Egyptian politicians holding talks with President Mohammed Mursi Monday were unwittingly broadcast on live TV brainstorming ideas to sabotage an Ethiopian dam.
Seated around a large table, the politicians thinking this was a closed meeting began to suggest ways to stop Ethiopia from diverting the Blue Nile for a massive dam project.
Ayman Nour, head of the liberal Ghad Party, suggested spreading rumors that Egypt was buying military planes in order to put “pressure” on Ethiopia, he said.
He also suggested Cairo send political, intelligence and military teams to Addis Ababa because “we need to intervene in their domestic affairs.”
Yunis Makhyun, who heads the extreme Islamist Nur Party, said the dam constituted a “strategic danger for Egypt,” requiring Cairo to support Ethiopian rebels “which would put pressure on the Ethiopian government.”
An aide to Mursi later apologized after for failing to inform politicians that they were live on air.
“Due to the importance of the topic it was decided at the last minute to air the meeting live. I forgot to inform the participants about the changes,” presidential aide for political affairs Pakinam El-Sharkawi wrote on Twitter. “I apologize for any embarrassment caused to the political leaders.”
The meeting, a huge embarrassment both for the presidency and the opposition members who attended, caused a storm of ridicule and anger in the media.
“A scandal in front of the world,” read the headline of the independent daily Al-Tahrir.
Popular talk show host Reem Magued, who aired parts of the meeting on her show, said: “It’s true that we asked for transparency from the government but not like this, not to the point of scandal.”
Ethiopia has begun diverting the Blue Nile 500 meters from its natural course to construct a $4.2 billion hydroelectric project known as Grand Renaissance Dam.
The first phase of construction is expected to be complete in three years, with a capacity of 700 megawatts. Once complete the dam will have a capacity of 6,000 megawatts.
Egypt believes its “historic rights” to the Nile are guaranteed by two treaties from 1929 and 1959 which allow it 87 percent of the Nile’s flow and give it veto power over upstream projects.
But a new deal was signed in 2010 by other Nile Basin countries, including Ethiopia, allowing them to work on river projects without Cairo’s prior agreement.