Viewpoint

Dear Egypt

My dear, how are you holding up in these trying times? I hope you are faring well as much as one can given the circumstances. And I pray we will not be burdened with more than we can bear and that this time will soon come to pass for the both of us.

Dearest, I hear of your frustration about the progress—or lack thereof—on the negotiations over my dam. That is a frustration I also share. I look forward to the day we settle things and look to the future together. Beloved, though your approach has recently metamorphosed in addressing your right to our water—officially stating you never held on to any past agreements—the foundation, that you do not want to settle for anything less than 66 percent of what is shared by 10 of your fellow African states, remains unchanged. I must be honest: I cannot fathom how you still hold on to this. Both you and I know the underlying factor of the 1959 agreement birthed in 1929. It was for neither of our needs except that of your past colonizer: cotton and the Suez Canal. Now, what troubles me is how you can hold on to something whose origins—colonization—you so despised. When your cherished Abdel Halim Hafez roared:

“قلنا هنبنى وادى احنا بنينا السد العالى

يا استعمار بنيناه بايدينا السد الع “,

“we said we will build, and we built the high dam…

O colonizer, we built it with our own hands”

Were not those words the very sentiment of everyone in the 60s and 70s? The celebration of your emancipation that started in 1922 and culminated in the (re-)rise of your self-sufficiency via your High Aswan Dam? I applauded your achievements then like I still do for you continuously shape your path. My dear, now, what I do not get is how you can cherry-pick among the worst of what is left for us from the time we were scrambled over. I cannot, once again, fathom what keeps you holding on to this entitlement that you were bountied with when the rest of your then eight co-riparians were in no position to speak up and challenge for what was—and still is—rightfully ours as well. Perhaps it is fear, beloved.

I know you fear the waters will decrease during my filling period and it will affect you. And know I am in no denial of that and your fear is understandable. Nonetheless, this time around, I believe you should share carrying the burden that I have done for thousands of years. And I know you can. The privilege nature bestowed upon you—via gravity—has made you the sole proprietor of the Nile for long and made you better-off than any of your riparian neighbors; enough to see you through the potential effects of my dam’s filling.

But please, do not take my stand as if I bear any ill-will towards you, it is in fact on the contrary. Remember when your son Sadat visited Jerusalem in 1977 in a bleak protest to your Arab compatriots? That was you saying “I will once more define my destiny” even with the risk of defying the status quo, that, now and then, you have to separate yourself from the herd. I am, in a way and in my way, following in your footsteps in that aspect. Even if I initially stood alone on the quest to put our water to use, which makes up the majority of what I have not only in volume but also in the amount of my land it takes to be brought to life, I said, perhaps, this is a journey I have to start alone. I have started it and I will see it through.

But like you should take some credit for—the once-unimaginable—your Arab compatriots’ relations with the Israelis (albeit in the disguise of no formal diplomatic relation), so do I give myself a bit of credit in motivating not only our other riparian neighbors but also you in acknowledging the necessity and fairness of using our water together. You took a bold leap of faith out of your accustomed privilege in signing the Declaration of Principles in which you acknowledged the significance of our water as a source of livelihood and development not only for you but for me as well. I hope someday you will make even a greater leap when it comes to the Cooperative Framework Agreement.

My dear, revisiting the issue of your Arab compatriot-ship and heritage, I sense—with an inkling of sadness—you have an issue of identifying as an African than an Arab. And I hold no grudge, perhaps you have  more heritage shared with them. As Foud Ajami,  wrote in 1979 “early advocates of pan-Arabism moved between Damascus and Baghdad, but the League of Arab States was headquartered in Cairo when it was founded in 1945”. Despite your ups and downs and sometimes falling out with your family, I get and respect the role you played and still play in the Arab world. To be honest though, in addition to the obvious shared cultural and historical heritage, nothing proved your bond more strongly than the spirit of young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi that set-off the Arab Spring and culminated, in your part, in your legendary Tahrir Square.

