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Nile Basin Conflict: Perspectives on Water Sharing, Food Shortages, Civil Wars and Terrorism
CDR Youssef H. Aboul-Enein, MSC, U.S. Navy, 1/1/2012

Introduction

Predicting future conflicts between states are contingent upon an appreciation of a host of complex factors such as tribal, social, economic, environmental, cultural and even basic survival. While conflicts may appear to be resolved, pressures such as climate change, disease, even the economic development of neighboring states at the expense of others could lead to an escalation of hostilities. Regional instability can have an impact on an ever-increasing globalized environment, which can then affect the United States in many ways. America’s interests are tied to many nations around the globe. Nowhere is this more pertinent than America’s long-term quest for stability in the Middle East and on the African continent. However, the future stability in the Middle East may not rest on finally achieving a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but may be the result of more pressing problems that affect hundreds of millions of people with the potential of causing instability to one-tenth of the African continent from Egypt to Rwanda. It is the age-old problem of how to find a just solution to the issue of sharing the water resources of the Nile River Basin. With the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt may now begin to address the Nile question more seriously and in collaboration with other Nile states, instead of being sidestepped by a majority of the states that share this river.

Water resource issues are among those that preoccupy the ten nations that share the Nile, known as riparian (those that share a river or rivers) nations as well as its tributaries, and lakes. All these Nile riparian nations are experiencing massive population growth, while other nations like Ethiopia and Uganda are emerging from decades of civil war and have a driving desire to exploit water resources within their national borders. However, Ethiopian and Ugandan projects along its rivers and lakes, if left unchecked, can influence Sudanese and Egyptian water levels along the Nile. To say that crisis along the Nile is inevitable is too simplistic. Although there is literature that supports the view of a future war over the Nile, the reality is much more complex. It features a history of cooperation on some fronts, covert blocking of financing on others, outright support for revolutionary movements, and blatant threats of war mainly between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. What is clear is that the global economy and the United States cannot afford a conflict that finds the African nations bordering the Red Sea in chaos. This could come in the form of direct hostilities between Egypt and Ethiopia, or famine that drives whole populations to desperate measures along the Red Sea coast that could feature an increase of piracy along these coastlines as a means of survival.

A destabilized Nile Basin could in addition offer opportunities for transnational terrorist networks. None of the literature on conflict among the Nile riparian states focuses on the way transnational terrorist groups could interject themselves into conflicts over water sharing. This study will attempt to introduce al-Qaida affiliates into the complexities of potential future conflicts among Nile states. Al-Qaida affiliates in East Africa, like al-Shabab, not only operate in Somalia, but exploit the border regions between Kenya and Somalia as well. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaida deputy, has used Sudan as a launching point to conduct terrorism in his native Egypt.[1] Instability along the eleven riparian states of the Nile basin offers pockets in which al-Qaida or its affiliates can establish a presence. America’s military must spend time debating and learning about the factors that can unite the countries of the Nile Basin, as well as divide them. These include historic and religious factors that have dominated the debate on both the conscious and subconscious levels, especially between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

Looming amidst these complex issues is the newly independent nation of South Sudan, which gained its independence in the summer of 2011, and the ever-increasing demands for the Nile’s waters as the population is expected to rise to 500 million by 2025 in the Nile Basin alone. Finally, adding to the complexity are major investments in Ethiopian farmland and food production by India, China, and Saudi Arabia, which add additional interested and external parties into any future conflict over the Nile.

A 2009 essay in the Joint Forces Quarterly, entitled, “Conflict Trends in the 21st Century,” highlighted that “water related disputes have tended to be resolved without resorting to violence. (But) under the pressures of climate change however this might not remain the case.”[2] Studying the issues among the major Nile riparian states such as Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia allow the process of sensitizing decision makers to the cultural, climatic, economic, historic and social dynamics that can aid in understanding the likelihood of conflict over the issue of water sharing along the Nile. It will also allow us to understand if a conflict over water resources is being transformed by militant Islamists into a religious war.

The United States cannot wait for this conflict to occur or worsen, to orient American policymakers and senior military decision-makers to the potential of conflict among Nile riparian states. The time to study and think about this problem is during times of peace. Just as in the tragic events of September 11th, we should not wait for such a tragic incident to cause one to begin to discern the differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Likewise one cannot wait for crisis, thereby forcing the United States to play catch up in understanding the intricacies of the Nile riparian states on a tribal, national and even militant Islamist level. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “never neglect the psychological, cultural, political and human dimension of warfare.”[3] These are complex systems and to take the Secretary’s wise advice it is necessary to debate, discuss, and analyze these issues now, to enable that analytic leap of logic in predicting the likelihood of conflict. More importantly, it will aid America’s decision-makers and analysts on how to manage hostilities should they escalate in the Nile River Basin.

The challenges of the Nile River Basin are among the seam issues, that if it were to escalate, would require monitoring, management, and contingency planning by both United States Central Command (CENTCOM) and Africa Command (AFRICOM) (see Map 1). If conflict envelopes the Nile Basin over water resources, which of these two commands will be supporting versus supported? Which American Embassy should take the lead in such a conflict involving ten riparian states that share the Nile or three major states along the Blue Nile tributaries (Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia)? What can we learn from how the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia cooperates or not on current issues involving terrorism in Somalia? Conflict among Nile riparian states cannot be viewed in isolation but in the context of how transnational terrorist groups capitalize on such instability.

This monograph will discuss the mechanics of the dispute among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Nile, which cuts across both USCENTCOM and USAFRICOM using Arabic and Ethiopian sources. It will argue that the trend supports conflict if not managed by the international community, and will advocate preparations and contingencies by the United States Government across agencies should conflict arise. The time to think about U.S. responses, as well as modeling and gaming scenarios, for a Nile Basin conflict is now. The Nile Basin Conflict combines military, economy, counter-terrorism, ethnicity, nation building, environment and agriculture, and cuts across many U.S. agencies. It may not be out of the realm of possibility that armed multinational peacekeepers would be composed of American National Guard or reserve units specially task organized with civilian expertise in land reclamation or water conservation. This monograph will also highlight the potential impact of covert and overt conflicts over sharing the Nile’s water resources and the impact this could have on America’s national security policies in both the Middle East and Africa. Readers will delve into the pressures Sudan is facing caught between the two major Nile riparian states of Egypt and Ethiopia. In addition, the monograph will explore the impact on Nile policy that changes in Sudan’s government had had going from an illiberal democracy to military junta and even reactionary Islamist phase. A unique aspect of this monograph is a detailed discussion explaining how militant Islamist groups could interject themselves and exploit instability among Nile states in the future. It will introduce readers to both positive Islamic interpretations of its history with Ethiopia and negative reductionist militant Islamist interpretations. Understanding the language, symbols and history of the region will enable America’s analysts to better predict an escalation of conflict among the Nile states. Finally, a section will delve into the African Great Lakes nations who share the Nile and their revolt against Egyptian dominance over the Nile in the 21st century. The monograph will end with a series of policy recommendations and proposals for further research.

 

Map 1 (Above): Nile Riparian States and bordering nations in the Horn of Africa (Source International Water Management Institute. Colombo, Sri Lanka).

 

Map 2 (Above): Nile Basin (source: www.nilebasin.org )

Geographic And Demographic Orientation Of The Nile Basin

At approximately 4,238 miles, the Nile is the world’s longest river. However, when one includes the tributaries and lakes that feed into the Nile, the total covers ten percent of the African continent and ten riparian nations (see map 2). As you travel northward past Khartoum, the Nile becomes a single river winding towards the Mediterranean. This means Egypt and the northern part of Sudan from Khartoum northwards are very dependent on a single river for water. Rainfall also decreases as you travel northward from 1,800 mm per year in the Great Lakes region to 200 mm per year in Khartoum. Finally, the aridness of land increases as one travels north, with Egypt being 86 percent arid and 14 percent semi-arid. This translates to a total dependence on irrigation for Egypt to cultivate land, while the newly independent South Sudan and southward relies on a combination of rainfall and irrigation.

