Book Review: New book on Renaissance dam uses historical documents to support Egypt's water rights

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Monday 24 Jul 2017

Sadd Al-Nahda wa Nahr Al-Nil ("The Renaissance Dam and the River Nile"), by Heidi Farouk and Medhat El-Kady, Cairo: Self-published, 2017. pp.400.

More than two thirds of Sadd Al-Nahda wa Nahr Al-Nil is devoted to documents, official decisions, and maps in Arabic, English, Amharic and Italian, which are relevant to Egypt’s legal and historical rights in relation to the Nile waters.

These pieces of proof should lead to a review of everything Ethiopia has relied upon while planning and building alone – and against international treaties and conventions – the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The book’s authors are Heidi Farouk, a former foreign ministry counsellor for borders and international sovereignty, and former ambassador Medhat Kamal El-Kady.

They state in their introduction that the book’s story began in December 2009 when they were dispatched by the late brigadier general Omar Suleiman, head of the Egyptian Intelligence Service at the time, to the British National Archives in London to get documents, which they asserted decisively acknowledge Egypt’s historical rights to the River Nile’s course, before Ethiopia actually began to build the dam.

Thus, they embarked on a journey to get these documents from more than one archive and more than one city, to prove “the Egyptian right isn’t only restricted to the Nile water, but to the river course” and that this right was “established through border treaties that can’t be abolished.”

The authors added that the first treaty was made in May 1902, according to which Ethiopia is committed to keep the river course navigable and committed not to affect the course or divert it or establish barriers or facilities upon it.

It also stipulates that Egypt has the same obligation to the remaining upstream countries according to the treaties which the aforementioned countries signed. Thus, when Uganda decided to build a dam on the Nile in 1949 to generate electricity, Egypt participated with it in the project.

From another perspective, the authors provide exclusive lists of bilateral or multilateral treaties, through which Egypt’s legal and historical rights to the Nile waters were formed, beginning with the protocol signed in 1891 between Italy and Britain.

This treaty’s significance lies in the text concerning Egypt’s ceding a part of its lands in Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia). The authors list ten treaties up to the Cooperative Framework Agreement (or Entebbe Agreement) in 2010, which hasn’t entered into force due to some unresolved disputes.

But a quick look at those treaties reveal Egypt’s indisputable rights; for instance, Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II pledged not to allow the establishment of any works on the Blue Nile that obstruct the water flow to the River Nile; the memoranda signed between Britain and Italy in which Italy acknowledges the historical and acquired water rights of Egypt and the Sudan in the waters of the Blue Nile and the White Nile; and the River Nile Waters Agreement signed by Egypt and Britain (on behalf of the Sudan, Kenya, Tanganyika, Tanzania and Uganda) in 1929 which stipulated that Egypt assumed the right to veto any construction projects on the River Nile or its tributaries or the lakes feeding them that would affect Egypt’s interests adversely.

After recounting a number of treaties that assert these historical rights, the authors conclude by saying that those rights are the rights of the Egyptian people which were established over 122 years, and were “signed and preserved by our old rulers, whether monarchs or sultans and even when Egypt was under occupation; and former Egyptian prime ministers struggled to ensure they were respected and executed during the khedival and royal eras.”

The events that followed the 2011 revolution hindered the authors and prevented them from pursuing their efforts through official channels. They therefore relied on their personal efforts and spent money from their own resources for the sake of saving this issue and bringing to light the documents they had gathered.

They brought a case before the Italian courts demanding that the Italian government meet its international commitments according to treaties signed since 1902, and they also brought another case demanding that the Italian company Salini stop its work in constructing the dam.

Finally, the authors ask the Egyptian government to resume their efforts through resorting to the International Criminal Court and calling for the Ethiopian Prime Minister be prosecuted by this court, because according to reports the completion of the dam will spell a humanitarian disaster for 90 million human beings. This kind of crime is mentioned in the statute of the International Criminal Court. 

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