An Egyptian TV host talked down Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Egypt, Mahmoud Dirir, during a phone conversation televised on Wednesday, June 18, 2014.
Earlier that day, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom phoned his counterpart Sameh Shoukry to congratulate him on his new appointment; and shortly, it was heard Ambassador Dirir to have welcomed Egypt in its return to the African Union from suspension, actually making Ethiopia and its Ambassador the first to do so.
But what had awaited the Ethiopian Ambassador later that evening is much to everyone’s surprise.
The Egyptian television channel, Al Tahrir, invited Ambassador Dirir on its program Fil Midan (In The Square) to discuss the latest on the two countries relation over the Nile dam row. The TV-host, Rania Badawy, seems to have already been fired up with the interview she had with Egypt’s new Irrigation Minister on the same subject right before she welcomed Ambassador Dirir.
Following is the entire unedited interview translated to English from Arabic:
TV-host: Your excellency, Mr. Ambassador, good evening.
Amb. Dirir: Good evening. First, I’d like to salute the minister and congratulate him on his new position. And there will be the usual cooperation between the ministry and us. By now, I’ve worked with many ministers in Egypt and we’re optimist with his appointment.
TV-host: Cool. Does that mean there will be cooperation for viewpoints to meet halfway?
Amb. Dirir: First, it appears to me that you were speaking in a clichéd political tone while you were talking with the minister. We are now … [Interrupted]
TV-host: Which is what exactly? Explain it to me.
Amb. Dirir: We are now talking about reviewing the entire Ethiopian-Egyptian relation and we do not limit our relations to the Renaissance Dam. The Ethiopian-Egyptian interests are much bigger than that. Promoting that this dam will endanger the lives of Egyptians and that it’s going to threaten the Egyptian water interests, do not have a place in our ongoing negotiations. We’ve reached … [Interrupted]
TV-host: So, if it’s not threatening the lives of Egyptians, why is Egypt bothered to send you delegates for negotiations?
Amb. Dirir: Excuse me … Allow me. Allow me … Allow me my lady.
TV-host: Go ahead.
Amb. Dirir: We are going to build this dam, and we’ll continue to build it. It’ll not negatively affect Egypt or Sudan.
TV-host: Hmmm [Smirked]. All right, your Excellency Mr. Ambassador, again my question is, if you (Ethiopians) think this dam will not burden the Egyptian people, then how do you see the formation of committees every now and then [stuttering] to go to Ethiopia and negotiate with the officials? Do you think the Egyptian government doesn’t understand the subject and is wasting its time or what’s it exactly?
Amb. Dirir: No, no. On the contrary, you’re looking at the issue in a very pessimistic way. What we’ve reached at this level is a positive achievement. First, with Ethiopia’s initiative, a tripartite committee of experts was formed from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia together with international experts. And a comprehensive report was released from this initiative, which has concluded two main points: one is that this dam does not harm Egypt and the other is, the construction of the dam complies with international standards. Secondly, when we talk about the Renaissance Dam, we’re talking about combating poverty in Africa especially in Ethiopia. Moreover, we are talking about the electricity shortage this region suffers in relation to the industrialization boom. Because the Ethiopian economy depends on agriculture, it is impossible to achieve industrialization without electric power especially one that is environmentally friendly like hydropower.
TV-host: Ok, ok, your Excellency, Egypt has announced repeatedly she’s not against development or if the level [standard of living] of Ethiopians improve or [against] your policies in combating poverty … Egypt is for development and I think you’ve just heard the Irrigation Minister saying we’re willing to operate the dam and participate in the technical administration and cooperation. Egypt is offering everything only on the condition that the construction of the dam is reversed to its initial specification & capacity without the new alternations. Not the 47 billion per hour as it is now … [Interrupted]
Amb. Dirir: Excuse me … Excuse me, we’ve gone past this dictation and description you’re talking about, and it doesn’t concern us in anyway. What concerns us [Interrupted]
TV-host: When you say you’re past it, do you mean you refused it or what?
Amb. Dirir: What concerns us is that there are recommendations presented by the tripartite committee, which we have to work together to realize. And excuse me, with regards to Egypt’s desire to operate the dam and etcetera, that’s Ethiopia’s affair not Egypt’s.
TV-host: Aha… So, you don’t want us to jointly operate the dam with you?
Amb. Dirir: I told you, this decision is Ethiopia’s to make.
TV-host: Let me ask you again. You’ve passed the discussion on the capacity of the dam. As I understand, you’re still insisting on the present specification and capacity of the dam.
Amb. Dirir: You don’t understand about dams and you’re speaking in a bumptious tone. And this doesn’t add one iota to the talks between the two nations, and these superfluous questions doesn’t benefit anyone. [Interrupted]
TV-host: Mr. Ambassador, you trespassed your limits with me and it is not your right to characterize my words. I do not characterize your words, and you shouldn’t be talking about bumptiousness. I have the right to ask the question that the Egyptian people are asking and are concerned about. These questions are not superfluous. It’s my right to ask Mr. Ambassador and it’s only diplomatic and a protocol of engagement that you do not attack anyone or characterize a question. And when you’re being asked a question, either you answer that question or say no comment. I ask and you have to answer or refuse to comment, that’s your right. Otherwise, it’s none of you’re right. Your Excellency, you’ve trespassed the limits and I thank you… Thank you very much.