Among the main objectives of the Sudan and Nile riparian nations south of Egypt is a need for hydroelectric power. Ethiopian highlands of the Blue Nile and Lake Tana represent 85 percent of the Nile’s source flowing downriver towards Sudan and into Egypt. The remaining 15 percent comes from the Great Lakes region and flows from Uganda towards the White Nile and into Sudan and onto Egypt.[4] The dynamics of nature make tension between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia more likely, due to the majority of the Nile’s source originating from the Ethiopian highlands. Each nation uses varying amounts of the Nile with more northern (downriver) regions being solely dependent on it. A note on the physical flow of the Nile, since the river flows from south to north, ending at the Egyptian Nile Delta and pouring into the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt is considered a downriver state, and Ethiopia an upriver state. This is the reason Ancient Egyptians called northern Egypt, Lower Egypt, and southern Egypt, Upper Egypt, due to the flow of the Nile River.

While there are many statistics on the Nile, the object of this study is to delve into the perceptions of Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia on the demographics and geography of the Nile. The main government studies in Arabic within the Library of Congress are primarily Egyptian and Sudanese. In 1991, the Egyptian Parliament commissioned a study of the Nile.[5] It reported that the demand versus supply of water among Arab nations of the Middle East is predicted at 282 billion cubic meters (hereafter BCM) of water by 2030 to maintain development and population growth. In the 21st century, such shortages could lead to the temptation to export fresh water from these Nile riparian nations for hard currency. An Egyptian parliamentary report goes on to explain the annual production of the Nile from the Great Lakes region of Uganda and Ethiopia to Alexandria from annual rainfall to seepage and finally actual water that flows in the river itself. The Egyptians have broken the Nile statistics as follows; these are in BCM annually as of 1991:

  • Rainfall: 900 BCM
  • Actual water flow in lakes, tributaries and rivers: 138 BCM
  • Nile flow downriver to Egypt after evaporation and channeling: 84 BCM

Egypt’s population is estimated at between 70 to 80 million. If Sudan, now South Sudan, and Egypt’s population reaches 100 million (expected by 2025) they will collectively require 170 BCM for agriculture, sewage and hydropower to meet basic needs. The Nile represents 97% of Egypt’s water requirements at a population of 60 million. Egypt’s share of the Nile was 55.5 BCM. As of 2009, Egypt has exceeded the population and allotted BCM based on a 50-year-old water sharing agreement with Sudan. The current needs of Egypt at 70 million people are estimated at 77 BCM. According to a 1992 study estimating Egypt’s ideal water needs, the country has a 22 BCM shortfall.[6] This water shortfall is expected to grow as the Egyptian population grows.

Egyptian Concerns about Famine and Drought

One does not often think of Egypt as being in a state of famine like Ethiopia; however, Arabic sources reveal that during the Fatimid period (909-1171 CE), a famine was the result of a drop in Nile river levels that lasted seven years. The drop was due to low levels of rain in the Ethiopian highlands that fed the Nile. This led to a complete societal breakdown with increases in criminal activity, and even reports of cannibalism.[7] In more recent memory, from 1978 to 1985, a decline in the water level of the Nile could have resulted in a famine were it not for the withdrawal of 50 BCM stored in the Aswan High Dam, in Lake Nasser. In 1985 alone, 20 BCM was needed to avert disaster.[8] Decline in rainfall and climactic changes as seen by the examples above can exacerbate tensions on the African continent. Although the reservoir behind the Aswan High Dam can respond to contingencies for several years, its waters are not infinite and strains can occur if Egypt experiences droughts that last beyond ten or more years. If a drought were to last for a decade or more, combined with Egypt’s growing population of 80 million, the impact of a decade long drought would be catastrophic. Egyptian engineer Dr. Jamal Hamdan, who has studied and written extensively on Egypt’s dependence on the Nile states, “Egypt’s political power is directly correlated to the amount of water it receives from the Nile.”[9] His observations have shaped Egypt’s water policies and highlights the country’s insecurity over the single source of the Nile, and lack of secondary sources like other Nile riparian states as a constant source of tension. The 1978 to 1985 water shortages also featured prominently in a 1983 Egyptian Foreign Ministry report that not only mentioned the water needs but combined this with other climate problems like desertification: it postulated the idea of whether Egypt should purchase excess BCM water capacity from the other nine riparian states.[10] This monograph features Arabic works written by Egyptian and Sudanese thinkers on the Nile. It is vital whenever possible to include direct Arabic language views and perceptions on any strategic analysis of the Nile and its challenges. Please note the author of this work conducted all Arabic translations. Any errors or omissions are the author’s.

United States AFRICOM hosted a 2009 Conference on the Evolution of African Militaries, where Adjunct Professor David Shinn delivered remarks and said: “High population growth and the need for additional irrigated agriculture is leading in some parts of the continent to increased competition for fresh water. For example, the ten riparian states of the Nile Basin constitute a potential conflict zone if ways are not found to allocate amicably a relatively constant amount of water among ever-increasing populations that demand greater quantities of water. Ten years of negotiations on a new protocol governing shared use of Nile water recently stalled following objections from Egypt and Sudan.”[11] The region is facing an ever-increasing challenge in water security that will redefine existing protocols and status quo negotiations leading to tension.

Sudan: Caught Between The Horns Of Egypt And Ethiopia 

Sudan enjoys deep relations with Egypt that stretch between 4,000 and 6,000 years. Until the 1950s, Egyptian policymakers considered the Sudan an integral part of Egypt, and the Egyptian monarch until 1952 called himself King of Egypt and the Sudan. But the relationship is not without problems, and the first indication of problems regarding sharing the Nile between Egypt and the Sudan occurred in 1913. During that year, the British announced it would build the Sanar Dam in order to expand cotton production in the Sudan for English cotton mills. The Egyptian Khedive (ruler) objected, expressing concern for a reduction in the water levels of the Nile upriver. This led to a study to find ways to guarantee the water needs of Egypt, while developing the Sudan.[12] British engineers in the late nineteenth century recommended the construction of the Sanar Dam to bring the Jezirah Region of the Sudan under cultivation, and to build a reservoir in the Sudan expressly to address Egyptian water needs. It also recommended reservoirs in the Great Lakes region for use by upriver nations Egypt and the Sudan. The Egyptian leadership agreed to establish a joint committee, and determined that Egypt’s needs were 60 BCM per year.[13]

After the construction of the Sudanese Sanar Dam, the Egyptians mixed the utilization of the Nile with nationalist and anti-colonial politics. Egyptian nationalist leaders wrestled a British pledge that the Sudanese Jezirah cultivation projects could not exceed 300,000 feddan[14] (a unit of land measurement) in 1920. In addition, Egyptian officials are to be consulted on any further expansion of water projects, as well as the right to oversee the Jebel Awliah Reservoir by stationing Egyptian engineers along the Sudanese dam.

The 1924 murder of British Sirdar (British Commander in Chief of the Egyptian Army and Governor of the Sudan) Sir Lee Stack in Cairo gave England the opening to renegotiate the 1920 pledges. Among the pressure tactics used by the British against the government of Prime Minister Sa’ad Zaghlul was to restrict the flow of the Nile by closing the Sanar Dam.[15] While Egypt lost tangible control of the Sudan to the British, and paid compensation for the murder of Sir Stack. The negotiations resulted in the May 7, 1929 agreement, between the Egyptian Prime Minister and the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Baron George Ambrose Lloyd (Earl of Dolobran). The memoranda gave effective control of the entire Nile from Uganda to Alexandria, Egypt. The British negotiated on behalf of their possessions in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanganyika (Tanzania).[16] Among the powers granted Egypt in negotiations with the British was a veto over hydroelectric power projects.

Sudanese Independence and Relations with Egypt

When the Sudan gained independence in 1956, it declared the 1929 Nile Agreement a colonial document and refused to honor it. Sudan objected to Egyptian dominance over the Nile and its de facto veto power over Nile projects. It also called for a renegotiation of the Nile agreements, with Sudan as an equal partner vis-à-vis Egypt. From 1956 to 1958, Sudanese leaders objected to Egyptian plans to construct the Aswan High Dam. In retaliation, Egypt blocked Sudanese financing efforts to build a series of smaller dams to bring more land under cultivation. In early 1958, Sudan demanded Egypt compensate for water taken because of the 1929 Nile Agreement and demanded a larger share of the water quotas. Sudanese officials declared it would unilaterally construct the Rusayers Dam in the Jezira region in addition to the already constructed Sanar Dam. Egypt regarded this as a threat to its national security, feeling this would affect the water flow upriver. A crisis between Egypt and Sudan was averted when a 1958 coup brought General Ibrahim Abboud to power. Abboud was a pro-Nasserist, and pan-Arabist who wanted closer ties with Egypt. Negotiations began between Cairo and Khartoum that led to the 1959 Nile Water Sharing Agreement.[17] In the past, Egypt has meddled in Sudanese internal affairs to preserve the concept of Nile valley unity. In 1970, Cairo aided in crushing the Mahdist party (with an anti-Egyptian platform) and militia against the regime of Sudanese dictator Jafar al-Numeiri, and Cairo again intervened in 1976 to help re-install Numeiri after a 72-hour coup by troops of the self proclaimed National Front.

