Military or Civilian?

After Ethiopia announced the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) three years ago many Egyptians from all walks of life were not happy and considered the construction of the dam a threat to the life and wellbeing of their country.

However, Ethiopia stated that the construction of the dam was not to harm anyone and is about fulfilling the demands of power due to the increasing population and need for electric power for the country’s emerging factories and stated it emanates from the concept of shared resources equitably. Though Ethiopia has stated this concept many times, the Egyptians are skeptical of the issue and are working hard to halt the construction of the dam or at least reduce its size.

The activities and concerns of Egypt to halt the construction of this dam is multi faceted and includes diplomatic efforts to internationalize the issue and, in its worst, scenarios plans to sabotage the project by using different mechanisms. This plan however, is not a new one. Leaders of the country both in the past and currently are putting military action on the table to hamper Ethiopia from constructing a dam over the river Nile and not to use the river without Egypt’s permission.

In a very recent incident in June of 2013, it was reported that the Egyptian politicians were reportedly caught proposing anti-Ethiopia sabotage plans after a closed door meeting which was broadcast live on air without their knowledge (it is still not clear that the meeting was broadcast live on air deliberately or as the politicians say, without their knowledge) Whatever the case, a meeting chaired by the toppled Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, shows that Egypt may consider the issue of sabotage to halt the Ethiopian power project on the table.

At the meeting, many of the Egyptian political figures including opposition political parties consulted on ways to stop Ethiopia from continuing to build the massive USD 4.8 billion dam.

A number of political parties have put forward hostile acts while the world watched live on TV.

During that meeting, the head of the conservative Islamist Nur Party, Yunis Makhyun, said the dam project is a danger to Egypt’s national security and suggested backing Ethiopian rebels as a means to destroy the project.

Such kinds of plans to sabotage any activity of development over the river Nile is not a new phenomenon, it was reflected by the leaders of modern day Egypt from Nassir to Sadat to Mubarak to even the short ruled Morsi.

Though the movement is reaching its peak, Egyptian interest to control every activity over the river Nile is as old as history itself. Among Egyptians, it was widely believed that the Emperor of Ethiopia could shut off the waters of the Nile as one would shut off an outlet.

Daniel Kendie (Ph.D.) Associate Professor of History, in his article entitled “Egypt and the Hydro-Politics of the Blue Nile River,” argued that in more modern times, especially in the 18th and 19th century, Egypt’s invasion and final conquest of the Sudan was largely motivated by its desire to secure control over the entire Nile system. Muhammed Ali (1769-1849), for instance, felt that the security and prosperity of Egypt could only be assured fully by extending conquests to those Ethiopian provinces from which Egypt received its great reserves of water.

The objective of such a conquest was designed to impose Egypt’s will on Ethiopia, and either to occupy it or to force it to give up the Lake Tana area.

And hence, the Egyptian conquest of the Sudan in 1820 served as a stepping-stone to the increased presence of Egyptian soldiers in the western frontiers of Ethiopia, and to the subsequent Egyptian occupation of Kasala in 1834, Metema in 1838, Massawa in 1846, Kunama in 1869, and Harar in 1875. Egypt’s foreign policy has, to a significant degree, been shaped by the hydro-politics of the Nile. It is predicated upon the premise that Egypt should be g enough either to dominate Ethiopia or to create the conditions to prevent Ethiopia from building dams on the Blue Nile.

With that end in mind, Egypt controlled the port of Massawa from 1865 to 1885 and occupied parts of present-day northwestern Eritrea from 1872-1884 with a view to using these areas as a basis for military operations against the rest of Ethiopia.

As noted in many historical documents, Egypt’s military journeys and ambitions were brought to a halt by its disastrous defeats at Gura and Gundet.

When Egypt’s outright claim to Eritrea failed, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had come to power subsequently, launched a campaign for the unity of the Nile Valley. However, his “unity” proposal gave the impression that it was aimed at bringing Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Sudan, Somaliland, Somalia, Uganda and Kenya under Egypt’s control.

However, the proposal failed to materialize because of the re-unification of Eritrea with Ethiopia in 1952, and the independence of the Sudan in 1956 and Somalia in 1960.

After the proposal of unity by the then president Nasser failed, Nasser appears to have begun his effort to undermine and to destabilize Ethiopia. But in any case Egypt has never publicly admitted that one of its foreign policy objectives had been, and continues to be, the destabilization of Ethiopia.

However, if someone skims through documents of the history of liberation fighters in Ethiopia it is easily visible that many of the rebel groups including the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) were receiving mounting support from Egypt.

In 1958, a small military training camp for Eritreans was also opened near Alexandria, where some of the future military commanders received their initial training.

After Nasser, the man who came to power was his deputy Anwar Sadat and boldly said “the only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.” During the famine that afflicted this part of Africa in the 1980s, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Egypt’s Foreign Minister who became UN Secretary-General, warned: “The next war in our region will be over water, not politics.”

This again shows that whoever came to power to rule Egypt, its policy over the Nile is similar and on the basis of heralding the possibility of war for the water and warns other countries especially Ethiopia not to use the river Nile.

According to Ibrahim Idris, Director General of Trans-Boundary Resources at the ministry if foreign affairs who was formerly serving as ambassador of Ethiopia in Egypt for five years (2006-2011) the policies of all Egyptian politicians and leaders when it comes to the Nile is similar and one cannot distinguish them based on their policy as they all are the same.

The similarity of leadership over the issue was also seen in the administration of the ousted president Hosni Mubarak, according to the whistleblower WikiLeaks “the previous regime of President Hosni Mubarak had planned to build an air base in Sudan in order to threaten the dam site.”

This is a clear manifestation of Egypt that heavily relies on the policy of destabilization of Ethiopia not to undertake any kind of projects over the river Nile.

The short serving Mursi even said that all options are on the table and according to analysts this means that Egypt considers all options including war. But according to the late prime minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi, the issue is an outdated and dismissed Egyptian complaint, and said “some people in Egypt have old-fashioned ideas based on the assumption that the Nile water belongs to Egypt, and that Egypt has a right to decide who gets what.” He added, “The necessary resources to build whatever infrastructure and dams it wants on the Nile water are already in place. The way forward is not for Egypt to try and stop the unstoppable.”

The way forward After the incident of the Arab uprising that revolutionized the Middle East and some other parts of the world, Egyptians toppled down the long serving Hosni Mubarak but failed to have a stable government. The country was in turmoil but the military, in the name of protecting the country, came to power.

During the early days of when the military started administering the country it was reported that the military would hand over the leadership to the civilian administration and the leader of Egypt’s armed forces chief, Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said he didn’t want to run for presidency. However Egypt’s top military body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), has given him the green light to stand for president in what it says is a response to the “desire of the masses.”

Many Egyptians see in him a g leader needed to overcome the instability that has beset Egypt since the mass protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square ended President Hosni Mubarak’s long rule in 2011.

According to the former ambassador of Ethiopia to Egypt, the nature of leadership in Egypt in relation to the Nile is similar so a different approach is not expected if he assumes power, this is because like the other modern day leaders of Egypt, he is from the military and at the same time he might want to use the issue of the Nile as a card to win the willingness of the majority of Egyptians.

Source : The Reporter

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