The ongoing dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over a major hydropower dam project being built by Addis Ababa on the Nile River has inspired an increased spirit of patriotism among Egyptians.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Egypt — which gets 90% of its water supplies from the River Nile — fears that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will sharply reduce its water share. Ethiopia, an upstream country, says the dam project is vital for the country’s development. Years of negotiations between the two countries have failed to resolve the dispute.
The standoff revolves around the filling and operation of the dam, which sits on the Blue Nile. The Blue Nile flows into the River Nile during periods of drought. While Ethiopia wants to fill the dam’s reservoir of 74 billion cubic meters during a period of four to seven years, Egypt demands the reservoir be filled over a longer and slower period of 10 years.
Ethiopia Starts Filling Dam Without Egyptian Approval
On July 15, Ethiopia announced that it has started filling the GERD without reaching an agreement with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan. The announcement sparked anger in Egypt, with many Egyptians taking to social media to express their support for any action to be taken by their government against Ethiopia over the dam.
Social media accounts in Egypt have been filled with patriotism and cheering for their army, with many users posting photos of soldiers and military vehicles on their pages.
“Ethiopia has no right to build a dam on the Nile without an agreement with Egypt and Sudan. They [Ethiopia] don’t own the Nile River,” Ahmed Raef, 45, a driver, told InsideOver. “If they continued to refuse to reach an agreement with us on building the dam, the Egyptian army can intervene and solve the situation by force.”
Ethiopia Doesn’t Stand a Chance Against Egypt
A source of pride for many in Egypt, the Egyptian military is by far more powerful than Ethiopia’s. Egypt’s army ranks ninth out of 138 armies around the world, while the Ethiopian army ranks 60th, according to the Global Fire Power.
Angry with what they view as Ethiopian intransigence over the dam, Egyptians launched several hashtags on social media to show support for their military and defend the country’s right to the Nile water. A petition also went viral on social media, requesting the army to take all measures needed to protect and defend Egypt’s national security, resources and fortunes of the Egyptian people.
‘The Egyptian Army is Strong Enough to Force Ethiopia to Change its Mind’
“The Egyptian army is strong enough to force Ethiopia to change its mind on filling the dam without reaching an agreement with Egypt,” said Hani Ahmed, a 21-year-old university student. “So far, the Egyptian government favors diplomacy in the hope of resolving the dispute with Ethiopia peacefully.”
Last month, Egypt asked the UN Security Council to intervene to help resolve the dam dispute with Addis Ababa. Addressing the Security Council, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the massive dam — Africa’s largest — endangers Egypt’s survival. He warned that filling the GERD without an agreement with downstream countries would heighten tension and provoke crises and conflicts in the region.
Ongoing Tension Over the Nile
The Nile River has been a source of geographical tension between the Egypt and Ethiopia. In 1979, the two countries nearly went to war when Cairo responded to Ethiopian efforts to build a dam by amassing troops in nearby Sudan. And in 1994, Egypt threatened military action against Ethiopia when Addis Ababa revealed plans for the construction of a dam on the Nile.
The latest round of African Union-sponsored talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to reach an agreement ended in a deadlock. The Egyptian Presidency, however, said on July 21 that the leaders of the three countries agreed to continue their talks for reaching a “binding legal agreement on the rules for filling and operating” the dam.
Egyptian Accusation: Ethiopia is Using the Dam as a ‘Political Tool’ to Blackmail Egypt
Former Irrigation Minister Mohamed Nasr Allam accused Ethiopia of wasting time in an attempt to avoid reaching a binding agreement with Egypt over the dam. In statements, Allam said Ethiopia was using the dam project as a “political tool in order to impose control over Egypt, extract concessions and undermine its standing in the region”.
On July 19, Egypt’s National Security Council held a meeting to discuss the results of talks with Ethiopia over the GERD. A statement issued following the meeting reiterated Egypt’s resolve to reaching a comprehensive agreement on the rules of filling and operating the dam “in a way that guarantees the water rights and development for the three countries and maintains regional security and stability.”
Inability to Come to an Agreement
Earlier this year, the three countries held talks in Washington under the US auspices to resolve the dam dispute. Ethiopia, however, refused to sign a final agreement. On July 22 Foreign Policy magazine, citing officials and congressional aides, said the Donald Trump administration was weighing withholding some aid to Ethiopia over the dam project.
For Ahmed, the university student, the issue is still in Egypt’s hands, thanks to the strength of the Egyptian military.
“The River Nile has always been a lifeline for the Egyptians and we can’t allow Ethiopia to enforce its will on us,” he said. “If the situation reached a dead end, I’m confident that Egyptian army will be there to solve the dispute for good.”