Behind the scenes of the negotiations that led to the 1959 Agreement was Egyptian eagerness to conclude the agreement as the Soviets had completed their engineering survey of the Aswan High Dam in late 1958. The Egyptians wanted to move to the second phase of this massive project and Sudanese consent would go a long way towards a smooth transition to building the Aswan High Dam, as part of the Lake Nasser reservoir that would spill into the Sudan. The Sudanese would later call its body of water, Lake Nubia. The Sudanese were eager for Egyptian acceptance of water projects to bring more land under cultivation. Helping matters, aside from the 1958 Sudanese coup, was the death of Sudanese nationalist leader Abdel-Rahman al-Mahdi (leader of the Sudanese Umma Party, whose platform was more independence from Egyptian influence) in March 1959. That same year, the Umma Party Agricultural Minister, Ahmed Abdullah Hamed, was removed on charges of conducting a counter-coup. Both al-Mahdi and the Agricultural Minister were Sudanese nationalists of the Umma Party and blocked efforts by Sudanese dictator General Abboud to pursue pan-Arabist policies. In November 1959, the Egyptians concluded a water sharing agreement with Sudan, it:

  • Established the Permanent Joint Technical Commission (PJTC), a joint Egyptian-Sudanese entity to monitor Egypt’s water needs and balance them with Sudanese projects along the Nile. Egyptian technicians operating in areas of Sudan stipulated by the 1929 agreement were kept in place with the establishment of the PJTC.
  • Promulgated the concept of geographic balance, whereby the Nile from Uganda and Ethiopia to Alexandria was one single entity; that the actions of nations downriver cannot adversely influence neighboring states upriver.
  • Created a unified diplomatic front between Egypt and the Sudan on one side and other riparian states on the other (namely Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia).18]

This unified front between Egypt and Sudan would be less successful due to six periods of diverse change in Sudanese government that ranged from democracy to dictatorship and even an experiment in radical Islamist governance. The most strain placed on the relationship between Egypt and the Sudan has been during the current period of a quasi-Islamist and military regime (1989-Present). The rise of the current Sudanese dictator General Omar al-Bashir’s military junta and the alliance he would initially make with Sheikh Hassan al-Turabi, leader of the National Islamic Front (NIF) would place Sudan on a collision course with the international community.

The Combined Sudanese Islamist-Military Junta: Deteriorating Relations on all Fronts

Sudan, from 1989 to 1995, would be a haven for a variety of Islamist radical and militant Islamist groups, to include Usama Bin Laden, and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. The quasi-Islamist Sudanese regime revived the Halayeb Triangle border dispute with Egypt. Sudan ordered the withdrawal of the Egyptian consulates in Port Sudan and the city of Abyadh. The Sudanese further escalated the situation by evicting Egyptian water engineers from the country. In addition, the Sudanese threatened to build the Hamdab Dam, 400 km north of Khartoum.[19] Egypt, feeling threatened by these belligerent statements and actions from the Sudanese Islamists, retaliated by closing two Sudanese diplomatic missions in Alexandria and Aswan in June 1993.[20] Events would come to a head in 1995, when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s motorcade was attacked in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, he barely escaped assassination. A militant Islamist group in Sudan connected to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) prepared the assassination attempt. The Egyptian government blamed the Sudanese government for harboring terrorists.[21] Pressure from the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt to evict Usama Bin Laden from Sudan was brought to bear and Bin Laden fled to Afghanistan in 1996. Shortly after Bin Laden’s eviction, Sudanese dictator General Omar al-Bashir moved against Hassan al-Turabi (his sister is reputed to be one of Bin Laden’s wives), marginalizing the Islamist influences on the Sudanese government and asserting more military control of the government but retaining the Islamists in the background.

Relations between Egypt and Sudan have only marginally improved, with the Sudanese government expressing displeasure at Egypt’s enforcement of the United Nations embargos and supporting the United States in placing the country on the State Department’s List of Sponsors of Terrorism. In 1997, Sudanese dictator General al-Bashir transformed his conflict with Ethiopia’s sponsorship of the Sudanese Popular Liberation Front (SPLF) by declaring a jihad. That same year, despite this blustery rhetoric, Sudan asked Nigeria to intercede with its conflict with Ethiopia. The Sudanese also reached out to the Saudis and Syrians to improve its strategic position with Ethiopia, further distancing itself from its relationship with Egypt. Perhaps the ultimate expression of Sudan’s isolation in the mid and late nineties was the arrival of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Advisors. Sudan categorized both Uganda and Ethiopia as (Christian) challenges in the 1997 Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting in Islamabad. The theme of this OIC meeting was, “Challenges to the Islamic World in the 21st Century.”[22] The impact the newly independent South Sudan has on agreements made between Egypt and Sudan over the Nile are one of many issues that have yet to be resolved, and currently a war between the North and the South Sudan seems imminent and will likely impact talks on water-sharing.

Displaced Persons and the Sudan

Sudanese Professor Mahmoud al-Zain of the United Nations University for Peace studied Nile challenges. He writes about population encroachment onto Sudan’s Nile bank and its impact on Egypt. The United Nations University Press published al-Zain’s a study on International Water Security in 2008. The second part of his study, entitled “Emerging Security Threats,” contains a fascinating aspect on population growth along the Nile in the Sudan. This population shift was the result of Sudan’s civil wars in Darfur and against the Sudanese Popular Liberation Army (SPLA) in what is the newly independent South Sudan. Increased environmental scarcity, coupled with protracted civil wars has displaced large numbers of people. According to al-Zain, these people have largely settled along the Nile and its tributaries.[23] In Sudan’s central river zone, al-Zain notes that in 1922 only 28.42% settled along the Nile. In 2000, that number increased to 43.67%. The aggregate river zones throughout Sudan jumped from 42.22% in 1922 to 49.37% in 2000 and are rising. Adding to the stressors of persons displaced by civil wars is the Sudanese government’s taking of more irrigable land, marginalizing small farmers who end up displaced. From 1920 to 1970, the government controlled 1.4 million hectares. In 1989, this number has increased to 8 million hectares. In addition, only 8,000 families control 7 million hectares of Sudanese land whereas 4 million hectares are farmed by over 4 million farmers.[24]

The 1983 to 1985 drought has also caused tribes, farmers, and civil war victims to move to Sudan’s major cities. The United Nation’s study prepared by al-Zain indicates 6.8 million persons were displaced due to the civil war in southern Sudan, and 1.8 million displaced persons due to the war in Darfur. The majority of these persons are making their way to the river zones. This has led to an interesting cultural development among officials in the capital Khartoum, with municipal authorities practicing “kasha,” which is hunting, capturing, and repatriating rural immigrants to their areas of origin or to so-called “production areas,” government collectives that trade their labor for regular sustenance.[25] Little is known about this trend, but it can only be compared to slavery. This policy of resettlement conducted under the governance of the National Islamic Front (NIF) and military junta has led to some deaths. Additionally, Sudan’s cotton and groundnut production is decreasing by increased land utilized for grain production.

