Morsi has such problems confronting him in Egypt that he is sabre-rattling, fulminating about going to war with Ethiopia as that upstream country is proceeding with plans to build a hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile. In principle, damming the river for hydro-power shouldn’t lead to long-term diversion of water, but the energy-starved Ethiopia might start to divert water to local uses – like cash crop food production – which could impact Egypt (and Sudan, by the way), 85% of whose water comes from the Blue Nile.
Thomas Friedman, Egypt’s Perilous Drift
The headline news in Cairo last week was Ethiopia’s construction of the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa, on the Blue Nile. As the reservoir behind the dam is filled up, the water supply to Egypt is likely to be reduced, and since Egypt’s 85 million people get 97 percent of their fresh water from the Nile, this has become a huge issue. Some senior Egyptian officials speak of possible military action to prevent the dam from being completed. President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, on Monday declared publicly of Ethiopia: “We are not calling for war, but we will never permit our water security … to be threatened.” Egypt, he said, will keep “all options open.” Ethiopia has responded with defiance, with its prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, saying “nothing and no one” would stop construction.
The horrible lesson of the past is that countries with dwindling resources, economic challenges, and lots of unemployed young men and teenagers often turn to war as an outlet for powers greater than their political leaders to control. It becomes a ‘riding the tiger’ problem, where dismounting means the end of the regime.
Morsi is treading the verge of this field, the field of nationalist war. And Ethiopia is not the only nearby source of water. Don’t forget the huge reservoir in Libya, the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, which has five times the water of the Great Lakes. (Yes, five times). Egypt has a population of over 80 million, more that 15 times Libya’s 6.5 million, and the two countries fought an inconclusive war in 1977.