One can assert—albeit with a small risk of hasty generalization—that there was a strong political and economic repression you all shared. Now, I do not mean to poke into your wound—God knows I have my ample share of assignments at the home front—but my dear, I wonder how you make the case of our water a centerpiece when the key to your progress lies within the control of your very border and reach. Why is it not your priority to formalize your informal economy that makes up a hefty chunk of your GDP that in turn can be channeled for your needs as you see fit? Why is your army the main gateway for economic opportunities at the cost of your public body?

Why is it that you mobilize your citizens on an issue that you have securitized—which should never have been securitized to begin with—when many of your tangible and imagined woes can be confronted at the home base? Again, this is not to antagonize but merely to point out that our negotiations currently being colored with a lack of empathy will add to, not deduct from, our vast backlog of loads we each face in our homes. And what then when I continue to make use of my share of our water not only through my dam but a variety of other plans that I have?

Anyhow, my dear, I hear that you are already on the move to use our water better than you did in the past: cultivating less water-intensive crops and even collaborating with your mosques to implement efficient use of water, and I hail you for that. After all, compared to your other bounties, and despite your continuous assertion that our water is a matter of survival for you but not me, we both know the contribution of your agriculture that takes up most of our water hardly contributes to your overall well-being. And, I know if you are honest with yourself, you will see the injustice of expecting me to not use what makes up a significant amount of all I have on that premise. I should also not pass without mentioning that others are faring well on much less water than ours.

Dearest, perhaps I have tired you with my drudgery by now, so let me say a bit about things I uphold highly of you. As you might expect, I hail you for one of the greatest civilizations of the world you gave birth to, the marvels of which this letter will not do justice, but know that I grew up learning your history and that I felt pride knowing that it was somehow mine as your fellow African. My dear, do you remember that you helped me set up my first bank in 1905 in a noble quest of helping an African in need? And do you also recall that my first flight by my Ethiopian was to your beautiful Cairo in 1946? Maybe I do not say this enough but know I am also ever grateful for your long service in providing me with Patriarchs for my Church, helping me in cementing a strong base in my Christian faith. You also were gracious enough to have many of my Muslim scholars study at your great Al-Azhar in your lovely City of a Thousand Minarets. I have a lot I am grateful for you, I hope you can find a few things you are grateful for me as well.

Beloved, both of us know that a desirable future for Africa can only be secured if we move together than apart. I know you know that the Nile’s fruit is more when shared among all of us than by any of us alone. But I also sense perhaps you fear that I, along with the rest of your riparians, might pull you back if you open up to the possible ties over our water. Maybe that is not a baseless fear, as we have some catching up to do with you and as you are the most well to do among all of us. Maybe, the idea of taking a leading role— which I hope you will—in transferring the basin into a prosperous one is a complicated and daunting task. But what I can say is have a bit more faith, I will need your help in transforming not only myself but our co-riparians, but I am not helpless. You have witnessed the commendable role I am taking in regional security, among many other things, and a very current evident role in excellence my national carrier is playing at this tiring time for Africa and beyond. And we know the immense potential that lies in our African free trade area that we both have ratified and hope to reap from together.

So, my dear, I am hopeful; I am hopeful we will be ok; that we will change that seemingly unending negative narrative of our continent; that we stand for reason; and that we are sufficient and capable to solve any of our problems by ourselves. I hope you share my hope and in that hope, I pray you channel the wisdom of the very expansive concept of “Maat” your gods devised thousands of years ago embodying the essence of “truth, balance, order, and justice”, and so befitting of this time that has shown us that you and I are after all tailored with the same infectious human fabric. My well-being is yours and yours mine.

With love,

An Ethiopian

P.S. Eid Mubarak!

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This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.

Editor: William Davison

Main photo: Nefartari with Simbel and St. Yared holding a Simbel, which is called Tsenatsil in Amharic and Ge’ez.

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About the author

Meklit Berihun

Meklit is a civil engineer and aspiring researcher in systems thinking and its application in the water/environment sector. A Nile enthusiast.