In 1992, Sudan instituted a long-range agricultural plan labeled, “The National Comprehensive Strategy.” It concluded that 27 BCM of Nile water would be needed to address food security issues, much higher than the 18.5 BCM negotiated by the 1959 Nile Water Treaty with Egypt. Adding to the complexity of the Nile sharing dilemma is Egypt and Sudan’s concerns of southern Sudan seceding from the North; leaving both Khartoum and Cairo in a precarious position of dependence for water. The newly independent South Sudan, with its government in Juba, shakes the concept of Nile valley unity, which has been a cornerstone of Egyptian and Sudanese hydro politics since 1959. It is likely South Sudan will want a renegotiation of the 1959 Egyptian-Sudan Nile Agreement.[26]

El-Zain discusses the shifting demographics in the Sudan. He notes in 1955 only 3% of Khartoum residents were from the African regions of western and southern Sudan. In 2001, 58% of Khartoum’s residents were from the African regions of the country, meaning the north is demographically shifting away from the Arab outlook and towards an African outlook.[27 In internal Sudanese politics, the Democratic Union Party (DUP) is composed mainly of pro-Egyptian Sudanese Afro-Arabs being marginalized. There opponent is the anti-Egyptian Umma Party.[28] It is these subtle changes in internal Sudanese politics that offer indications and warnings towards potential tensions between Egypt and the Sudan. At the very center of those tensions is the use of the Nile. Andrew Nastios, the U.S. Serving Special Envoy to Sudan, warned in a 2008 article in Foreign Affairs, that “he considers Sudanese state failure a high probability (and) short-term possibility. This would produce a multi-dimensional civil war dwarfing the Darfur catastrophe.” Nastios believes that a peacekeeping commitment in Sudan would evolve into what he calls a hybrid war that combines humanitarian and insurgent operations.[29] Nastios may be describing the gradual escalation of conflict in which a failed state evolves into a hybrid war, then a regional conflict that spreads along the Nile waterway. This type of environment is exactly the kind of safe-haven al-Qaida thrives on, for not only is it a secure operating environment for them to recruit and generate funds, it is a new jihadist battlefield for which to sustain itself and narrative. In a Sudanese failed state in either the north or south, you will begin to see al-Qaida operatives generating personal ties with tribes, or even government officials. They will then leverage personal relationships that are crucial to the stability of their networks. Certain countries can be viewed by al-Qaida as a crossroads (Iran), enabler (Syria), or battlefield (Iraq); others a combination of all three - like Afghanistan. The challenge is to place Sudan in one of these categories from al-Qaida’s perspective.

Nile Instability and the Fate of the United Nations UNMIS Mission

The potential for the outbreak of violence over the Nile in the midst of 10,000 UN Peacekeepers in Sudan adds another dimension of complexity to the Nile river basin. In place since 2005, the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) monitors the peace agreement between north and south Sudan. It has ended its mission in July 2011 with the independence of South Sudan. The UNMIS contingent contains police and military forces from the Nile riparian states of Egypt, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Kenya.[30] The independence of southern Sudan could cause the Nile states to re-examine a new role for UNMIS, a renamed UN mission to ensure fair sharing of water resources. It is of note that the UNMIS contingent included the United States (police), United Kingdom (military) and Iran (military), which gives each access to this issue at the ground level; with Iran potentially infusing Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisers should the situation deteriorate between North and South Sudan. A redeployment of UNMIS can offer militant Islamist groups targets of opportunity to attack UN forces, much like they did to United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL). This is how UNMIS was deployed in Sudan before the splitting of the country into North and South Sudan in 2011 (Sectors I, II, III, and V are along Nile tributaries):

  • Sector I: The Equatoria area, including the states of West Equatoria, Bahr Al Jabal and East Equatoria.
  • Sector II: The Bahr el Ghazal Area, including the states of West Bahr el Ghazal, North Bahr el Ghazal, Warab and Al Buhairat. The Sector HQ is located in Wau.
  • Sector III: The Upper Nile Area, including the states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile. The Sector HQ is located in Malakal.
  • Sector IV: Southern Kordofan state. The Sector HQ is located in Kadugli.
  • Sector V: Blue Nile State. The Sector HQ is located in Ed Damazin.
  • Sector VI: The Abyei area. The Sector HQ is located in Abyei town.[31]

Sudanese Military Viewpoints: A Sudanese General Speaks

A 1998 book published in Arabic by Sudanese General Omar al-Tayeb provides insight into the thinking of a cadre of senior officers in the North Sudanese regular military forces. It focuses specifically on issues regarding the Nile.[32] Al-Tayeb’s central thesis is the maintenance of the Egyptian status quo of sharing dominance over the entire Nile, and sees the penetration of Saudi money and Saudi Salafi Wahabism as a means of countering the communist influences of the former Ethiopian dictator Haile Mengistu Mariam (1974-1991). These officers saw in Islamist ideology a means of subsidizing the Eritrean Popular Liberation Front (EPLF), and encouraged the eviction of Cuban and Soviet advisors from Somalia.

Among the methods of countering Ethiopian backing of the Sudanese SPLA, the army used to attain Southern Sudanese independence, and the wider agenda of sowing instability in Ethiopia to enhance Egyptian and Sudanese (Khartoum’s) hegemony in the Nile basin, the following anti-Ethiopian revolutionary insurgent groups were cultivated:

  • Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)
  • Eritrean Popular Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)
  • Somali National Front (SNF)
  • United Somali Front (USF)
  • Tigrean Popular Liberation Front (TPLF)

General Tayeb, an armor officer, would plan operations against the SPLA in southern Sudan. He catalogs the Arab tribes within Sudan that could offer potential support on the issue of increased African influence in the Sudan at the expense of Arab dominance that General Tayeb wishes to uphold. Of note, the Sudanese and Egyptians have valid concerns about South Sudan’s designs on the Blue Nile. The late founder and leader of the SPLA, the army of South Sudan’s Liberation, John Garang wrote his PhD dissertation in the early eighties on the Jonglei Canal Project between Egypt and Sudan. Garang defended his thesis that southern Sudan’s agricultural development is achieved by rain fed mechanized agriculture and not irrigated water from the Jonglei Canal. Garang’s Iowa State University dissertation can be disputed today with the rise in population and displaced people in both north and south Sudan.[33] Critics can site that this dissertation is more a political statement than a scholarly work.

Sudan’s pro-Arab tribes discussed in General Tayeb’s book, published over a decade before South Sudan’s independence, are relatively benign. However, under the right conditions militant Islamist groups in the future could exploit them. This is why General Tayeb’s obscure Arabic book matters in 21st century American military planning. The tribes include the:

  • Banu Khuzam located in North Korfodan.
  • Banu Taeh and Thaalaba sub-clan in Northern Sudan.
  • Juhaynah, a half-Arab tribe originally from the Hejaz (western Arabia), who settled in Dafur and Korfodan, and in the recent century have settled along the Blue Nile border with Ethiopia.
  • Kennana and the Quraysh sub clan, settled in north Sudan.
  • Fazaza, who came from Arabia and settled along the White Nile region, which borders Uganda.
  • Rabiah, who merged with the Juhaynah and settled around Aswan and Wadi Halfa.
  • Rasheydah, that settled in northeastern Sudan.[34]

Decision makers cannot afford to be ignorant of tribal and anthropological studies of a potential region of conflict that could involve the United States and its allies. A conflict over water resources along the Nile will likely involve these tribal confederations and if the international community does not recognize them, militant Islamists or regional powers will in order to exploit an advantage in the struggle for survival, which water resources represent. General Tayeb’s views embody the senior Arab-African mix within the Sudanese officer corps. This same group supports the current regime of Sudanese dictator General Omar al-Bashir. They will likely call for military intervention should southern Sudan secede.

Egyptian Military Viewpoints: A Rare Perspective

A 2004 study conducted by the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a quasi-government organization, was the first document that combined the problems of water sharing along the Nile with an analysis of military capabilities contrasting Egypt and the nine other Nile riparian states. The study took an optimistic view that mutual dialog could avert warfare, and ignored the ever growing demands on the Nile between nations. It also presented an optimistic view that Egypt’s quantitative and qualitative military edge was more than capable against any single Nile riparian state, and considered Ethiopia the closest near rival along the Nile that could challenge Egypt’s hegemony. Of note, the $2.1B that Egypt received in U.S. aid of which $1.3B was dedicated to military aid factors prominently in Egypt’s calculus in assessing military balance of power. The numbers the study used were the 2000-2001 Military Balance published by Oxford University’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). It noted that Ethiopia’s $457 Million military aid package paled by comparison.[35] The Egyptians, at least in public documents, focused on numbers in the military balance against Ethiopia over the Nile. Egyptian public documents did not factor in difficulty of terrain, or the issues that Egypt had not been engaged in sustained combat operations since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. As the United States suffered from the Vietnam Syndrome after the fall of Saigon, Egypt’s Vietnam complex is the 1962 to 1967 Yemen War, a five-year quagmire that mired 60,000 Egyptian troops. There are terrain similarities between the Yemen and the Horn of Africa, and like the Yemen War, Egyptian combat forces will have a long logistical line that will require massive air and sealift to sustain combat forces. Unlike the Yemen War, which saw the involvement of traditional Arab monarchies supporting the Royalist forces against Nasser’s pan-Arabist forces, a war with Ethiopia will likely involve only smaller and less resourced African nations. Egyptian forces in the 21st century have undergone a transformation from Soviet to American military hardware, and will be reliant on the United States for spare parts and maintenance should a potential conflict with Ethiopia digress into a long war. Added complexities include Egypt’s leveraging the Suez Canal as a means of eliciting military assistance, and al-Qaida interjecting itself with or without government sponsorship into such a conflict. Although it may be hard to imagine Egypt firing the first shot in a conflict regarding the Nile, in August 1994, Egypt planned and then aborted an air raid on the Sudanese capital Khartoum for threatening to construct a dam that Egypt believed threatened the water levels of the Nile.[36]

