Ethiopian Business Review

Media Hype: Egyptian Media Misconceptions about the Renaissance Dam

In recent months, the Egyptian media has been filled with information about Ethiopia.  The construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has stimulated interest and much commentary, especially from Egyptians of all political backgrounds. Upon first glance, this might appear normal, especially since the press thrives on these types of stories — the more astonishing and dramatic, the better. Continually being bombarded with incorrect information — in Egypt and elsewhere — could prevent one from asking questions about the media hype. 

However, one is undoubtedly confronted with questions of the history of the Nile, which demonstrates that all the upper riparian countries have always been unable to access the bounty of the river. The history of the Nile tells us that one-sided utilization has been the hallmark of its use. This is not because other riparian countries had no interest in sharing the waters or because the water was insufficient for all interested in its use. Also, the one-sided utilization can’t be explained by the fact that life in Egypt has been entirely dependent on the river or even because it is too difficult to produce mutually-beneficial mechanisms of cooperation. 

All these arguments have been sufficiently discredited by scholars studying the Nile. Dereje Zeleke (PhD), a prominent scholar once wrote: “the narrative which portrays the Nile waters as its veritable lifeblood, even a slight reduction of which would bring mortal harm to Egypt, is a complete hoax, a total fabrication intended to bolster the untenable claim to endlessly perpetuate the poignantly inequitable utilization Egypt is making of the Nile waters.”  

The imperative of reasonable and equitable utilization of the Nile waters have been demonstrated from the perspective of mutual benefit: environmental concern, regional integration, drought resistance as well as peace and stability and food security. The quest of ensuring the mutual benefit for the 300 million people living in the Nile Basin is a long overdue issue, of course. In that regard, the signing of the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) by six riparian states was a watershed moment, one that demonstrated that the demand for equitable use had reached fever pitch. 

Nevertheless, despite the compelling reality towards cooperation demonstrated by the CFA, Egypt’ remained a poignant challenge, blinding its politicians from the very changes that have been taking place in the Nile Basin. Seen from that angle, the ugly face of hegemonic aspiration quickly appears behind the media hype.  It’s only reason for existence is to manufacture fear among Ethiopians and, paradoxical as it may seem, among the Egyptian people as well.

So, if there’s compelling reasons for cooperation, why present the GERD as existential threat then? Interestingly, the answer is not rooted in science or water law; but rather, the country’s political instability. 

Egyptians are whipped up into a frenzy to keep them out of the tectonic political changes the country is continuing to witness. On February 2011 Egypt witnessed a popular upheaval led by secularists, liberals and youth. This culminated in the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, but before the applause for the heroic revolutionaries had died away, the victory slipped from the hands of those who had made their home in Tahrir Square. The popular uprising was overtaken by the Ekwan, late comers of the Revolution. The dramatic change was the result of better organization by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose candidate, Mohammed Morsi, won the presidential election and took office in June 2012. In another dramatic turn of events the Ekwan met their demise with the June 3, 2013 military coup orchestrated by the Tamarod.

The removal of the Morsi government, however, brought to the surface deeply-rooted divisions within Egypt and diametrically opposed visions among its politicians about the future of the country. The ouster of Morsi ushered in the start of back-pedaling to a military regime and the rise of Marshal Al Sisi to power. The result has been a steady increase in violence. 

As time went on the ledger of the “revolution” showed increase in crackdown against supporters of Morsi, which has torn apart Egypt with an ever-growing split emerging in the populace. Egyptian Scholar Elizabeth Nugent observes that there are compelling reasons to accept that people in Egypt are increasingly embracing Islamism as the repression hardens. Rising popular support for the Muslim Brotherhood is, of course, the exact opposite of what the men-in-uniform actually want to see.

Given this, it isn’t hard to see how the issue of the GERD is being thrown, like dice on the table, to offer externalization of internal discord. The legitimacy crisis of military rule provides the incentive to play the Nile card in a bid to forge an overarching alliance among the marginalized segments of the populace. Sadat’s remark that only the Nile could pull Egypt into a war is something that Egyptian politicians have not forgotten. Defending Egypt’s interest in the Nile is the promise given to Egyptians as consolation to the bruises they suffered in the Arab-Israeli wars and in their failed efforts at Pan Arabism. From this perspective, it is not difficult to understand the motive behind the current smear campaign against the GERD. The fanfare and diplomatic carnival are diversionary tactics that attempt to project the army as the savior of Egypt and the only chance of preventing its ‘fall from grace.’ 

Similarly, attempting to instill fear in Ethiopians through the threat of military force is one of strategies that have been pursued by Egyptians for decades, in various forms. In fact, military threats have been the preferred modus operandi of Egypt to the demands of other countries for utilization of the Nile Waters. 

 However, the chasm created in Egypt is too large to bridge with a false promise of securing ‘historic rights’ over the Nile. It seems unlikely that the Youth of Egypt, Islamists and other previously marginalized groups will not now postpone their own demands for change. It is hard to guess that they will be hoodwinked to the tactics of the old regime.

It is also very clear that Egypt’s efforts to manufacture fear among Ethiopians are failing. It is actually bringing about increasing support for the GERD. The attempt to instill fear among Ethiopians  is likely to strengthen the resolve of the Ethiopian people. Perhaps it’s time to remind Egyt that there is still time to think again and take steps in the direction of a win-win policy over the Nile.

2nd Year . June 2014 . No.15

Samuel Addis

Samuel Addis is a Counselor at Foreign Media Relations Directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This article was submitted in his personal capacity. He can be reached at 


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