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Persistent mistrust between Ethiopia & Egypt

By Robele Ababya
Source : Abugida

Ethiopia and Egypt have indispensable role to play in stabilizing the current perilous political turmoil in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East because of their strategic location in the proximity of the latter, ancient civilization, and relatively large population. In that context healthy relationship between the two countries is essential. But unfortunately, the centuries old deep-rooted and persistent mistrust between the two countries does not seem to die any time soon and this is bad for regional peace and stability.

It is reported on various media outlets including Tigrai on line that “The fifth Egyptian and Ethiopian Joint Ministerial Commission” meeting was concluded on 04 November 2014. This is a welcome development assuming that the outcome of the meeting was arrived at in good faith for sincere implementation by both sides.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian Foreign Minister, “led a huge delegation from many ministries to participate in the meetings.” In my opinion, this should probably be the largest delegation for its size and variety experts from various ministries of Egypt unprecedented in the history of relations between Ethiopia and Egypt incessantly marred by mistrust and animosity for centuries owing to repeated aggression, intrigues, sabotage, and deceptions instigated by the latter.

It is well recorded in the annals of history that Egyptian aggressors suffered humiliating defeat at the hands of the militia fighters under the leadership of the epic patriot and true son of Ethiopia Alula Abanega who was known for his ingenuity in the art of war.

Ethiopia has invariably been a victim and Egypt the victimizer in matters relating to all vital national interests of the former including harboring dissidents bent on secession. This evil deed alone stands tallest among innumerable offences against Ethiopia perpetrated by Egypt during the long history of the two ancient countries. So one questions whether the huge delegation came to Addis Ababa to negotiate in good faith and arrive at a ‘win-win’ outcome reportedly involving education, trade, diplomatic, training and women’s affairs.

Several pleasantries were exchanged after the signing ceremony of several agreements by the leaders of both delegations in the presence of EPRDF media. Some members of the Egyptian delegation were superfluous in the praise of the success of the meeting; I watched on the ETV one of the delegates quoting the Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn for his ‘wise words to treat their two countries as one country’. The importance of the Blue Nile River to Egypt took the center-stage during the press conference. The late tyrant Meles Zenawi was crowned with the accolade ‘Great Leader’, which accolade is offensive to democratic opposition entities and the overwhelming majority of the Ethiopian people. One would ask what Egypt is up to!

I have since the reign of the Imperial regime always and consistently advocated for the emergence of good multilateral relations among the three states – Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan for they are naturally bound by the Blue Nile River supplying 85% of the waters crossing Ethiopia’s boundary to Sudan and then to Egypt.

I was one of those Ethiopians that were excited by the downfall of the former President Hosni Mubarak by popular uprising dubbed “Arab Spring”. I even wrote an article in which I congratulated the victors believing that the time has come for democratic Egypt and democratic Ethiopia shall put the past relations of belligerence between them and work together for peace, democracy, and prosperity under the AU umbrella. This unfortunately did not happen. The setback for democracy under the deposed President Morsi in Egypt has considerably curbed my earlier hope that “Democratic Egypt and Ethiopia will play key roles in stabilizing the region and promoting development thus becoming formidable political forces to contend with; will be partners in the development of the Nile Basin – a key factor of regional policy to avoid war.

My disappointment with the ruinous performance led me to write my article dated 09 November 2012 titled “Likely war with Egypt? I said:-
Quote The writing of this piece is prompted by the setback in democracy in Egypt and the intransigence of the TPLF controlled EPRDF government so weakened by internal wrangles rendering it unable to defend vital national interests in the face of simmering traditional claims of Egypt to control Blue Nile water. For example: in 1970, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat threatened war with Ethiopia over the proposed construction of a dam on LakeTana on the Blue Nile (El-Khodary, 1995: 1); Boutros-Ghali is reported also to have talked of war over the Nile waters (Butts, 1997: 1); in October 1991, the Defense Minister of Egypt “remarked in al Ahram that his country would not hesitate to use force to defend its control of the Nile River, and predicted that future Middle East wars could result from water scarcity issues (Postel, 1992: 4) adding “I do not actually expect an impending control of the Nile River by a foreign country, but we consider it a possibility and are planning our military strategy accordingly” (Postel, 1992: 5) Unquote.

Therefore at all times and at this time of uncertainty in regional politics in particular, I reiterate my stand that robust defense force and internal harmony are essential to preserve and protect national values; however the repressive EPRDF government in power must change its ethnic-based policy and open the political space for very serious consultations with all political opposition parties, civic organizations, and above all the Ethiopian people as the ultimate and supreme source of power and owners of the country’s resources. I would like to underline that it would be foolhardy to construct the so-called Millennium Dam at a location within artillery range from Sudan – a situation that will require missile defense against in-coming Egyptian Air Force bombers. My hunch is however that Egypt will send a commando force at some critical stage to destroy the Dam, which action would engender political turmoil at home and hefty loss of capital expenditure incurred – a highly probable grave scenario indeed.

It would be irresponsible to weaken internal harmony and strength by pursuing the familiar irresponsible politics of divide-and-rule along religious and ethnic lines thereby playing into the hands of hawkish Egyptian leaders behind the scenes like the former Defense Minister Field Marshal Tantawi seeking to exploit any weak point in our midst to destabilize us.

The TPLF Foreign Minister (and probably Prime Minister in waiting) lacks diplomatic experience and the basic knowledge required to understand the intricacies of foreign policy, less so in the murky political environment of dangerous conflicts destabilizing the Middle East and the Horn of Africa where, in the latter case, Ethiopia is strategically located and ruled by a puppet regime serving foreign powers.

Ideally, enlightened leaders of Ethiopia and Egypt – operating in a democratic setting simultaneously prevailing in their respective countries – have enormous potential for becoming a formidable force that will significantly contribute to the security and stability of the abovementioned regions and beyond on the African continent. So the peoples of Ethiopia and Egypt must work hard to engender democracy and prosperity in their respective countries through enhancing synergy, symbiotic cooperation, and collaboration in terms of human development economic growth, social justice in a secure region bound by the Blue Nile River.

The road ahead for democracy to take root in both countries is not easy. As the old adage goes, birds of the same feather flock together. Both the EPRDF and the Egyptian government have their plates full of tough and urgent issues to contend with. EPRDF should have relinquished power yesterday for having failed to play inclusive politics. It seems that Field Marshal El-Sissi will have time to usher in democracy backed by the powerful army, which has a tradition of 212 years and experience on taking side with the people in the January uprising that toppled the Mubarak regime. The TPLF regime with a vanishing air force, non-existent navy, and demoralized ground forces in a divided country along ethnic lines is no match to Egypt.

So I repeat my mantra that we Ethiopians have only God and ourselves to save Ethiopia from disaster. As always to eternity, God does His part leaving to us what we can do. Unleashing action in unison to regain our freedom and independence from the exclusive EPRDF regime is what we can do!

Finally, I wish in closing to reiterate my consistent conviction that there is nothing more serious than asserting Ethiopia’s right to control the source of the Blue Nile, but this requires the unity of her citizens. This is not to say that riparian states are not entitled to their fair share of the waters of the Nile as stipulated in international law.

The EPRDF government should release all political prisoners, stop its virulent attack the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and acquiesce to all constitutional demands of the Ethiopian Muslims so that Ethiopians can be united and strong to deter any external attack.

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