Egyptian Columnist: "the Prime Minister drowned us in Nile crisis"

(Abdel Latif el-Menawy)

Three years ago I warned of the water crisis and the Renaissance Dam via a series of articles. I traveled to Ethiopia and Eretria and met with late Ethiopian premier Meles Zenawi and Eritrean president Isaias Afewerki in an attempt to communicate and provide the public with the opportunity to know what’s going on. I have also done so out of my belief that journalism always has a role that when played properly and within the boundaries of national goals especially on foreign fronts, it can be a factor that helps achieving solutions. Back then, my concern was the crisis threatening Egypt; a war over the Nile’s water.

So I went to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan in an attempt to get a clearer picture and understand. Our problem is that we always have a prejudgment on people and certain issues, and such an attitude sometimes leads us to the wrong conclusions. My aim was to understand what is currently going on regarding the Nile water war, to understand the reason for the Ethiopian stance and to understand where we currently stand regarding this matter.

Back then, the suggested solution was that Egypt will not allow building any dams that affect its share of water. The international law actually stands on Egypt’s side regarding this point. At the same time, however, as studies were conducted to establish dams on the Nile from upstream countries, Egypt showed its willingness to contribute and cooperate in establishing them as long as no harm is done to Egyptian national security interests. I believe this is right path towards resolving this crisis: cooperating, studying and negotiating at the same time.

The nine countries that share the Nile with Egypt are considered unstable countries which are incapable of launching giant projects on the river or incapable of agricultural land reclamation. These countries also suffer from local crises. Some of them suffer from civil wars, tribal struggles and economic problems.

Huge projects also require international funding which cannot be provided without feasible studies approved by all countries that benefit from the river. Egypt’s entrance to deal with this crisis comes here. This point as well brings up the probability that there is no imminent danger that threatens the Nile’s flow to Egypt in the foreseeable future.

Political moves

During that phase, Egypt made several political moves. The most important of them was Egypt’s concern over its strong ties with the Nile countries particularly Ethiopia which is connected through the river to Egypt and Sudan. Another move was Egypt’s concern that developing the resources of the water cannot be carried out without the effective participation of all three countries since most of the Nile Basin countries enjoy more than one source of water. Egypt’s share of rainfall however does not exceed 20 millimeters whilst in some of the Nile Basin countries, it can reach 20,000 millimeters. This means that Egypt suffers from a water deficit that reached more than 30%. It overcomes this deficit through recycling water. On this basis, we must know that any expense, burden or effort carried out in the area of the Nile Basin countries is not a waste of resources but a form of direct colonization in the future. And therefore, cooperating and strengthening ties with these countries is an important fateful issue.

This is why the presidential initiative back then to establish a commission for the Nile Basin countries was important regardless of signing the Nile Basin Initiative now among the Nile Basin countries. Another important move was the concern not to escalate the rhetoric when addressing this issue yet emphasize that Egypt’s historical rights of the Nile water are nonnegotiable.

But at the same time, some of us must not be carried away with enthusiasm or with the desire to achieve fake heroic acts and end up escalating the rhetoric to reach the extent of making threats and sounding the drums of a war when there are no drums! The issue must be resolved through maintaining patience, resuming negotiations and emphasizing that the concept of cooperation is the basis to compensate what was lost and the basis to maintain our rights that will not be harmed.

Although it has been three years since all of this, the group ruling Egypt drowned in its failure, greed and fake renaissance and drowned us with it.

According to media reports, the Brotherhood has not yet awaken from its slumber and is still studying the experts’ commission’s final report on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The report will be submitted before the end of May in order to be put before the presidents of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The report indicates that Ethiopian studies on the dam “are incomplete.” This is the same conclusion drawn by the experts’ commission’s last progress report. A practical study has also confirmed that the expected results from establishing the dam will be “disastrous” and will lead to displacing millions of Egyptian families.

Amidst all this, what is really strange and what really raises a lot of questions is that the prime minister who is supposed to be aware of the repercussions of the upcoming water crisis since he served as chief of two ministers’ offices for five years and then later served minister of irrigation has in fact added salt to the wound and further drowned us in the Nile crisis.

Abdel Latif al-Menawy is an author, columnist and multimedia journalist who has covered conflicts around the world. He is the author of “Tahrir: the last 18 days of Mubarak,” a book he wrote as an eyewitness to events during the 18 days before the stepping down of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Menawy’s most recent public position was head of Egypt’s News Center. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom, and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. He can be found on Twitter @ALMenawy


* Originally published on Al-Arabiya, on May 6, 2013, titled “Egypt drowns in the Nile ‘water war’”.