If a war digresses into the deployment of Egyptian combat forces to Ethiopia, it will require a massive effort by the Egyptian regime to portray the conflict in terms of national survival and water sustainability. In addition, Egypt attempted to balance its influence in three spheres eloquently laid out in Nasser’s “Philosophy of the Revolution.” The Arab, African, and Islamic spheres would cause Egypt to devote more attention to African issues, at the expense of Arab affairs.[37] A disengagement of Egypt from Arab affairs has repercussions that worries smaller Arab states who would like to see Egypt as a bulwark against an ever increasing hegemonic Iran. Egypt also plays a significant role in facilitating movement of the Palestinian side in talks with the Israelis.

Sudanese Party Politics: Pro and Anti-Egyptian

A compliment to Egypt is that one can find books that are highly critical of Egyptian policies written by non-Egyptians. In 2000, former Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi published a highly critical book of Egyptian policies regarding the Nile. The author has been a Sudanese nationalist and leader of the Umma Party (sometimes referred to as the Mahdist Party) since 1964, and he twice served as Sudan’s Prime Minister in 1966 and again in 1986. He has also been in opposition to Sudanese military juntas, and spent eight years in prison. As of this writing, al-Mahdi is seeking to become Sudanese Prime Minister. His book “Miah al-Nil, al-Waad wal Waeed (The Nile, the Promises Kept and Broken)” demonstrates that the 1959 Nile Sharing Agreement between Egypt and Sudan may show signs of fracturing.[38] Al-Mahdi provides a Sudanese nationalist narrative to the problems of the Nile. He argues for instance that the Nile was an Egyptian issue alone until Sudan interjected itself leading to the 1959 agreement, and that in the 21st century Egypt and Sudan must recognize the need to include all Nile states. He goes on to recommend that cooperation is the only way to save the Nile from the ravages of the environment, and the devastation wrought by a potential standoff between Nile states. Al-Mahdi’s book is even more germane with the independence of South Sudan. Egypt’s dominance over Nile affairs must change, and even under the guise of cooperation with the Egyptians maintaining their dominance, he postulates that the 1983 Undugu (Friendship) Nile Agreement crafted by Egypt to preserve its oversight and dominance over the Nile.[39]

On the issue of Egyptian bilateral relations with Sudan over the Nile, al-Mahdi argues that Egypt has pursued a double-standard policy with Sudan. Whenever certain political parties or a military junta rules Sudan, Egypt does well in negotiations over the Nile. He reminds the reader that the 1959 Water Sharing Agreement concluded under the dictatorship of Sudanese General Abboud. He advocates Sudanese independence in negotiations over the Nile with other riparian states, and feels the 1959 agreement restricts Sudanese options.[40] South Sudan contains the collection of tributaries from the Blue and White Nile, that flow into North Sudan and Egypt as single river. The strategic position of this newly created state is not lost on strategic planners in both Cairo and Khartoum.

Ethiopia: Egypt’s Traditional Nemesis in Sharing the Nile

Eighty-five percent of the Nile emanates from Ethiopia’s lakes, tributaries and rivers, chiefly the Blue Nile. The country has been a foreign policy concern for Nile basin nations upriver for centuries. Egyptian and Sudanese tensions over the Nile are more acute and magnified with Ethiopia. Arab commentaries, reports, and analysis have linked Ethiopian development of the Blue Nile to American and Israeli conspiracies. This fear is stimulated partially by Ethiopian failing to seize opportunities to be part of joint initiatives involving the Nile basin, calls by Ethiopia to abrogate and re-negotiate all agreements promulgated by colonial powers involving the Nile, and perceptions among Egypt’s leaders that Ethiopian dams are designed to hold Egypt and the Sudan hostage to water resources. Another problem has been Ethiopia’s refusal to submit to joint hydrologic surveys of its waters, and its support for the SPLA. Instability between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Nile, can lead to opportunities for al-Qaida affiliates like al-Shabab to capitalize on potential turmoil. Much like Pakistani escalations with India drain Pakistan’s ability to counter al-Qaida and Taliban forces, a future conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt can drain East African government security forces from focusing on Militant Islamist groups operating in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Egyptians view Ethiopia as a major antagonist in its quest to be the dominant nation among the Nile basin countries. Of concern is a stable Ethiopia that will want to maximize and exploit its water resources leading to a reduction of water levels upriver. Holding together the 1959 Egypt-Sudan Nile Water Sharing Agreement were assurances that Egypt would lay claim to 55.5 BCM annually and Sudan 18.5 BCM annually.[41] Ethiopia has no agreements with other riparian states of the Nile basin, chiefly with Sudan and Egypt whose water is highly dependent on lakes and tributaries of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian academic Tefayse Tafesse, has distilled much of Ethiopia’s concerns regarding the Nile in a 2001 book, “The Nile Question: Hydropolitics, Legal Wrangling, Modus Vivendi, and Perspectives.” He writes, “In 1999 Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan had a combined population of 157 million, and in 2050 this number is expected to rise to 388 million.”[42] Of major concern to Ethiopia is Egypt’s insatiable appetite for water, and using western sources such as Sandra Postel’s study points out the Aswan High Dam to create 2.9 million hectares of irrigated land, and Egyptian plans to expand this to 4.6 million hectares over the next two decades by 2020. Despite this need for more farmland, Egypt has not attained food security, and imported 3.9 million tons of grain in 1974, and 9.3 million tons in 1987. Ethiopia’s irrigated land potential is 3.7 million hectares of which 2.3 million or 62% is locked in the Ethiopian Blue Nile basin.[43] Among the root causes of the problem is Ethiopia utilizes only 0.65 BMC; less than one percent of the annual Nile output, and has irrigated only 0.4% of its 2.3 million hectare potential.[44]

The problems of micro-dams are a recent Ethiopian development that could potentially place it on a collision course with Egypt. Ethiopia claims a single micro-dam consumes 0.001 BMC, and it would take 1,000 such dams to equal one BMC. Egypt disagrees and sees in this a proxy means of depriving upriver nations of water through unregulated means.[45] Of the projects recommended by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation after a six year study of Ethiopia (1958-1964), only the Fincha River Dam project was undertaken. The Bureau of Reclamation recommended that the Blue Nile, Atabra River and Lake Tana, all three are Nile tributaries, have a potential 51 BMC storage capacity and those 434,000 hectares in northern Ethiopia can settle and feed four million farmers. In addition, these three Ethiopian Nile tributaries could generate 38 Billion KWH of electricity.[46] To store water, reclaim the land and generate the electricity Ethiopia needs would require six BMC of Nile water. The American study, done during the height of the Cold War, gave it an air of conspiracy among the Nile riparian states. Egypt at this time was firmly in the Soviet sphere when the survey was completed. Why does the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recommendation matter? It is perhaps Ethiopia’s most extensive survey of its hydrologic potential, and it stimulated such projects as the Tana-Beles Project that is undergoing feasibility studies. If the Tana-Beles Project ever comes to fruition, it would be Ethiopia’s largest dam. Egypt initially objected, but then it decided to be part of the program and added its technical expertise to manage and balance the needs of Egypt and Ethiopia.[47] This, however, is viewed by Ethiopia’s current regime as Egypt attempting to stall the project.

