If Egypt is the gift of the Nile, then the Nile is Ethiopia’s gift.

By Dilwenberu Nega
July 02 2010

Egypt: the gift of the Nile
There is no wander, then, that many Egyptians now view the Entebbe Agreement as a national security and existential threat. According to Professor Kinfe Abreha successive Egyptian administrations had been waging a psychological war on the Nile Question. Egyptians have for long come to worship the Nile, so much so that the Greek historian, Herodotus’ “Egypt is the gift of the Nile” – spoken by him some 5000years ago – still blends well with the Egyptian blood today. On another level, the American Sociology Researcher, P.Godyear Oct had also concluded that because Egypt is in hock to the fear of water scarcity, she suffers from “Water-stress-phobia.”

On the other hand, today, one comes to detect a dichotomy in the prevailing schools of thought that shape Egyptian public opinion. On one side of the argument are followers of the famous contemporary Egyptian philosopher who promotes an “Egypt is African by soil and water, but ethnically it is European” policy. Then you have the commonly held view which places blame on Egypt’s blurred African policy coupled with her incapacity to broker a deal to the Israel, as being responsible for the continued chipping away of Egyptian dominion over the Nile. Ever since he escaped unscathed from a road-side assassination attempt on his way to an AU summit in Addis Ababa, President Hosni Mubarak’s role in African matters had started to wane. Similarly, as the Political Analyst at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), Nabul Abdel Fattah, had put clearly the fact that Ethiopia, and not Egypt, is today playing an enhanced and influential role at international forums, coupled with the growth of development Nile-basin countries have registered in the recent past, have all contributed to the decline of Egypt’s suzerainty over the Nile. Worse still, there are, then, the views of conspiracy theorists who claim that the Nile Question – far from being a matter of scarcity of water – does have a geo-political dimension of great magnitude. They, then, indulge in making preposterous allegations. They claim that Israel has effectively infiltrated the Nile-basin countries for its own advantages, and that Israeli Intelligence Service, Mosad, has set-up its biggest African centre in Addis Ababa – all engineered to scupper Egypt’s role in the Middle East as well as pose an existential threat to Egypt. The United States of America, too, shares Egypt’s concerns that the actions taken by the Nile Riparian Countries constitute an existential threat to Egypt. America’s reasons revolves around caring less about the imminent cessation of Southern Sudan who would become the Nile-basin countries’10 member, but more on it’s fear that these countries will then slide into Somalia-type terrorist-style anarchy, and on its concern that this may lead to the Nubia ceding from Egypt.

Contrary to these highly confrontational stands, however, you nowadays witness the emergence in the court of Egyptian public opinion the ‘Voice of Reason.’ One such ‘Voice’ is Cairo University’s Geography Professor, Said Ibrahim Elbadawi, who given that the pluses which unite Egypt with the Nile-basin countries by far outweigh the minuses which separate them, claims that it would be prudential for Egypt to, instead, work together with the countries towards maintaining regional peace and security and get involved in developing their economies. Although droves of experts on the Nile have come to the conclusion that it is unfair and immoral to allow Egypt – which does not contribute a drop of water to the Nile – have access to 86% of the Nile water, while at the same time deny Ethiopia –which contributes 85% to the flow of the Nile and which is struggling hard to come out from abject poverty – have sole access to the Nile water; they have, unfortunately, been unable to alter Egypt’s flawed perception of the use of the Nile.

Elections in Ethiopia and Egypt
Elections were held in both Ethiopia and Egypt during May 2010. Opposition parties in Ethiopia’s 4th National Elections had made Ethiopia’s policy toward cross-border Rivers – including the Nile – one of the main planks of their election manifestoes. In a vain attempt to portray the EPDRF as a party not interested in defending the national interest of Ethiopia, opposition parties made an earnest attempt to bury EPDRF under an avalanche of unsubstantiated accusations. But EPDRF hit back successfully by citing that not only does its track record prove that the national interest was safe and sound under EPDRF, but the stark reality was that opposition parties lacked the vision and commitment to shoulder the onerous duties of a responsible government. Furthermore, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi did not mince his words during an Al Jezera interview: “The only solution is to agree on the diplomatic way forward for a fair and equitable use of the Nile water. It’s high time that Egypt realises that her ‘you-sit-on-your-hands-while-I-eat’ approach is wholly unacceptable.” Cairo’s influential daily Al Ahram did report that though Egyptian officials were monitoring the Ethiopian election debates on cross-border Rivers closely, they, nonetheless, did not favour either side of the argument.

In a related development, when Egypt held General Elections to the Shura Council on 14th May President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, opposition parities including independent candidates had made the recently signed The Nile Initiative Cooperation Framework Agreement (CFA) the main plank of their election campaign. Opposition parties, including independent candidates who espouse some of the extremist policies of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, had been vehemently accusing the Government of handing over the Nile to the Nile-basin countries. Some opposition party’s websites, too, joined in the fray by posting such incredible stories as: “Ethiopia ready to build 35 dams on the Nile!” (May it be so!) and “Prime Minister Meles Zenawi warns Egypt!” Some political analysts had, in fact, gone a long way to question whether or not both the inauguration of Ethiopia’s hydro-electric dam in Tana Beles, and the simultaneous signing of the CFA in Entebbe, were orchestrated to coincide with Egypt’s General Elections on the 14th May 2010.

When will the Seat be stable?
No one can be certain of what the future holds for Egypt. Although the Election held on May 14th 2010 did give President Mubarak’s National Democratic Party 80 of the 88 seats of the Shuria, none to those who espouse the policies of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and 8 to other parties, it had managed to provide nothing more than a sigh of relief to ordinary Egyptians and still leaving Egyptian politics on the cross-road. It is said that the octogenarian President’s health is cause for concern, and the issue of who Mubarak’s successor would be still remains headache to many Egyptians. However, Egyptian politicians – conscious of the presence within the society of a sense of great concern and uncertainty over a possible power vacuum – are seen ventilating the Nile issue as a diversionary tactic. As the influential analyst Mohamed Abu Elhagar stated: “What Egyptian official are worried about is their domestic issue. They don’t care if the Nile dries up.”

During his recent visit to Italy, President Mubarak quibbled when asked to name his successor. He preferred reply was: “Whoever God anoints will be my choice.” Such a statement has created great consternation among the people who have not seen any other administration for the past 30 years. Though Mubarak is reputed to have groomed his 46 year old son, Gamal Mubarak, who currently occupies a key position in the ruling party, many analysts agree that because he does not command the confidence of Egypt’s defence, security and police establishments, as well as because he is viewed by many as corrupt individual, trying to galvanize support for Gamal would be a futile exercise. If Mubarak’s choice of a successor fails to materialise, then, either Mubarak will hold on to power until his dying breath, or resort to using the ruling party’s last remaining card by transferring power to Egypt’s National Security Chief. According to Amr El Shobaki, Head of the Institute of the Arab World Forum, “The National Democratic Party is still in limbo having repeatedly tried and failed to come up with a compromising candidate who would be acceptable to all.” What about the opposition?

Though Egypt had been following a limited form of multi-party democracy since 1968, not once had the opposition been able to form a government. As extremist-filled Muslim Brotherhood was banned 25 years ago, the only time independent and opposition candidates were able to secure 80 seats in the Shuria was in the 1997 Election. While there are 24 registered parties in Egypt, the absence of genuine democracy in opposition parties, has turned the great majority of them into fiefdoms of personalities. Now, however, Egyptians have pinned their hopes on one man – Nobel Prize winner and former Head of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Muhammad Al Baradei, who is in the process of bringing together disunited opposition parties under his new-fangled National Association for Change.

Al Baradei has, so far, managed to draw the full support of opposition parties including the 25 years ago banned Muslim Brotherhood. Teachers, students and the intelligentsias have all voiced their solidarity with Al Baradei. By creating a great sense of positivity and expectation within Egyptian society, Al Baradei has been able to effectively make use of his seasoned diplomatic skills and influence at international forums to come up with a 7 point stimulating agenda for the way forward, chief among which are the rescinding of the more than 2 decades old Emergency Law, the creation of an enabling environment for a free and fair election and the right of individual candidates to stand for the presidency. However, according to the Constitution of Egypt, Al Baradei, is highly unlikely to get the support of 230 members of the Senate and Parliament. Although he obviously represents a large coalition of opposition parties, because Mubarak has extended the Emergency Law for a further 2 years and because he, as yet, does not command the confidence of the intelligence services, it would be difficult to be certain of Al Baradei’s triumph. Nevertheless, the rise of Al Baradei is bound to spur President Mubarak to usher in some reforms.

Though Egyptian officials had been overegging the Question of the Nile, the reality is that beyond the uneasiness over political transition lies the fact that Egypt is also up against pressing socio-economic problems. In an Egypt where 40% of the population remains poor, long queues for bread outside bakeries have become a daily ritual. To make matters worse, the continued rise of people out of work, as well as the deterioration of frontline services like education and health, has increased Egyptians’ longing for change. As a seasoned observer would come to conclude cogently, all the scaremongering and sabre-rattling over the Nile which Egyptian officials were deliberately ventilating, had more to do with whipping up Egyptian nationalistic feelings and had nothing to do with the perceived threat posed by the signing of an agreement by the Nile basin countries. We must, therefore, not lose sight of the fact that we need – for the sake of ensuring the triumph of the ‘voice of moderation’ in Egyptian society – to refrain from engaging in a tit-for-tat at with Egyptian Government.

Ethiopians are expected to forgo their political differences and be able to speak with one voice on the Question of the Nile. So far, the long and tortuous diplomatic journey that the Government has traversed along with the Nile-basin countries has ushered in a new chapter in the history of the use of the Nile water. It was proper for opposition parties to support the EPDRF government on this burning issue. As we have not reached our final destination, our final goal, we should resist the temptation to celebrate a win, to mourn, to turn ballistic and to sabre-rattle. We, of course, acknowledge that Egypt is the gift of the Nile. All we ask is for the world to equally acknowledge that the Nile is one of the blessings Ethiopia has offered to world. The Question of the Nile can only be addressed in a cognitive manner. We must ensure that it will never descend into an emotive issue. By benefiting from the dividend of this ‘blessing’ with all Nile-basin countries on a fair and equal basis, would we be able to ensure that the Nile becomes the origin of development rather than the cause of strife. We can do it; yes we can! <-- Back to page one