(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’”.

Daniel Berhane

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