U.S. and Soviet Competition among the Nile States

In 1952, the United States signed agreements with the Kingdom of Ethiopia on agricultural development and locust control, as well as defense aid.[48] In Egyptian sources, this agreement was more than just humanitarian. Egyptian officials saw this as a means, over ten years from 1952 to 1962, to undermine Egypt’s growing influence in pan-Arabism, support of revolutionary and anti-colonial movements, as well as to punish Egypt for its growing drift into the Soviet sphere. Ethiopia was given a further victory when Eritrea was designated an autonomous federated region of Ethiopia. In 1962, Ethiopia forcibly incorporated Eritrea into the Ethiopian Kingdom. In the Egyptian narrative, the Ethiopians used pro-US support in 1952 to acquire Eritrea as part of a federated confederation. By 1962, its position as an American partner led Emperor Haile Selassie to dissolve the autonomous Eritrean region and take it over through force of arms. Egypt led an Arab response in support of several Eritrean Liberation Movements, incited Muslims living in Ethiopia to rebel against Christian rulers, lent out its radio facilities, provided a haven for Eritrean Liberation leaders and subsidized the Eritrean liberation movements. Ethiopia reached out to Israel, Egypt’s nemesis, Israel.[49] It is important to understand this nuanced history as it shapes the perspectives of both Egypt and Ethiopia in dealing with issues regarding the Nile. Over time, the Ethiopian-Israeli collaboration was designed to break Arab hegemony of the Red Sea, block Egypt’s ability to construct the Aswan High Dam, and block international funding for an Egyptian plan to irrigate the Sinai using Nile waters. The Ethiopian-Sudanese border was seen as a potential spot for a hydroelectric dam and land irrigation projects, but Egypt would use all elements of its national power to keep Sudan within its camp on issues relating to the Nile.

The Communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam took power in 1974 in a military coup overthrowing Emperor Haile Selassie. Mengistu would embrace Marxism and receive aid from the Soviets, Cuba, and Warsaw Pact nations. Egypt on the other hand under Sadat after the 1973 War drifted towards the U.S. sphere. Under the chaos of Ethiopian Marxist despot Mengistu Haile Mariam (hereafter Mengistu), Somalia saw Ethiopia as weak and annexed the Ogaden region, but the Somalis were turned back by Ethiopian armor. The Eritrean Popular Liberation Front (EPLF) continued resisting Ethiopian forces under Mengistu, scoring significant victories in 1988. This was a perfect geo-political environment for Egypt and Sudan, as an Ethiopia in chaos would divert Addis Ababa from developing the Nile. Mengistu in retaliation supported the Sudanese Popular Liberation Front (SPLF), and its military wing the Sudanese Popular Liberation Army (SPLA), to create an independent and pliant southern Sudan that controlled portions of the Blue Nile, Bahr al-Jabal (Jabal Lake), and the First Cataract of the Nile. Ethiopia, aided diplomatically by Israel, objected to the Aswan High Dam. Egypt would thwart financing for dozens of Ethiopian water projects at the World Bank and the African Development Bank using its diplomatic, economic, and regional status within the Muslim, Arab and African world. Ethiopian despot Mengistu was toppled and fled in 1991, he currently remains in exile in Zimbabwe, and in 2008 was sentenced to death in abstentia by an Ethiopian High Court on charges of genocide.[50]

Egypt saw Ethiopia’s actions as an attempt to undermine Egyptian-Sudanese relations and punish Cairo’s support of the EPLF. In the 1980s, Egyptians claimed that Israeli surveyors were in Ethiopia and Uganda in order to advocate for projects to divert 7 billion m3 of Nile waters, or twenty percent of Egypt’s share away from Egypt. Egyptian sources highlighted the Israeli private engineering company, Tahal, and their presence, according to the Egyptians, was comparable to an undeclared water war with Egypt. Tahal proposed 40 projects in Ethiopia, to include the Fincha River Dam, and the reclamation of 400,000 hectares of land between the Ethiopian and Sudanese border.[51] Even today, a look at Tahal’s website does indeed show projects in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. However, an examination of the Tahal website in 2010 does not feature projects on the scale claimed in Egyptian sources. Such erroneous perceptions combined with previous experiences can lead to misunderstanding and conflict. Perceptions from an Egyptian regional perspective is that Addis Ababa continues to:[52]

  • Consider colonial agreements favorable to Egypt as void;
  • Threaten to construct dams along the Blue Nile;
  • Refuse to coordinate or cooperate with other Nile riparian states; and
  • Reject an open and transparent hydrologic study of its tributaries, and rivers leading to the Nile. Egypt Ethiopia Affirm Colonial Agreements of 1929 and the Sudanese/Egyptian Agreement of 1959. Amend the 1902, 1929 and 1959 Agreements on the Nile. Projects impinging on Egypt’s water level are a matter of National Security (a vital interest). Development of the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, and other tributaries is the right of Ethiopia. There is an increased need for water as the population of Egypt grows. Egypt is siphoning off and its requirements must be managed through a tripartite conference between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

Egypt

Ethiopia

Affirm Colonial Agreements of 1929 and the Sudanese/Egyptian Agreement of 1959.

Amend the 1902, 1929 and 1959 Agreements on the Nile.

Projects impinging on Egypt’s water level are a matter of National Security (a vital interest).

Development of the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, and other tributaries is the right of Ethiopia.

There is an increased need for water as the population of Egypt grows.

Egypt is siphoning off and its requirements must be managed through a tripartite conference between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

 

Table 1 demonstrates the potential zero-sum game pursued by Egypt and Ethiopia when it comes to the Nile. This status quo is becoming untenable in an increasingly globalized environment. A balance between Egyptian and Sudanese needs, along with Ethiopian needs for land reclamation and development must be found. For instance, millions of cubic meters of water are lost to evaporation. Egypt’s Lake Nasser for instance, looses between 10-16 BCM per year in evaporation. Egypt and North Sudan realize they must develop reservoirs along the Nile’s southern route in more wet zones in the Ethiopian highlands and Great Lakes region to counter the billions of cubic meters of water lost to evaporation from reservoirs located northward in Sudan and Egypt. This however requires a level of trust between Nile riparian states. Egypt, recognizing Ethiopian food needs, tolerated the 1984 construction of the Fincha River Dam on the Blue Nile, a project financed by the African Development Bank. Cairo believes this project alone reduces Egypt annual yield by 500 Million Cubic Meters (MCM). The Egyptians feel this is a major concession, but from an Ethiopian view is inadequate for its increasing populace.

Of concern in Egyptian literature are Ethiopia’s plans to build projects along the Sobat and Atbara Rivers as well as the Khor al-Gush region; all of which could potentially reduce Egypt’s Nile yield by seven BCM upriver. These projects, coupled with the overarching backdrop of a political culture in which Ethiopia is seen to hold Egypt hostage to water feeds into the tensions with Egypt that the Ethiopian government is:

  • not sharing hydrologic information,
  • preventing joint studies, and
  • refusing to be part of any joint Nile basin initiatives except as observers and not full members.

Examining Egyptian and Ethiopian Historical Narratives about the Nile

Egyptian officials pay close attention to Ethiopian academic studies on the Nile published by such institutions as the University of Addis Ababa. A 1979 Ethiopian academic study cited by Egyptian policymakers is entitled, “Egypt’s Imperial Aspirations over Lake Tana and the Blue Nile.” It is published by the University of Addis Ababa Professor, Wondimneh Tilahun, and highlights Egypt’s was attempts to use the Nile as a means of exerting hegemony over East Africa and challenge Ethiopia. Tilahun went on to write that Egypt would not allow Ethiopian use of the Nile and that Ethiopia has the absolute right to use its natural resources for the advancement of its people. Tilahun discussed how Khedive Ismail, Egypt’s ruler from 1863 to 1879, dominated the entire Nile through conquest. Egyptians focus on Tilhaun sentence, “Lake Tana and the Blue Nile placed Ethiopia in danger from external powers like Egypt, Italy, Britain, and France from 1875 on, and that it continued to be the dominant issue in 1979.”[53] The problem with this thesis is that although Khedive Ismail fought Ethiopian Emperor Yohannes IV, it occurred over 140 years ago, at an age when Egypt felt it had colonial ambitions equal to that of Europe’s race for colonies.

Egypt’s Khedive Ismail Pasha undertook an invasion of the Ethiopian highlands in 1875 that led to the defeat of Egyptian forces in the Battle of Gundat in which an estimated 2,500 Egyptian troops perished. In 1876, Ismail sent a larger force that was defeated in the Battle of Gura, with a loss of 4,000 Egyptian troops. Between 1832 and 1876, Egypt engaged in sixteen major battles with Ethiopian forces before giving up on the ambition of controlling the Blue Nile and Lake Tana.[54]

 

Figure 1 (Above): Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia (ruled from 1872 to 1889) fought Egyptian forces sent by Khedive Ismail Pasha of Egypt.

