Egypt and Sudan get 90 percent of the river’s water under colonial-era accords while upstream countries including Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia have been clamoring for a new deal during more than a decade of talks.
The Nile flows south to north, making it one of only a handful of rivers in the world to do so and one of only two in Africa.
So, rather than Cairo sitting at the mouth of the massive water supply, it sits dead last—subject to all the whims and fancies of each upstream nation. With several factional governments upstream and the premium on fresh water, diplomacy only goes so far.
A dispatch from May 26, 2010, that cited information from a Egyptian diplomatic source points to the country’s frustration:
Sudanese president Umar al-Bashir has agreed to allow the Egyptians to build an a small airbase in Kusti to accommodate Egyptian commandos who might be sent to Ethiopia to destroy water facilities on the Blue Nile… It will be their option if everything else fails
The Blue Nile, which begins in Ethiopia, contributes about 85 percent of the flow that passes through Egypt to the Mediterranean.
Egypt’s Aswan Dam
Ethiopia became an even bigger threat a month after the Egyptian Revolution toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 when they announced new details about the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
In April of this year Bradley Hope of the The National reported that construction had begun and that the massive project “could destabilize Egypt in a way that would make the last year of political upheaval look minuscule.”
“It would lead to political, economic and social instability,” Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam, Egypt’s minister of water and irrigation until early last year, told Hope. “Millions of people would go hungry. There would be water shortages everywhere. It’s huge.”
Ethiopia is also currently struggling to fund the dam, which would need foreign aid to be completed. Egypt and Sudan have lobbied foreign donors to refrain from funding the project while they try to find a diplomatic solution to the increasingly dire water situation.
A dispatch from June 1, 2010, that cited a “high-level Egyptian security/intel source, in regular direct contact with Mubarak and [then-intelligence head Omar] Suleiman” said:
The only country that is not cooperating is Ethiopia. We are continuing to talk to them, using the diplomatic approach. Yes, we are discussing military cooperation with Sudan. … If it comes to a crisis, we will send a jet to bomb the dam and come back in one day, simple as that. Or we can send our special forces in to block/sabotage the dam… Look back to an operation Egypt did in the mid-late 1970s, i think 1976, when Ethiopia was trying to build a large dam. We blew up the equipment while it was traveling by sea to Ethiopia.
A dispatch from July 29, 2010, that cited the Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon said that Egypt and leaders of the soon-to-be independent southern region of Sudan “agreed on developing strategic relations between their two countries,” including Egypt training the South Sudan military, and noted that “the horizons for Egyptian-southern Sudanese cooperation are limitless since the south needs everything.”
In 1979 Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s second president, said: “The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.”
The government of current Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi described the Stratfor emails as hearsay “designed to disturb Egyptian-Ethiopian relations.”
WikiLeaks has published 53,860 out of what it says is a cache of 5 million internal Stratfor emails (dated between July 2004 and December 2011) obtained by the hacker collective Anonymous around Christmas.