  1. kirubel says:

    Mr. Abdel Latif al-Menawy this is kirubel from Ethiopia I have read your article regarding Nile river and the renaissance dam and I was amazed on your article as I was expecting balanced views. Your article is completely one sided which is not expected from a person who called himself a journalist. When I go through it, is completely blind, unthoughtful and Very selfish that try to justify the “only right “ of Egypt on the Nile. But all nine countries have the right to use their own resources which includes water in their border ,not in some other place or country ,so Ethiopia has to use and will use this natural resource regardless of what you have been thinking .
    I always read your ministers and intellectuals comments and views about “Egypt’s share of water” and “Historical right” who gave you this share of water and historical right which we Ethiopians didn’t know?
    Do you have any evidence and concrete justification for this? Who are you again to calculate the amount of rain fall in Ethiopia and justify the share of Nile based on this?
    My friend you have two options in my opinion, either to negotiate around table or go to war. No one afraid to go to war with you even if this is not our choice. This is 21st century and you better think accordingly. Every technology and weapon you have we can have it and don’t forget weapons do not fight but people with just reason.
    Let me remind you my friend, have you thought of any biological or chemical weapon that can be transported freely to Cairo through Nile River? Please don’t try to threaten us. our weapon is much bigger than yours. But I personally prefer negotiation and peaceful dialog .Don’t push and mislead your Government and people in the name of Journalist and Intellectual.
    If we can’t use our resource you can’t use it too. We can easily export you deadly chemicals and harmful viruses that can make end of Egypt.
    Please come to your mind and think twice. Don’t be greedy we can share the resource not by force but by negotiation. Tell the truth to your people and politicians .the resource is on our hand and we will never ask for permission to use our resource. If we work for the benefit of all riparian countries we all will benefit if not….
    I personally do not want Egypt to get starved because of shortage of water but this cannot happen by threatening us or by any force but by peace and mutual trust.
    I will advice you open your eyes and see mutual benefits for both people other than being greedy in thoughts and action.

  2. Many people who have moved to Egypt are from Turkey. Less than 60% of Egyptians are of Coptic, Arabic and African (Nubian) blood. Egyptian Administrations have to stop encouraging people of other countries from immigrating and displacing the original people of Egypt. Secondly, Ethiopia and other African countries will use the Nile too and old British Agreements are no longer applicable. Egypt is now so very unstable so the pot should not call the kettle black. Egypt has massive underground water supplies in the west and they must use this water more than before. It is cleaner than the Nile waters that carry along all the wastes from the rains. Like Libya, more water should come from the ground and Egypt has the engineers to effect this. It is not an issue of Africans..Blacks vs Arabs, or Christians vs Muslims, or Wahhabi’s, Salafis vs Sufi Muslims. It is a question of survival, not aggression. Arabs and Africans have lived together for millenniums and the dam will not change that. If it is any consolation, the water will be cleaner once it settles in the dam. Other arrangements can be made to get clean water from Ethiopia instead of going to war. Black African Countries are no longer so poor that they cannot use their water for irrigation. It is necessity that is forcing them to produce electric power, irrigation, and fisheries and also build dams for flood control. Egypt must use its wisdom and not try to use its might. All nine Nile Basin countries of Eastern and Central Africa are fully united and stand with Ethiopia. Ethiopia must feed its own people. It must support its industrial and manufacturing and it needs water and electricity. Arabs should remember that all African countries have their own Arab populations so it is not just Egyptians and North Africans who are “Arabs”. In African culture we share what we have. No one can stop the Nile from reaching Egypt. Unless the rains fail. Or the blocked Lake Kyoga in Uganda. I think Egypt needs to be more actively involved in water management and conservation along the Nile basin instead of issuing threats from Cairo. An eye for an eye makes everyone blind.

  3. Josh says:

    It’s obvious that Egypt is rightly cornered. If you look at history this is not something new, Ethiopia have been trying to do these kind of projects for so long with no success – mainly because of Egypt’s interference with Ethiopia’s domestic peace and the support it got from Western countries because of Israel.

    Now we are here in 21st Century and things have changed for the worst for Egypt. Ethiopian people are donating for the construction of Dam and can afford whatever military power the Egyptians can throw at them.

    Egypt have two choices, either agree with Ethiopia or go to war.

    The idea of war between these countries is as scary as I can imagine it – all the big guns will come out, the neighboring countries will have to make a decision on which country to support, if Egypt attacked the Dam so will Ethiopia attack their Dams and even the Pyramids are safe – @the end Ethiopia will poison Nile -

    Ethiopia can survive without Nile, can’t say the same for Egypt.

    I say Egypt better start kissing Ethiopian a$$ as it seems like there is a new 21st Century Sharif in town.

    1. Josh says:

      p.s. I’m an Eritrean – and wanted to say that if there is a war please believe we will join Ethiopia! Yes, Ethiopia and Eritrea have a problem that they have to solve – but look at it this way – brothers fight, sometimes they don’t even talk to each other for years – but if one brother fights somebody outside the family, please believe me the other brother is coming for blood. That is us! Decide Egypt!

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