 

Figure 2 (Above): Khedive Ismail Pasha (ruled from 1863-1879) builder of the Suez Canal, attempted to conquer parts of Ethiopia and assert Egypt’s control over the Nile. His Ethiopian nemesis was Emperor Yohannes IV.

Ethiopia has had a history of bellicose threats of using the Nile as a water weapon when it came to pressuring Egypt. From 1381 to 1411, the Ethiopian King threatened the Egyptian Mamluk Sultan Barquqi with diverting the Nile. The dispute then was over Mamluk treatment of Egypt’s Coptic Christians. History is relevant in the dispute over the Nile. A 1968 book was published in Egypt by historian Dr. Hakim Abdel-Salam and catalogs Ethiopia’s history of threatening to use the Nile as a weapon. Among the items cited was a letter in Egyptian government archives from the 18th century from the Ethiopian King to the Egyptian Viceroy of the Ottomans that states: “The Nile alone is a means to punish thee, because God made its source and floods under our purview. It is within our means to dispose of the river in ways that could harm you.”[55] These threats were hollow, but remains in the collective conscience of Egyptian policymakers. Adding to these perceptions is the rapid rise of technology and its potential importation into Ethiopia in the later part of the 20th century. Technology now enables Ethiopia’s threats over the Nile to become reality.

Ethiopian Views on Past Nile Treaties

Ethiopia views the 1891 Anglo-Italian Protocol, the 1902 Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty, and the 1929 Anglo-Egyptian Nile Water Agreement as colonial agreements that are void. These treaties gave Egypt effective control of the entire Nile, particularly when combined with the 1906 Anglo-Congo Agreement that extends Egyptian influence over downriver development to Lakes Albert and Victoria. Ethiopia also considers these colonial Nile agreements along with the post-colonial 1959 Egyptian-Sudanese Nile Water Sharing Agreement to be void. Ethiopia justifies this not only from an anti-colonial viewpoint, but also from the standpoint that they excluded from these talks. In the 1960s, as Egypt sought to build the Aswan High Dam, Ethiopia opposed this and talked of projects along the Blue Nile. Egypt supported the Eritrean Popular Liberation Front (EPLF) and Somali insurgents to destabilize Ethiopia. The 1970s saw Ethiopia opposing Egyptian plans to divert Nile waters to the Sinai to reclaim 35,000 acres. Egypt faced a severe drought, leading to a release of billions of cubic meters of water from the Aswan High Dam to avert disaster. Anwar Sadat, exhibiting frustration with the drought, coupled with his status derived from the United States as the first Arab peacemaker with Israel, threatened Ethiopia with war if it took any measures to interfere with the Nile. The 1980s opened the decade with Ethiopia lodging a formal complaint to the African Union citing Ethiopia was not consulted about Egypt’s plans to divert the Nile outside of the basin to the Sinai.

Out of basin transfer of Nile waters is a current dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt. It centers on the Egyptian Al-Salam (Peace) Canal. Egyptian construction is proceeding to pipe water from the Nile Delta towards the northern Suez Canal townships. Ethiopia protests this as not only Egypt engaging out of basin transfer (taking Nile water to areas not traditionally reliant on the Nile or geographically part of the Nile Basin), but also non-notification by Egypt of other Nile riparian states. Egyptians have used satellite imagery to argue that the Nile delta extended into the Sinai, and that the majority of the Nile basin water piped to Suez Canal towns will be recycled drainage water.[56]

Cold War Politics on the Nile Basin

Cold War drama would be alive and well along the Nile basin, as a result of Egypt’s drift towards Moscow after its 1952 revolution, and in particular the singing of the 1955 Czech Arms Deal. The United States, a major donor to the World Bank, withdrew funding of the Aswan High Dam. In the 1950s, the United States established monitoring stations in Kagnew outside Asmara in Ethiopia allowing the tracking of air and sea movements along the Red Sea. So important was the Kagnew Station with increased Soviet presence in Egypt and Yemen that Egyptians believed in 1962 the United States acquiesced to Ethiopia absorbing Eritrea as an autonomous province. In 1958, the United States began a multi-year study of Ethiopia’s lakes and rivers conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Although the intent of the Bureau of Reclamation’s work was to aid Ethiopia in maximizing its water resource utilization, in the lens of the Cold War, it was reduced to an Ethiopian slogan directed towards Egypt: “Egypt you have the Soviets and the Aswan Dam, Ethiopia has the United States and (controls) the water.” In 1960, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) was formed in Cairo, Egypt and Port Sudan, Sudan was used as a logistics base. Weapons from Egypt, Iraq and Syria were distributed to various Eritrean Liberation factions in their war with Ethiopia via Port Sudan.[57] The Eritreans used unconventional tactics known as qaretta (splitting) to divide and envelope small conventional forces, and hijum (flocking attack), a form of Chinese swarming tactics.[58] The valleys, mountains, and terrain of northern Ethiopia are perfect for guerilla warfare operations much like the mountainous region of the Hadramaut in Yemen.[59]

The perpetuation of national liberation movements against Ethiopia, and Kenya is tied to what Joseph Nye Jr. calls the problems of self-determination.[60] Both Kenya and Ethiopia contain sizable Somali Muslim populations concentrated in northeastern Kenya and southern Ethiopia. The sense for a need for these two sections to unite into a Greater Somalia is never far from the minds of decision-makers in the Horn of Africa. A Conflict over the Nile could offer an opportunity to revive these grievances that in the past involved secular national liberation movements in the 20th century. However, in the 21st century these ethnic liberation grievances would be infused with transnational militant Islamist groups. The tactic of supporting insurgents in the 20th century to destabilize a regime is today fraught with the risks of transnational terrorism. Under Egyptian strongman Gamal Abdel-Nasser, support was provided to Somali, Tigrean and Eritrean revolutionaries to destabilize Ethiopia. Eritrean revolutionary leaders who trained in Egypt include Idris Mohammed Adem (President of the Eritrean Parliament), Ibrahim Sultan (Secretary General of the World Muslim League), and Waldeab Mariam (President of the Eritrean Labor Union). Nasser also provided a base of operations for Ethiopian rejectionists, and extended Radio Cairo to broadcast anti-Ethiopian propaganda.[61]

Ethiopian Nile Strategy and Advocacy is No Match for Egyptian Bureaucracy

In many of the Nile conferences and meetings such as Undugu (Friendship) Nile Talks and TECONILE 2002, Ethiopia has remained a spectator. It has pursued a policy that John Waterbury calls “aggressive silence,” hoping that the clear justice of its position would speak for itself. The Ethiopians have not lobbied aggressively with international bodies regarding its rights to the Nile. Making matters worse, all Nile expertise was concentrated among a few bureaucrats, such that when Ethiopian Water Minister Zewdie Abate died in 1995. He left a major gap in expertise on Ethiopia’s hydrographic knowledge of their Nile tributaries. Egyptians on the other hand have a formidable bureaucracy of engineers and administrators dedicated to the issue of the Nile that has stayed consistent even with changes in political regimes. Of note, despite Sudan’s radical political changes since independence in 1956, Sudan’s water experts have remained consistent. Egypt also maintains senior personnel in the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank ready to counter Ethiopia and other Nile riparian states that plan to develop its Nile resources without taking Egypt into consideration.[62]

Another Egyptian tactic regarding the Nile is to maintain that its quotas are unalterable; that the 55.5 BCM negotiated in the 1959 Egyptians-Sudan Nile Water Agreement represents the bare minimum water level needed for Egypt. When this does not work, Egyptian officials recommend concentrating on alternatives to utilizing the Nile, like rain-irrigated agriculture. Other tactics include a perception campaign that upriver nations need electricity while downriver nations like Egypt need water for physical sustenance.[63] Another Egyptian perception is the effective propaganda that Ethiopia receives enough rainfall, but Egypt lacks adequate rainfall and relies on the Nile. This is partially true, as Ethiopia must rely on rain and its river resources to avoid famine in years of drought.[64] Currently, Ethiopia is in the midst of a drought, and 14 million people rely on food aid. The lack of rain has called into question Egypt’s stalling on changing the status quo.[65] The same article affirms Egyptian tactic to block Ethiopian sources of funding for development upriver, quoting U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn, who confirms Egypt’s activities behind closed doors. Additional Egyptian tactics regarding the Nile is to focus on technical issues while ignoring fundamental questions of equitable water sharing. Egypt has also sought to address Nile projects by other riparian states on a project-by-project basis. Finally, the Egyptians have leveraged their status with the west, as a signatory to the Camp David Agreement, the use of the Suez Canal, and other bilateral issues with the United States and Europe to maintain hegemony over water issues regarding the Nile.