With that the TV-host Rania Badawy hanged up and discontinued the televised phone conversation. But right before he was cut off, the Ambassador was heard in the background saying, “No, you’ve trespassed you’re limits as a journalist.”
Apparently, the television station has supported Badawy, seeing that it has let her keep ranting on the Ambassador even after she discourteously ended the phone conversation.
“It’s known that Mr. Mahmoud Dirir, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Egypt, is one of the adamant people towards Egypt in general and regarding the dam,” she exclaimed.
“And I think we had a show with him before and I wish my colleagues [search for the clip] so that I can show you, it was clear from the beginning that there is insistence, adamancy and aggression when dealing with this topic.”
At this point, Ms. Badawy got to sound even more furious. “When I talk about the dam, it’s improper to characterize my questions & say it’s bumptious. When I probe if they’re insisting on the present specification and capacity of the dam, it’s improper of him to question my knowledge about dams.”
She continued: “Whether an Ambassador or non-ambassador, it is out of protocol to characterize a question. He has to answer the question or decline to comment and that’s his right. But characterizing a question is not his right at all. I’m asking the questions that are in every Egyptian’s mind, and I think its your (TV-viewers) right to know if Ethiopia will agree this time, if the negotiations are going to be fruitful, if they are still clinging to their opinions, if they are still adamant. This is not my talk; all the ministers that went, all the committees that were sent, released reports that indicate the adamancy of the Ethiopian administration. And I think the position of Mohammed Dirir, the Ambassador of Ethiopia, is no different.
Ms. Badawy even went further as to advise how Egypt should conduct its negotiation with Ethiopia. “The Egyptian side has to be decisive on the negotiations this time and find a means to put real pressure because it’s clear that the Ethiopian negotiator is still maintaining his position and keeping his extreme adamancy which is neither in the interest of Ethiopia nor Egypt or for the relations [of the two nations].
Says Badawy, “When the Irrigation Minister tells me that it’s not in our favor in its present form, when he tells me that we will assist in the operation of the dam and offer technical assistance on the conditions that they revert to the original design, it’s improper for the Ambassador to come and say it’s Ethiopia’s matter not Egypt’s.”
“If he’s talking about arrogance,” she concluded, “then they [the Ethiopians] are the arrogant ones, not the Egyptians. They are the ones talking bumptiously!”
The TV station quite proudly titled the YouTube clip as shown above, and it reads: “Rania Badawy’s fury after finishing a call with the Ethiopian Ambassador in which she thought him a harsh lesson about Egyptian’s glory.” And the Station is not alone.
A man who goes by the username ‘Strong Man’ praised the TV host on the channel’s YouTube page as follows: “…Much respect to our authentic Egyptian sister, you spoke our heart and kept your dignity and the dignity of all sincere Egyptian journalists in your response to this ignorant, who lacks diplomacy and common courtesy…”.
But as there are people who have positively taken her brazen act as patriotic, there are as much who have denounced her manners, and who have actually began to question the professionalism of the country’s media.
Another social media user, Mahmoud Haiba, had to comment this on one of the local news outlets’ website: “The truth is, the Ambassador spoke with courtesy and respect. It’s the TV-host that delegated herself as a spokesperson for the Egyptian people… and she spoke disrespectfully. A TV-host can’t talk for the Egyptian people… It’s the duty of the ministers of the government and the foreign affairs… The solution comes through diplomatic channels, not through satellite channels.”
What’s rather surprising is to see words of support coming from Mr. Hani Raslan (PhD), the head of the Nile Basin Studies Unit at the country’s think tank, Al Ahram for Political & Strategic Studies.
“It is the Ambassador’s mistake not the host’s,” Mr. Raslan was quoted as saying on one of the news websites, “and he was the one who talked with a rough accent and a condescending tone as if he was the high commissioner, not as an Ambassador in Egypt. This is not the first incident for the Ethiopian Ambassador. It has happened repeatedly dozens of times.”
The gaffe made by the TV host can be ignored especially, in light of the fact that just two days ago Ms. Badawy also had a similar incident with Iraqi ambassador to Egypt; perhaps it could be her tactic to bring attention to her show. Yet, it will be difficult to ignore the way of thinking displayed by people like Mr. Raslan along the topic.
And although Ambassador Dirir has already submitted a letter of complaint about the incident, so far no Egyptian official have come out and gave response on the matter.
In the past, Ethiopian and other African delegates have long criticized Egyptian officials’ condescending approach. Last year, a delegation of prominent Egyptian figures advised that Egypt’s arrogance when dealing with Africans is harming the country.
The softened tone of the new administration appears to be in line with this recommendation, and seems it has resonated well with the Ethiopian side, with Ambassador Dirir expressing optimism just last week that talks would resume soon.
As for Rania Badawy’s conduct, well it may just be a media blunder, or as the Ambassador stated, she was speaking in a “clichéd political tone”. As the saying goes, old habits die hard.