46 Comments

  • Thank you sister Meklit for your love letter to both our great countries. We need more of these conversations!
    You showed a lot of empathy towards Egyptians and our fears, allow me to quantify a couple of them:
    1- 97% of Egypt’s fresh water needs are filled by the nile. The Nile is Egypt only source of fresh water
    2- Before the dam, Ethiopia is a water rich country while Egypt is a water poor country. In Egypt, the per capita share of fresh water is 20 cubic meters a year while Ethiopia is 1244 (An Ethiopian share is 62 times more than an Egyptian). Here is the state from the world bank https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ER.H2O.INTR.PC
    3- Egypt dependency on the unrestricted water of the Nile started 7 thousands years ago and is not a colonial plot, the agreements of 1929 and 1953 just codified the existing reality but didn’t change it. Ethiopia unilaterally filling a dam that is twice as big as hoover dam (biggest in the US) will definitely change the status quo.
    4- the good news is that we are not fighting over water. Egypt needs water security and Ethiopia needs energy security and both are easily achievable if we come to an agreement based on science and based on a basic-bargain Water-security in exchange for energy security.
    5- Egypt and Ethiopia can benefit greatly from holistic management for the water of the nile between the two dams (very common in between the different states in America). This will protect Egypt from droughts and protect Ethiopia from floods. See what happened in the Oroville Dam in California a few years ago.
    6- There could be temporary solutions to help Ethiopia fill the dam faster and generate electricity faster without threatening Egypt’s share. For example, “Water Banking” where Ethiopia keeps some of Egypt’s share behind GERD for now to raise the water level in order to generate electricity and at the same time, this will be a benefit for Egypt if a drought comes in 10,20, 50 years from now. That banked water can be released in the future as well and Egypt can keep it behind the high dam after Ethiopia finishes filling the dam to the needed level if Ethiopia doesn’t want to keep Egyptian water for the long term behind GERD.
    7- We all need to understand that reaching an agreement now (regardless how hard the negotiations and sacrifices) are our best option. Imagine how contentious the negotiation will be if we are in the middle of a drought?
    8- Ethiopia needs to think about the long-term implications of not reaching a fair deal. Our forefathers handed us down an exemplary sisterhood, we are tied together with an empirical cord. I would hate to have our generation fail to rise to the occasion and reach a fair deal, the alternative could be our kids or grandkids raising weapons of war against each other.

  • We support Ethiopia’s visions and dreams to build its infrastructure, but the Ethiopians seem to be driven by fierce nationalism rather than mutual cooperation. Egyptian lives are already at risk of severe water shortage, and your dam will make our lives even harder.

    Ethiopia has 20 great lakes, we have only 1 source of water. You have thousands of cubic meters of fresh rainfall every year, we have none.

    Meklit, I’m a Civil Engineer too. The first thing they teach us in Engineering ethics is ” Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.”

    How can you be so indifferent to the disastrous effects this dam will have on the downstream countries? The technical report prepared by your government lacked many important details. We must act as Scientists and Engineers to ensure this project will not decrease Egypt’s already limited water.

  • How can you be sure that it is not you who would be brought back to the beginning of civilization. We defeated every enemy, what about you? remember you were colonized, but we defeated our colonizers. We are warriors and God is always by our side so we will defeat you. Because you come in bad faith.

  • It is amazing to see Egypt selling fruit like oranges or mandarin in Canada using the Nile river coming out from Ethiopia. Bath towel 100% Egyptian cotton or any bedroom items in Canada. Suddenly, Ethiopia want to use its own Nile river for development they make it like they are going to starve to death or they are not going to see any water in Egypt. Their backward mentality toward the Sub-Saharan Africa should stay the same for ever!! Development and the use of Nile only for Egypt with their sick mentality. This is the beginning of the many to Dam to come by many other African countries. Ethiopia maybe the first one to do it, there will be more to come. Please, enjoy the ride.

    Cheers, from Canada.
    Demeke

  • There is no option for decreasing 1 mm3 from the EGYPTIAN water resources. We always stand with Africa for development, but not for our people’s LIFE!

    • Please note that there is life out of Egypt who is dying of poverty. So you have to drink the water together not alone like a greedy man. Otherwise, you will be denied all.

