Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 6 May 2014

The rejuvenation of Egypt’s hydro political short-termism


By Mansour Al Hadi

May 6, 2014 - Born out of Ottoman Empire’s and British colonial rule’s historical revulsion to the development of up-streamers over the Nile, Egypt’s recent revolutionary tide against the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is storming regional and international diplomatic fields with ill-founded and spurious forecasts of the menace of the project on the lives and livelihoods of Egyptian people. Fettered by the stubborn adherence to British and Ottoman’s “own will,” Cairo’s polity is now incapable to put a bridle on its political officials’ fickle, whimsical hydro-diplomatic acts to halt Ethiopia’s move in making the project a reality.

Cairo’s hydro-diplomacy single-mindedly and glaringly roams hither-and-thither to whittle away Ethiopia’s determination, heavily leaning on its time-honored dependency on outsiders’ to extend its interests. Egyptian foreign ministry spokesperson’s recent remark is a case in point to illustrate Egypt’s hydro political dependency to cripple Ethiopia’s march to accomplish its Dam and perpetuate its insatiable interests over the Nile. Badr Abdelatty told Reuters on 23 April, 2014 that "We have contacts with everybody….with Russia, with China, you name it….,"to bar them from supporting and financing Ethiopia’s efforts to accomplish the grand project, stressing that the GERD was a ‘violation’ of Egypt’s interests.

This attempt is extremely antithetical to Ethiopia’s stance over the intent of the construction of the GERD. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn epitomizes the GERD as “a real expression of the nation’s commitment to a project which demonstrates the determination of the people and the government to win the war against poverty whatever the cost.” In deed, Ethiopians have committed themselves that wails of indignity, famine and war will not wither their eyes along the banks of the tributaries of the Blue Nile, Barro-Akobo and Tekezze including various tributaries Wanqa, Bashilo , Walaqa , Wanchet , Jamma , Muger , Guder , Agwel, Nedi, Didessa, Dabus, Handassa, Tul, Abaya, Sade, Tammi, Cha, Shita, Suha, Muga, Temcha, Bachat, Katlan, Jiba, Chamoga, Weter and the Beles. They have also affirmed that the GERD will turn the Nile into a passage of light conquering the roots of mistrust, suspicion, underdevelopment and Egypt’s exclusive mastery over the resources of the River for the shared benefit of all Basin countries. The GERD is an emblem of national project incorporated in the country’s five year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).

Egypt’s deaf ear to Ethiopia’s calls for genuine discussion is a reminiscent of its historic, deep-rooted hydro-political dependence on the shoulders of the major traditional super powers, including Ottoman Empire (as its province), British Empire (as its colony), America (as its Cold War client state in the MENA and the Horn regions during the reign of President Sadat), and the Soviet Union (as a client in the Middle East and Africa).

In the mean time, Egypt is also wooing its traditional patrons and new emerging powers, including the US, EU, Russia, China, as well as many other major powers, to eternize its long-cherished geo-political goal—“Controlling the Nile”— and immortalize or keep alive the legacy of British colonial rule and Ottoman Empire’s path towards the development, utilization and use of the waters of the Nile River. Blown by the waves of its long-term dependency syndrome and driven by the de facto ruler, Cairo is pursuing another hydro-political card to outsmart Ethiopia’s march towards inclusive prosperity and common will, upholding the recently often-repeated second Cold War rivalry (the US and Russia) to project its unilateral securitization of the Nile and transcend its short-term interests over the Nile Valley.

After Egypt’s independence from colonial rule, the country’s leaders sought support from foreign powers to deter Ethiopia’s development projects over the Blue Nile, Tekezze and Barro-Akobo. In fact, they were, according to Professor Yacob Arsano, successful in crumbling the Abbay (Blue Nile) Master Plan Study (1958-64). They made a quintessential role in crushing the Gilgel Abbay Project (1960s). More ominously, President Sadat also obliterated Ethiopia’s Tana-Beles Development Project (mid 1980s) to salvage millions of people from Wello, Tigray, Gondar, Haddya, and Kambata from famines as a result of frequent droughts. Additionally, when President Nassir built the Aswan High Dam, the Soviet Union together with its Hydro project Institute provided billions of dollars, technicians and heavy machineries to the realize Egypt’s symbol of power.

Egypt’s hydro political dependency on outsiders is firmly rooted from its history as a province of Ottoman Empire and later as a colony of British colonial rule. Its dependency is not only confided to hydro politics but also its overall development direction. The dependency has taken root from the institutions which were developed by first Ottoman Empire and then British colonial rule. In this regard, James A. Robinson and Daron Acemo?lu assert that “the development path forged largely by the history of Ottoman and European rule” impedes Egypt from independently crafting its way to prosperity and development. They go on to say that leaders of post-independent Egypt “followed the former colonial world by developing hierarchical, authoritarian regimes with few of the political and economic institutions” to achieve the development goals.

Currently, Cairo’s hydro political short-termism vows to view Africa as a strategic and security ally to enshrine its Nile factor in the African diplomatic circle and put aside the imaginative and self-induced fear of the Cooperative Framework Agreement. Reformulating its strategic goals and objectives, the post-Revolution Cairo’s officials are stepping into the long-neglected African circle to seek the hand of the Nile Basin and other African countries to cement ways to have mastery over the geopolitical hemisphere of the Nile Valley and prevent up-streamers from using the waters of the Nile for the absolute use and benefit of Egyptian people. Beyond his calls for Egypt’s membership in the African Union, Egyptian Prime Minister’s visit to African countries succinctly entails Egypt’s dependency on African circle to downplay the future development of up-streamers’ peoples to utilize their water resources.

Now sounds pretty clear that Cairo’s dependency and short-termism on the legacy of British and Ottoman rule transcends many ages and comes to the 21st century. In deed, the incumbent government in Cairo sticks to Britain’s accords, which cultivated the imperial political supremacy than the integration of the Eastern Nile Basin countries. Their yearning to continue the legacy of British colonial rule, Ottoman Empire and Cold War rivalry over the use of the waters of the Nile is now calling for Russia, America and the EU to help sustain the dream of the founder of modern Egypt-Muhammed Ali-controlling the head waters of the Nile waters.

Al Sisi’s recent visit to Russia was intended to make the US and the EU switch sides with Cairo’s new roadmap on its future standing in regional and global affairs. He is also successful in pressing Obama administration to release $650 million of the total $1.5 billion aid allocated to Egypt. His cautious move is a reminiscence of the Cold War rivalry to extend the old state’s interests. America and the EU have come on board to help support the coming Al Sisi’s Government’s fight against terrorism and legitimize Sisi’s coup at the expense of democracy and human rights.

To the dismay of Egyptian politicians, up-streamers are committed to proactively engage and play their part in the making of today’s and tomorrow’s drama of regional and global affairs. They are now rethinking Egypt’s unremitting hegemonic reign over the utilization of the Nile River. They offer another alternative—the mutually cooperative partnership over the development, management and utilization of the Nile— to fairly and equitably channel the waters of the River for the mutual development and transformation of the Nile Valley region and for the realization of the priorities of African Renaissance and Pan Africanism.

Having understood the failure to modernize their country and its severe repercussions on their ancestors, Ethiopians are today financing the GERD, reiterating the late Prime Minister’s remark: “we not only have a plan, but we also have the capacity to assert our rights.” They are also committed to end one of the knottiest ironies of the world, as the Wall Street Journal put, “the land that feeds the Nile is unable to feed itself.” What Egypt needs to do is to reinvent its foreign policy direction towards the Nile abandoning its interest to preserve the needs of the old state institutions implanted by British and Ottoman rule. Again, it should also give a passage to interdependence than dependence on alien forces to maximize its interest to rectify the wrongs of yesterday and build a better tomorrow.

Dr Al-Hadi is an independent political analyst. He can be reached at mmansouralhadi@gmail.com

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