Could Egypt Buy the New Nile Reality?

When I was in high school, I took a short vacation to Egypt. One of the memorable things of my time in the country, besides the historic places, magnificent museums and elegant ladies, was responding to a question “where are you from”? Aided by the brief Arabic language lesson I took for the vacation, I wittily respond “Abu-Nile”(father of Nile). Every time I utter the phrase, the reaction was the same: Allah is the father of Nile, not Ethiopia.

Indeed, theNilewaters are not anyone’s making. It is nature’s gift to some 300 million people living throughout the river basin, fromTanzaniatoEgypt.

But that was not what it meant to the Egyptians. It is an Orwellian type double entendre; to say the Nile belongs solely to them and embraces a denial thatEthiopiais the source of it.

Instead of engaging on a constructive dialogue that can address their legitimate concerns, most Egyptians want to makeEthiopia’s overall water resources, including rainfall potential and other rivers, part of the debate. Though that approach, if accepted, is still weak to back their claim for exclusive rights on theNile, the sheer arrogance behind it is even more dismaying.

Unsurprisingly, their argument enjoys sympathy from the Western media and scholars. Indeed, the Westerners’ support is not solely due to the Egyptians’ relentless lobby that “Nileis their sole source of water”. It also is because of the colonial era treaties that allocate almost all the waters toEgyptand a veto power on any construction on the upstream of the river.

Though the treaties were just documents of internal colonial matters which downstream countries rejected after independence, the Westerners tend to consider them as valid since they are biased towards colonial arrangements which, more often than not, affect their national interests.

It was against this backdrop that Egyptians went as far as threatening that any decline in the water flow will be responded with military action in the face of the international community. One cannot put a blame, then, on the average Egyptian for thinking that this is the way things are ordained to be and that any attempt to change the status quo is a disaster.

Apparently, to such a mindset, the last few weeks must have been tortuous.

The media was full of “unfavorable” reports such as thatEthiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project has reached 19.6pc and undertakings to divert the water from its natural course are well underway. A public statement fromEthiopia’s Ambassador inCairoalso noted  thatEthiopiais in “full swing” in the construction of the dam.

As old habits die hard, officials inCairogave signals that they are flirting with the old tactics. As usual, they gave anonymous remarks which resulted in alarming news thatEgyptis pondering to bomb the Dam. Their president, Mohamed Morsi, summoned senior Eritrean officials in mid-April and released a statement that states, “Morsi praised the Eritrean stance that supports the Egyptian historic rights in Nile water” and that “he is looking forward to holding a meeting with Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki as soon as possible.”

But it was obvious that all these are unlikely to work; be it to intimidateEthiopiaor to reassure Egyptians.

In fact, in the subsequent week, the Ethiopian Parliament sent the Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA) – the first multilateral agreement on theNilewaters – to its standing committee, which literally means the agreement could be ratified any day. This was followed by the announcement that the construction of the Dam’s power transmission line is set to begin next month with about a billion dollar loan fromEthiopia’s main ally,China.

Unsurprisingly, the later was reported by one Egyptian paper with a headline, “Disaster”.

Columnists in Egyptian newspapers accused President Morsi’s regime for recklessness. Their claim was underpinned with reports based on alarmist claims by mid-level officials, a former minister and other experts about the danger of the Dam.

But, at large, Egyptian officials had to reconcile themselves with the reality. From the President’s office to the Irrigation Minister, officials appeared on the media, in row, claiming that there is no proven, inevitable impact on Egypt from the GERD and where there is any, it will addressed jointly. This seems to be an apparent attempt to get the Egyptian mindset accustomed to the fact that the Dam is here to stay.

Indeed, it would be naïve to rush to conclude thatEgypthas changed its old way of doing things. One could interpret the recent statements as costumes. Courting theAsmararegime and rumors of its hosting some extreme groups could be indicative acts of sabotage, which might be an attempt to drag the project’s progress.

But it is promising to hear the Egyptian President’s spokesperson, Ehab Fahmy, saying that there is no need to panic about the Dam; if it has a negative impact, Ethiopians will “understand the situation and not allow harm to befallEgyptin the light of the historic ties between the two counties and the otherNileBasincountries”.

May be, the Egyptians have started to think Ethiopia is the actual Abu-Nile.


Published on May 05,2013 [ Vol 13 ,No 679]



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