  • The only country that does not cooperate is Ethiopia, we are continuing to negotiate with them by diplomatic means, and indeed we are discussing military cooperation with Sudan, but if it comes to a crisis, we will simply send a plane to bomb the dam and return on the same day, or we can send our own forces to sabotage the dam And, remember what Egypt did in the late 1970s, I think that was in 1976, when Ethiopia was trying to build a large dam, so we detonated the equipment while it was at sea on its way to Ethiopia.
    Omar Suleiman, the former head of Egyptian intelligence
    In case of you dont know Omar suleiman ask Your intelligence office By the way iam not Egyptian by any mean but I do feel sorry about irresponsible Gov play with fire

  • Dear
    I have several points that I would like to highlight in response to your letter to my country Egypt
    1. You keep saying your water which is not true this water was given by the Almighty God and it happens to start at your end.
    2. It is not our problem that we used the water to build a civilization while you were lazy and stayed in poverty ….it’s your mistake and you can blame yourself
    3. Water is a matter of life for us, make no mistake in our resolve to maintain the flow of water
    4. Believe me … this is no bluff we are dead serious if push comes to shove we will bring you back to the beginnings of civilization ..please do not test our resolve we have negotiated for 10 years with good intentions and with no avail. Do not put our backs to the wall.
    5. With the Grace of God we shall prevail.
    6. Long live Egypt

    • Come on Tito boy, you as far as I know your government gives you false promises for political gain, and I am sorry for you. You believe your government words like word of God. You want war bring it on, when you come for war don’t forget to bring body bag.

    • 1. of course the water is a gift of GOD no one said it wasn’t but he gifted it to Ethiopia and from Ethiopia to the rest of the world. And we are not cruel enough to leave you with nothing.
      2. OK then we blame our selves. so why are you against as building the dam then trying to stop us from becoming a civilization.
      3. facts building the dam is a matter of life for us!!!
      4. no one has bad intentions its just that you think of it in that way.
      5. AMEN

  • Egypt already has a drastic water shortage due to global warming, and as many as 45% of Egyptians live in rural areas that subside mainly on the agricultural economy— the Nile’s water is a lifeline for almost half of all Egyptians. No one opposes Ethiopia’s right to develop, but if it is development for you, then it is survival for us. The Nile is Egypt’s blood, and if you take from it, Egypt will bleed. All your words mired in honey would avail us nothing when our countrymen die of poverty.

  • This is agreat piece of work, thank you Mekliet. I wish if some one translate it in to Arabic so that will be available to Egyptians and many arabs to realize the truth. I also wish somebody tell them in comparison to swith channel. Just because of geographic location, every ship passing by must pay to Egypt with out using a spoonful of water. So what if we reqest a payment for billions liters of water we are endowed in nature. From now on they have to think multiple times befor they something about GERD and Ethiopia.

  • Dear Meklit,
    I really appreciate your approach of writing and the valuable content of your wonderful paper . I can tell from your paperwork that you are in touch and dedicated to a Nile river usages in a fair use to all people around the line. Hopefully, your paperwork contribute to our mind set so that, we act in supporting the process of finalizing GERD. Thank you. You really are true and a growing meklit to Ethiopians.
    Please, keep it up and may God Bless you
    and fulfill all our common dreams to be made true.

  • I applaud you! You are indeed a hell of researcher. I love the way you put things together and backed by facts. Good job, dear!

  • I admire you so much the way write it down I don’t think Egyptian like this or understand they never work independently they always look for somebody help they have been colonized for so long they never think out of colony mentality or idea they colony law or policy that is how they lied poor Egypt people.
    Egypt leaders never tell the truth to poor Egyptians the water comes for Ethiopia just tell the truth this is Ethiopia water. Teach the truth Hqyq.
    We have been colonized by our king Brighton the colon low is not working so we have to work with Ethiopia we are not baby we don’t have to cry to the Arab nation or the USA let’s grow up work with Ethiopia and other African countries enough cheating our Egypt people we don’t need the world to know us as self-center greedy. Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, all those have problems you should solve but you become only me Egypt you support me your problems are not important. Well you never have done anything anyways they just number for you.

