AFRICANGLOBE – Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia have had long standing relations for many centuries, both in terms of business relations and people-to-people contacts.
Cultural bonds are deep-rooted, strong and ancient. Indeed, they go back to the time of the Islam’s Prophet Mohammed when he told his family and followers to take refuge in Ethiopia when threatened by persecution in Mecca.
In return, the Prophet instructed his followers not to touch Abyssinians, Ethiopians today, except in self-defense. Islam, of course, was born in Saudi Arabia but it was in Ethiopia that its adherents were first allowed to practice it freely. There are a number of similar episodes detailed in the annals of Islamic and Ethiopian tradition. They have certainly contributed to the strengthening of relations between the two peoples.
But this last week, in unprecedented manner, news that stirred controversy came out from Cairo, Egypt following a “harsh” criticism filled remark by Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister, Prince Khalid bin Sultan, against Ethiopia, something totally unexpected by the Ethiopian government and people.
The real intent of the remark made by this senior official of Saudi Arabia has raised several questions from different sides. Was it just an echo for Egypt and Sudan being merely a messenger voice? Or really the position of the Royal Kingdom.
Last Wednesday the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Addis Ababa for the latter to give an explanation on the real notion of the remarks made by the defense minister which was made during the Arab Water Council Meeting in Cairo.
“The [Grand] Renaissance dam has its capacity of flood waters reaching more than 70 billion cubic meters of water, and is located at an altitude of 700 meters and if it collapsed then Khartoum will drown completely and the impact will even reach the Aswan Dam,” the Saudi deputy defense minister Khalid Bin Sultan said at the meetings.
“Egypt is the most affected party from the Ethiopian Renaissance dam because they have no alternative water source compared to other Nile Basin countries, and the establishment of the dam 12 kilometers from the Sudanese border is for political plotting rather than for economic gain and constitutes a threat to Egyptian and Sudanese national security” the Saudi official was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Abdulbagi bin Ahmad Ajlan told Ethiopian officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the defense minister’s comment is neither his (the ambassador) nor the Royal Kingdom’s position.
Prince Khalid went on saying, “There are fingers messing with water resources of Sudan and Egypt which are rooted in the mind and body of Ethiopia. They do not forsake an opportunity to harm Arabs without taking advantage of it”.
According to the spokesperson of MoFA, Ambassador Dina Mufti, the Ethiopian government has been alarmed after hearing the unexpected news.
After the “harsh” criticism against Ethiopia was made, Prime Minister Hailemarlam Desalegn, together with finance and economic development minister, Sufian Ahmed welcomed a group of Saudi Arabian delegation led by the minister of Finance of Saudi Arabia, Dr. Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf.
The visit of the delegation was said to be aimed at trade and investment boosting between the two countries.
But nothing came out from the two sides as they discuss the Nile related controversy that sparked the diplomatic dispute.
On the occasion that the two countries signed two loan agreements amounting to a total of 25 million USD with the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) and the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD.) At the same occasion, the country also signed avoidance of double taxation agreement with Saudi Arabia.
Critics said that though Saudi Arabia has a concern on the Nile issue with regards to Ethiopia’s dam project, it should not have been publicly disclosed as far as diplomatic relationship is concerned.