Skip to main content

Egypt admits arrest of three nationals in Ethiopia

Egypt's FM says he's following up the issue of detaining three nationals in Ethiopia amid allegations of espionage
A picture taken on May 28, 2013 showing the Blue Nile in Guba, Ethiopia (AFP)

Egypt is following up the issue of detaining three nationals by Ethiopian security forces, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi has said.

"I knew about the arrest of three Egyptians in Ethiopia and we are following up the issue," Fahim was quoted by the private newspaper Youm7 as saying during his current visit to Equatorial Guinea.

"We will announce all the details of the crisis within the next few hours," he added.

Fahmi's statements were the first Egyptian reaction to reports about the arrest of three Egyptians in Ethiopia.

On Thursday, Anadolu Agency quoted a well-placed Ethiopian source as saying that Ethiopian security forces had arrested three Egyptians in the westernmost Gambela region near the border with South Sudan.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said two were arrested while trying to board a public bus bound for Assosa in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region, where Ethiopia is building the multibillion-dollar Renaissance hydroelectric dam on the Nile River.

The third, he added, was seized by Ethiopian citizens while taking pictures of a new dam being constructed on the Baro River, a tributary of the Nile River.

According to the well-placed source, the three Egyptians are currently in police custody in Gambella where they are being interrogated.

He said they had been arrested earlier this week, declining to give their names for security reasons.

"The papers with the three Egyptians carried different names …We are still in the early stages of the investigation," the source said.

Earlier, Ethiopian and Somali websites identified the three arrestees as Youssef al-Haj, Ismail Azeezi and Hassan Garay.

Allegations of espionage

There were also unsubstantiated allegations of Spying.

"The regional government of Ethiopia believed [the three Egyptians' trip] to be a spying mission to find information about the country's Renaissance Dam," wrote Tekle Mariam, senior news correspondent for the Ethiopian newspaper The Upper Nile Times.

"The South Sudanese rebels claimed to have captured 12 Egyptians in Jonglei who fought alongside the government of South Sudan," Mariam added, without elaborating. The South Sudanese government had signed last month a bilateral military cooperation with Egypt, a move that irked Addis Ababa.

The trio was found to have entered Ethiopian territory illegally without registering at any of the four border crossings between Ethiopia and South Sudan, the source said.

They are expected to face charges of illegal entry, holding forged visas and threatening the country's vital facilities, the source said.

The arrests come amid heightened tension between the two countries over the Renaissance dam.

The project has raised alarm bells in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, which fears a reduction of its historical share of Nile water.

Water distribution among Nile basin states has long been regulated by a colonial-era treaty giving Egypt and Sudan the lion's share of river water.

However, citing its need for development, Ethiopia says it must build a series of dams to generate electricity, both for local consumption and export.

Addis Ababa insists the new dam will benefit downstream states Sudan and Egypt, both of which will be invited to purchase the electricity thus generated.

Mahlab says Africans keen on Egypt's AU return

Meanwhile, Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said on Saturday that he felt a "certain desire" on the part of African officials for resuming Egypt's membership in the African Union (AU).

"I felt a certain desire on the part of all officials I met in Chad, Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea for Egypt to retain its seat in the AU," Mahlab was quoted by the official MENA news agency as saying ahead of concluding his visit to Equatorial Guinea.

He described Egypt's role in the African continent as both "important" and "vital" at all levels.

He said African leaders he met during his recent his visits described as a "great loss" Egypt's absence from the pan-African organization.

Mahlab concluded a three-day visit to Equatorial Guinea on Saturday.

Egypt's AU membership was frozen two days after the army unseated elected president Mohamed Morsi last July. The measure is taken by the AU automatically in the event of an unconstitutional change of government in a member state.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.