  • Well done Meklit! Your narration clearly shown eating alone is difficult for Ethiopian. We Ethiopian are not self centered and always care about other people. Dear Egyptians, you have to stop the wrong slogan “Egypt is a gift of Nile & We got natural rights.
    Nile is a gift of Egypt & we got historical rights.” That doesn’t work at all under the 21 century! Nile is for all of us and wise to use it together than advocating selfish ideas!

  • Great wisdom,.compassion, love and objectivity.
    Congratulations
    I hope the.Ethiopian government consults, peofessionals like you.=

  • A gross fallacy in that you are attributing our ancient black Egyptian civilizations in Egypt to modern day Arabs.

    • Egypt was never Arab, invaded by Arabs but demographically Egyptian.. Invaded by the Turks/ottomans and English but not Turk or English either.. Always had a larger population than the Arabian peninsula combined yet still some think that Egyptians magically became Arabs because they speak Arabic.

  • These are some nasty demons in the flesh. They are not african Egyptians in the first place and they’re not even entitled to the land yet alone the water. As a TRUE born again believer of The Almighty God Yeshua The Christ,I know that Christ will not allow the whites as well as the Arabs to continue taking what He (The Almighty God) gave Us, the True children of Israel.

  • A beautiful encapsulation of a plethora of interferences and complex maneuvers of ill-advised leaders threatening the natural and historical bond between Ethiopian and Egyptian peoples, with insightful facts and messages to awaken the senses of love empathy and peace. Great contribution.

  • I love the narration. Thank You for making transparent, what otherwise seem like a complicated issue. It’s not complicated at all, just another example of Western/Arab injustice towards African people.

  • Arabs are not the Ancient Egyptians who built the Pyramids and Nile Valley Civilization. Arabs are invaders to the land after the Romans invaded. The true Ainceint Egyptians are the Nubians, Ethiopians, and Sudanese.

  • Dear Berihum,

    I am Egyptian living in the US for over 36 years a civil engineer worked in the public and private sector for almost 27 years. I have a daughter probably your age specialized in water and environmental engineering. We read your article and with all due respect I have to praise you as a writer more than a historian and/or engineer. Your writing skills are phenomenal however your engeneering and historical information need lots of revision.
    I will tell you and the people who commented on your article about couple of actual recent cases (which you can search online) in the US regarding rivers and dams. In one northern state some towns and environmental protection agencies sued the state over already built dams (existed for years) as they affect the level of water and migration of certain water life to all towns that follows these dams. After few years in court and hundred of studies the state Supreme Court decided that by 2022 all power generating dams on this river should be eliminated and those towns who banks on the electricity of these dams to use alternative means.

    The other case is also for a major Midwest river which runs through several states there was also a case in front of the Supreme Court that forbid the source state from building (adding) power generating dams and was the famous quote of one of the Justice ( river source is only a geographical map and not a sole state rights) as long as the river runs in multi states.

    So when you said Egypt gets 75% and Ethiopia 0% I believe and also any reader will laugh.

    Without going into more details every logical human beings will understand that this is more of a political game with multi states involved weather seen or unseen and it’s not about developments. Many other cheaper alternatives are available and could have taken less time. Just think neutral for a moment……thank you all. I will not re comment and/or look at any reply.

    • Egypt is a gift of Nile & We got natural rights.
      Nile is a gift of Egypt & you got historical rights.

    • Bottom line we will take what is ours no matter how much the cost. Ethiopia as a source of Nile has 100% right to use it.

    • Well said Bro …

      From their comments they don’t even recognize us as Egyptians and they want as to eat this xxxx .. excuse my language.

    • After 7000 years you realized you have sole rights to the Nile. It’s all about politics as your regime is surely corrupted by external politics. The Dam will be demolished by international law or Egyptian Forces if you do not be polite and understand the rights of others using the same water source.

  • Dear Meklit: Thank you so much. You are more matured than your age. You may not realize it but let me tell you; you are a good diplomat and a good teacher. Keep on teaching us all. May God bless you.

  • Enjoyed reading your “letter” about the issue. You wrote it in a way that humbly states the pure facts of the matter.
    Please reach out to me.
    I need your experience in the subject.

  • the new world order starts at the Nile,
    you can’t win all the time,
    once you war surrounded by almighty strong nations time is changed,
    If you don’t win,
    join for mutual benefit
    Don’t be authoritarian,

  • If the flow of the Nile River water is in the reverse or opposite direction that is to say from the North to wards South to Ethiopia I definitely believe Egypt never allow or willing to provide a drop of water. But, we Ethiopians are proving Egypt with reach soil and water for many million years. When we build this dam to generate electricity doesn’t mean we block or halt the flow of the water to dry-up the irrigation system and drinking water of Egypt. The flow of water remains the same without being affecting Egypt and Sudan.
    The share of the Nile water 75% for Egypt and 25% for Sudan and 0% for Ethiopia was totally unfair.
    We never ever again take for granted the colonial treaty which was signed in 1929.
    We are not asking Egypt for now to pay money for the water as we pay money to get fuel from OPEC countries. If Egypt still tries to sabotaging the dam directly or indirectly, we might be obligated to charge for the water they use for the irrigation and drinks in billions of dollars every month not years.
    So, better behaved as a friendly country and say thanks for our mercy’s.

  • The Pharaohs, the Pyramids, and the Eternal Nile – I think this is how Egyptians view themselves. But now the realization has come that the Nile is really a river that, in large part, comes from the Ethiopian highlands. It is understandable that Egypt would have anxiety about a dam in Ethiopia. This “Dear Egypt” letter/essay appeals to the idea of a mutual well-being for Egypt and Ethiopia. I am reminded of a video where Meles Zenawi is explaining to a reporter from Egypt, that Ethiopia’s policy is firmly based on the principle of fair and equitable use of the Nile, what Meles called a “win-win” solution, spoken in a measured, calm and clear tone.

  • After the Arab Spring, many Middle East states succumbed to civil wars along tribal, religious sects and progressive forces. Egypt was singly spared from tribal fissures. It is a credit to the Blue Nile, which induced its people to huddle along the narrow river belt ,erode tribal loyalties and become a nation. In our modern history, the Egyptian elite openly exploited the tribal divides in Ethiopia for hegemony in the Nile. The irony is that some of the Ethiopian elite have shown little political will to foil the conspiracy.

    • Thank you very much for igniting the fire inside me.
      To me the Nile is an Ethipian by birth…..meaning the Nile is a brother and a sister to every
      Ethiopian
      Thank you Meklit for your wonderful article. Keep up the good job.

  • Such a great read with tangible facts and well researched points with a touch of an artistic narration! Enjoyed every paragraph as if I’m reading a piece by Rumi or Kahlil Jibran.

      • Dear sir with due respect please put in your consideration that for thousands years there is a nation his life depend on river Nile u can’t ask this nation to be under contr of any other country through holding his only source of water..water is life but electricity is development and prosperity big difference.. Your government use the dam for political issue growing up hate of Egypt to build the dam and collect money.. U have planty of water. What u expect if u control Nile water u expect the Egyptian will be happy .. Nile water is a way to kill Egypt and the Egyptian also Sudan think about.. Ethiopia live thousand of years without any water problem for us its our life problem.. U don’t give us any reason to trust you see you negotiators how they deal with us.. Ten years of negotioan we still at the beginning. If u want money for water tell us but stop playing games.. Dont expect we thank u to stop the water or control it.. Also what I’d this hug dam demolish especially u have many ethnic there.. Who we trust if u in Ethiopia do not trust each others please be fair think in a logic way.. We k ow the water came from Ethiopia and u know it’s our only source

  • አመሰግናለሁ፣ ከእነሱ ግትርነት አንጻር የበሰለ ጽሁፍ እያሰብኩ ባለሁበት ሰዓት በሚገርም ሁኔታ ሁሉንም ያመላከተ ጽሁፍ በመጻፍሽ እግዚአብሔር ይስጥሽ! ታዲያ ዝም አትበይ፣ ቀጥይበት!!

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