An article in the form of an open letter entitled “Dear Egypt” was published on various Ethiopian websites. The article consisted of a narrative defending Ethiopia’s right to construct the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, comparing it to Egypt’s Aswan High Dam and detailing developments after Egypt’s project was built.
This article, also in the form of an open letter, is a counter-argument to the narrative of successive Ethiopian governments that Egypt has been opposed to Ethiopia’s development.
I hope everything is fine your way. I am aware of the difficulties that you are experiencing at the moment, and I look forward to your overcoming them peacefully.
First, I would like to remind you of a spiritual bond that has connected your people with mine for centuries. As early as the 4th century CE, if you still recall, a blessed son of mine spread the word of God and revealed His Light upon your territory. It was my blessed son St Athanasius who ordained another revered son of mine, St Frumentius, whom your children call Abba Salama, as your first ever bishop. You remember, dear Ethiopia, that you still use my calendar, namely that of the Egyptian Coptic Church, as your own for your day-to-day activities.
Dear Ethiopia, though it may come as a surprise to many of your sons and daughters, I also played a crucial part in keeping your country up-to-date and in modernising your economy. In 1905, my banking experts helped you to establish the Bank of Abyssinia (later the National Bank of Ethiopia), the first bank in Ethiopia, and my good hearted children were excited to see your people issue their first banknotes at this time, just like any other modern state.
Do you still recall that after I gained independence on 28 February 1922, your land was the first in Africa and among the very few in the world at the time to host one of my earliest diplomatic missions? I hope you still have good memories of my faithful son, the senior diplomat Farag Mikhail Moussa, who worked hard in his capacity as consul to my mission in Addis Ababa to promote relations with your government. He took good care to help to transform your economy, and he established my permanent trade mission in Piazza in downtown Addis Ababa for the exchange of commodities and to boost trade between our two peoples.
Dear Ethiopia, when fascist Italy invaded your territory in 1935, my children formed a commission in defence of the Cause of Abyssinia (your official name at the time). They mobilised resources to support you against the Italian invaders and sent field hospitals to your territory, one of them ruthlessly bombed by fascist Italians. The pressure put by my people, who sympathised with your just cause, pushed my government to enforce sanctions imposed by the League of the Nations against fascist Italy to the detriment of the invaders. I wonder why you still call the 1929 Agreement on protecting my children’s water quota of the River Nile “colonial,” when you should have realised that the above activities in defence of your cause were in essence the acts of a sovereign nation.
When my good son Gamal Abdel-Nasser took office as president after the July 1952 Revolution, he authored a book dedicated to promoting relations with you. He believed that “such amicable relations between Egypt and Abyssinia could never have been established except between fully-fledged brothers.” It was my son Nasser and yours, Haile Selassie I, who worked together for a dream that our Mother Africa had been yearning for decades to achieve. Both of us, along with other children of Africa, co-founded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
Here you need to remember that it was courtesy of Nasser that the seat of this continental body blossomed in your “New Flower” – your capital city of Addis Ababa. You surely know that had Nasser wanted to have the seat of the OAU in Cairo, he would have secured it in the blink of an eye, as you know he was a staunch supporter of the African liberation movements and he is still highly revered in the hearts and minds of the African peoples.
Dear Ethiopia, in June 2014 another good son of mine, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, took over as president, and in his inauguration speech he plainly said that he “will not allow the GERD issue to be a bone of contention or an obstacle in developing relations with sisterly Ethiopia.” Perhaps you remember his visit to your beautiful capital in March 2015, when he addressed your parliament in good faith, and unequivocally said that he would be happy to see the schools in your beautiful country powered with electricity, but that while your children worked for that, they should not forget the right of my children to secure their needs of water.
But even so, dear Ethiopia, you are still dealing with me with much suspicion and trying your best to deny me my right to life. You are still adamantly rejecting reaching a balanced deal with my children and their brothers in Sudan on the GERD. I am in no way opposed to your progress – how could you think that when you know that I have supported you in your darkest moments? How can you tell your people that I, Egypt, do not want to see you developed, upgraded and prosperous?
It is true that my sons will stand up firmly to protect my people’s right to life and their share of water that has flowed to them since the dawn of history down from your mountainous land to my barren desert. It is also true that “belligerent” remarks by some of your children drive me to the edge. But I am patient, and I want you to exercise self-restraint and attend to the serious work of defusing the tension between us.
Escalation favours neither of us, as it opens wide the doors of interference by those who do not want to see us living in peace and harmony. Plus, my dear, why do you think that defending my right to life means I hate to see you prosperous? Could your prosperity be attained at the expense of my people and their brothers in Sudan? Is that your recipe for a “win-win deal”?
Dear Ethiopia, I understand how difficult your transformation is and how challenging your homegrown existential threats are. But please do not rub salt into the wounds: return to your senses and do what is right for the betterment of my people and yours.
*The writer is a former press and information officer in Ethiopia and an expert on African affairs.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 February , 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly