Egypt, and Sudan to a lesser extent, the lion’s share of the river’s flow. …

In 2010, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya signed an accord, the Cooperative Framework Agreement, to negotiate a more equitable water-sharing arrangement. They were later joined by Burundi , the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and South Sudan.

These upstream African nations, former colonies of the 19th century European powers, all say they need greater access to the Nile’s flow to meet swelling demographic and industrial demands from a waterway that has sustained civilizations for millennia.

Much depends on how the current dispute plays out. Right now, an estimated 238 million people depend on the Nile to some extent.

RUSSIA – Western leaders stay away from Sochi Olympics

When the Winter Olympics opened in Sochi, Russia, Friday, no major Western leaders joined Russian President Vladimir Putin in the VIP section.

No Barack Obama, no David Cameron, no François Hollande, no Angela Merkel.

But Asian leaders, and the heads of post-Soviet states on Russia’s western flank, were there in full force.

The divide offered a vivid picture of where Russia – and its ambitious, nationalist leader, Mr. Putin – stand in the world today.

President Obama’s vaunted (highly or widely praised) “reset” with Russia has long since fallen on hard times, leaving US-Russia relations today dominated more by disagreements over Syria, Edward Snowden, and human rights inside Russia. With the NSA leaker sitting in Moscow and still divulging information from his purloined intelligence documents, Obama and all other senior Obama administration officials took a pass on the Games.

The Western Europeans – in a tug of war with Russia over the political turmoil in Ukraine; like Washington, unhappy with Russia’s staunch backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; and also getting an earful from their domestic human rights advocates about conditions in Russia – also decided to stay home.

But that does not mean the world is snubbing Sochi.


Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Olympic reception Photo: AP

China’s President Xi Jinping is there, as is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – both from neighboring countries that have crucial energy ties to Russia, and both of which would love to win Russia’s support in their increasingly bitter regional rivalry. Joining them is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

And a Russia that in some quarters is still smarting from the loss of the Soviet empire may take some solace in the fact that at least eight leaders of former Soviet republics are on hand in Sochi. Perhaps no leader will be more closely watched than Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich, who was blasted for heading to Sochi while home [is in turmoil].


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovich prior to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games opening ceremony in Sochi, February 7, 2014. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti

In all, more than 60 national leaders and heads of international organizations will attend the Games, said Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the 2014 Sochi Organizing Committee, in remarks to the press on Thursday. To underscore Russia’s perspective that the world is coming to Sochi, Mr. Chernyshenko noted that the cohort of heads of state and government is the largest ever to attend a Winter Games.

To drive home the point, he said the number of world leaders in Sochi is about triple the number that attended the 2010 Vancouver Games. So there, he might have added.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at CNN on Jan. 26, UPI and CSMonitor on Feb. 7.)



The Nile River Basin

and from


Putin has sought to remain above the undignified talk of numbers, emphasizing instead that Sochi will be an opportunity for leaders not just to marvel at athletic exploits, but to discuss some of the world’s most pressing issues as well.

“I can talk to colleagues about security, economy, the Middle East, Afghanistan,” Putin told journalists as he toured the Olympic Village earlier this week. “Syria, Ukraine, lots of them, you know,” suggesting the breadth of issues that leaders could discuss during the Games would make Sochi something of a mini-United Nations.

And indeed, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be in attendance – although he punctuated a press conference Thursday with a blast at any form of discrimination against gays and lesbians. Mr. Ban did not refer specifically to Russia in making his point, but the issue of anti-gay legislation is a key reason Western leaders are snubbing the Games.

Small hints have surfaced to suggest the Russian leadership is none too happy with the Western no-show. The clearest rebuke came from Foreign Minister Sergeu Lavrov, who dismissed as “nonsense” the tallying of leaders’ attendance and the report card on Sochi that many, particularly in the media, are trying to make of it.

“No one has ever counted,” Mr. Lavrov told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, as he participated in the Olympic torch relay in Sochi on Thursday. “They started counting when they decided that they should spoil things for Russia so that Russia would feel uncomfortable.”

The hint of bitterness in Lavrov’s observation reflects the surprise and resentment that Russia’s top leadership feels at seeing the Western emphasis on the problems at Sochi, ranging from the worrisome terrorist threat to how any LGBT athletes might be treated there, some Russia experts say.

“They see a tendency to accentuate the negative, which is not the narrative Russia wanted,” says Andrew Weiss, vice president for studies and a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. The message Sochi is meant to convey, he adds, is above all, “Russia is back.”

Others say any official bitterness may reflect how the West’s portrayal of Sochi is playing with average Russians.

“Emphasizing the negative strengthens the hand of the isolationists inside Russia,” says Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. While it may not be the intent, the Western criticism leaves many Russians with the sense that the West is “ganging up on Russia,” he says.

But some Russians, on the other hand, just seem to want the Games to go on without the soured whiff of politics. The Russian rock musician Andrey Makarevich has sung many a lyric critical of the Kremlin and the direction Russia is taking. But he is in Sochi for the Games, he says, and will leave his protests for a later date.

“For these two weeks, you have to call a truce,” he told Time magazine, in words he might have meant for the outside world. “We have to pause all the politics and let the Games be a celebration,” he said. “When it’s over, we can go back to criticizing each other.” (from the csmonitor article above)