The Egyptian-Ethiopian divide

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By Abdel Latif el-Menawy

Mistakes begin when we only see what we want to see. Negative repercussions worsen when we insist on our point of view and refuse to look at issues from a different angle.

This applies to how we are dealing with the Nile Basin countries. We have settled with confirming on what's non-negotiable - that would be Egypt's right to get its share and the amount of water it needs from the Nile River. We have for long insisted on this and neglected to see other Nile Basin countries' opposing points of view. We did not try to see things from their angle - which if we did, it would have aimed to achieve a comprehensive vision and not to adopt their point of view. A comprehensive vision would help us understand the problem from all its angles and thus enable us to make the right decision and resolve the crisis while guaranteeing our own interests without losing good relations with countries which we have no choice but to co-exist with until the end of time.

Part of the mistake we committed in the past is that we kept confirming our right to the Nile River and bringing up international agreements and pledges on Egypt's rights to this water but did not engage ourselves in knowing what others want or why others are angry. Are their stances due to their lack of knowledge of these agreements? Are they due to rejecting these agreements or to voicing anger towards a certain behavior or towards a policy that lacked empathy and understanding of someone's political and economic needs? The problem is that we've also adopted a superior behavior in which we felt like we are always capable of successfully acting anytime we sit fit.

We also got occupied by other matters. Amidst our preoccupation, we did not notice that what we thought were constant principles in some areas were no longer as such. We did not notice any of these regions' political, economic and psychological developments and thus failed to realize that we have to alter our vision towards these areas which their own vision of themselves, their alliances, relations and interests have also differed.


International agreements are important but they will not be the solution to the issue of the Nile River. Insisting on our stance and on our right to life must be continuous but insistence alone is not enough.

When I met with late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, I understood some aspects that haven't been clear to me and which are important to understand. Among what he said was:

-Ethiopia is not demanding an equal division of the Nile River water.. We did not say that. What we are demanding is a fair division.

-We know that Egypt needs more irrigation water than Ethiopia does. It's therefore unreasonable to demand equal shares between Ethiopia and Egypt. We never demanded that.

-Egypt's share of the Nile River water includes the water wasted in canals. If the Egyptians will tell us that they have the right to waste the Nile River water and that we Ethiopians have no right to exploit a single liter of our water even if we are starving, then the Egyptians would not be thinking in a modern way that suits the 21st century.

-There must be mutual recognition of each party's interest. The 1959 agreement does not recognize the interests of seven out of nine countries. It only recognizes the interests of two countries. If you insist on recognizing of the interests of only two countries, you'd be shutting the door towards cooperation. Cooperation's first step is to recognize each other's interests and to recognize the need to reach a solution that benefits everyone.

-"When the issue is related to Egypt and Ethiopia, there's not even a slight possibility to split and it is not possible to cut relations between the two countries. The Nile River has connected Egypt and Ethiopia and it's impossible to separate them."

Spending these few days in Ethiopia made me realize that we need to look at the matter from different angles. We need to liberally view the situation and abandon outdated behavior. (al-Masry al-Youm)