Egypt, Israel and the Nile water

Hani Raslan
Friday 29 Jul 2016

The latest Israeli visit to Ethiopia had indications of a mutual wish for wider cooperation. Meanwhile, an Egyptian vision to address this move is nonexistant

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent tour of the Nile Basin provoked a storm of comments which ranged between shock by the obviousness of the successful Israeli encirclement in the Nile Basin to feelings of astonishment, indignation and perplexity towards the official Egyptian silence to what was declared during this tour, especially in its most important leg, Addis Ababa.

This was also immediately followed by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry's trip to Israel in search of a “warm peace”, and the debate this trip has sparked. All this happened and there was not a single word about the water crisis amid vague indicators and scattered talks revolving around an Israeli mediation during the Renaissance Dam crisis.

Some tried to minimise the significance of Netanyahu’s trip based on the meagre figures of the trade exchange between Israel and the Nile Basin countries including Ethiopia. However, the matter is far more complicated. In essence, it is based on the idea of security and confronting a common enemy -- which is in this case Egypt -- with promises of partnership and cooperation.

Netanyahu pointed out twice in his speech before the Ethiopian parliament to the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt and their exodus to establish their state in the land of Israel. This is coupled with the negative emotions Ethiopians bear towards Egypt, and employing the legend of Solomon’s marriage to Belqis, the Queen of Sheba, a matrimony from which a section of Ethiopians draw a common lineage.

The atmosphere of the whole trip was of warm welcome, jubilation, great hospitality and cheerfulness expressing the common objectives, ties, readiness and rush to confront what is portrayed as the common foe, specifically Egypt, and Islamic terrorism in general.

During a talk with the media, Netanyahu said: The objective of constructing the Renaissance Dam is not electricity, but cultivating Ethiopia by an Israeli sponsorship, and that Israel will direct the water of the Nile to wherever the Ethiopians wish. He spoke in the parliament about the Israeli cow as being the most productive dairy cow in the world, which will soon be an “Ethiopian cow”.

The media raised the idea of the Water Bank, which is the practical application of the Entebbe Treaty and the direct culmination of the idea of transforming the right of access to water into a commodity.

In contrast, what is the Egyptian vision to address these movements? Unfortunately, we won’t find clear policies or a vision based on a lucid logic or even a compact one. However, there is shy silence and powerless succumbing, fogginess in standpoints and lacking credibility statements.

It is obvious that there are changes and transformations in traditional Egyptian pillars concerning the issues of water and national security whose features and orientations have not been crystallised yet; nevertheless all early signs do not bode well.    

Some voices call for being realistic and letting Israel enter as a party, through allowing it to a certain amount of water, as well as acting as a mediator in order to facilitate new agreements. This is permissible in the case of starting a truce or a settlement. However, do these voices think that Israel will be transformed into a friend not to mention an ally?

Egypt is the land of former slavery in the Jewish history, identity and creed and it is the only probable foe in the future, that is, if it pulled itself and rose. Will Israel help in strengthening the enemy? Did not we learn from the lessons of Camp David which brought us to our current situation?

Egypt’s internal crisis cannot be solved except through the arms of its sons and through a clear intentional vision based on an integrated project, whatever the sacrifices are, provided that we will not be involved in commitments and alliances that enchain Egypt, break its national spirit and defeat it from within.

The writer is head of the Nile Basin Studies Department at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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