Shifting Priorities: Kenya and Ethiopia Assumes More Significance in the War on Terrorism

These Egyptian tactics may be shifting as Kenya and Ethiopia assume more visibility in combating transnational terrorism in the Horn of Africa. As recently as September 2009, the Somali militant Islamist group al-Shabab hit an African Union peacekeeping base with car bombs. The group released a video showing al-Shabab members pledging allegiance to Usama Bin Laden.[66] While Bin Laden and Zawahiri have included Somali militant Islamists in their own videos, produced by al-Sahab (the Clouds website), they have yet to announce a formal merger, like Al-Qaida in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in North Africa. However, should a merger between al-Qaida Senior Leaders and al-Shabab become formal it will likely increase the scale of military operations by the Nile riparian states of Kenya and Ethiopia.

One of the benefits to Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt supporting liberation movements in the late 20th century was to create smaller political entities they could control and thereby cause instability. This instability led to a lack of development along the Nile, which had a direct impact on Egyptian and Sudanese shares of water. The more instability, the less likely Egypt and Sudan can maintain the status quo. In the 20th century, the competition revolved around supporting Eritrean, Tigrean, Somali, and Christian Sudanese liberation movements. As of September 2009, tension has flared in southern Sudan that although just beginning this year, has left 2000 dead and 250,000 displaced persons. The area has been peaceful since 2005, but as we approach a 2011 referendum on southern Sudanese secession from the north, Khartoum has been arming southern tribes to create instability and influence the outcome of the vote, or delay the vote indefinitely. Aside from the Blue Nile tributaries, southern Sudan contains oil, making this not only a matter of cultural clashes but economic survival.[67] Egypt and Ethiopia have yet to interfere. However, should southern Sudan declare independence in 2011, it will contribute a new dynamic by adding the eleventh Nile riparian state. It furnishes an additional challenge to sharing the resources of the Nile.

Despite rosy projections from UNESCO about warfare over the Nile waters being unlikely, the organization has not taken complex social, political, ethnic, religious, and transnational terrorism issues into account. These issue if not carefully monitored could contribute to instability among Nile riparian states.[68] What UNESCO does highlight that may be useful in cultivating transparency among Nile riparian states is their training of water engineers, and constructing an internet network to enable Nile riparian states to share information and solve problems. In addition, UNESCO advocates the use of satellite imagery that would make hiding Nile projects from the ten Nile riparian states more difficult. While the Nile riparian states recognize the need for a comprehensive new legal framework sharing the Nile, the pace of the discussions due to this distrust, is not keeping up with growing demand for water resources.

Militant Religious Incitement and Interjection: A New Dimension to Any 21st Century Nile Conflict

America’s military planners and defense policymakers could easily immerse themselves in the details of power sharing, development, and bureaucracy of managing a potential conflict. However, a conflict involving the Nile cannot be reduced to equitable water sharing or an understanding of balancing development projects. The human element should be discussed, as well. Many reports and books have focused on human suffering, or military conflict among Nile riparian states. Little is written on the impact a conflict over Nile water sharing will have in offering opportunities for religious militant groups capitalizing on chaos.

What is meant by the human element when discussing the Nile River Basin? It is the religious and social aspects that provides context in negotiations. More importantly, this understanding of the human element can serve as indicators for potential conflict. This section will discuss the constructive historical narrative between Ethiopia and the Islamic world, and the destructive radical Islamist narrative designed to galvanize populations. As of 2009, the militant Islamist narratives against Ethiopia has been limited to their websites, and are typically in the context of Ethiopia’s war with militant Islamist insurgents in Somalia. No analysis of tensions over sharing the Nile would be complete today without discussing the role of Christianity and Islam between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.

Egypt’s Relationship with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (333-1959 CE)

Despite Ethiopia’s current regime having a secular-socialist outlook, for the vast majority of Ethiopians, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is a prominent fixture in their daily lives. There are deep connections between the Coptic Church in Egypt and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that goes back to 333 CE, when the Bishop for Ethiopia was a native Egyptian selected by the Coptic (Egyptian) Patriarch of Alexandria. This Egyptian was elevated to Bishop of Ethiopia and known as “abun,” (meaning father in Amharic). With the arrival of Islam in Egypt around 640 CE, the Ethiopians tenaciously retained their connection to the Egyptian Coptic Church. Overall Islamic diplomacy in the region generally involved Muslim rulers seeing utility in exploiting this relationship to influence Ethiopian monarchs. The Egyptian Coptic influence on the Ethiopian Church included the development of the latter’s early canon and translation of early literature from Greek to Geez (an ancient Ethiopian language currently limited today to Ethiopian Church liturgy). Today relations between the Coptic and Ethiopian Church are mired in disputes regarding oversight of holy sites in Jerusalem like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.[69]

Abyssinia and Islam: A Constructive Narrative

Christians played a pivotal role in the evolution of early Islam. The first example of this is when Muhammad began to receive revelations, he thought he was possessed. His wife, Khadija, sent him to see her cousin, Waraqa ibn Naufal, a Monophysite (those Christians living in Arabia and who rejected the forced imposition of the Nicean Creed transforming Jesus to Christ) Christian, who calmed him and explained to him that he would be the awaited Prophet of God sent to the Arabs. Waraqa warned Muhammad that his trials had just begun. Another monk that interacted with and influenced Muhammad was Bahira of Busra, who lived along the Meccan trade routes to Syria.

As Prophet Muhammad began preaching, the Meccans began to block his message and began to conduct a genocide against Muslims in Mecca. While Muhammad would eventually flee to Yathrib (the city that what would become Medina), he asked a group of Muslims to seek asylum in Christian Abyssinia (Somalia and Ethiopia). These Muslims were granted asylum by the Axum King, known in Islam as Najashi, in 615 CE. The story does not end there, for a Meccan emissary, Amr ibn al-A’as, arrived on the shores of Abyssinia with agreements to return runaway slaves. Amr ibn al-A’as demanded that these Meccans return with him. Ibn al-A’as asked the Christian monarch to inquire of these Muslims their attitudes on Christ. After interviewing the Muslims and studying the documents, Najashi concluded that these were not slaves but religious objectors whose monotheism is little different from Christians who had not accepted the Nicene Creed. It is said that Jafar ibn Abi Talib, cousin of Muhammad, and brother of Ali ibn Abi Talib (who would become Caliph Ali revered by the Shiites) narrated this verse (Maryam verses 29 to 34) from the Quran to King Najashi:[70M]

“But she (Mary) pointed to the babe (Jesus). They (Mary’s accusers of fornication) said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?" At this Jesus spoke, ‘I am the servant of God to whom He has given the Book and whom He has And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable.; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised. Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute.”

This is known in Islamic history as the First Hijrah (migration) to distinguish it from Prophet Muhammad’s migration to Yathrib [to be renamed Medinat al-Nabi (city of the Prophet), and then simply Medina) a few years later]. Muhammad would correspond with Najashi, when the former was leader of Medina, and Prophet Muhammad mourned when he learned of Najashi’s death. It has led to the infamous hadith (saying or actions attributed to Muhammad), “utruku al-habasha ma tarakukum,” or “Leave the Abyssinians alone as long as they leave you alone.” This was in recognition of the special relationship Muhammad enjoyed with the Christian King of Abyssinia. Later Muslim scholars designated Abyssinia as a land (or abode) of neutrality to distinguish from the abode of war and the abode of Islam. Perhaps the best book in English that explores these themes is Haggai Erlich’s 2002 work, “The Cross and the River: Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Nile.” It is the only volume, the author has encountered, that looks at Nile Basin conflict from a sociologic, political, and religious perspective. It should be required reading for any U.S. military or agency planner dealing with issues involving Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.

Militant and Radical Islamists: Spinning the Destructive Counter-Narrative

What distinguish militant and radical Islamist ideological narrative are their lack of details and their suppression of aspects of Islam that do not fit their worldview. They hold to the view of Islam al-Najashi, a total contradiction to the positive humanist Islamic view of Muhammad’s relations with the King of Abyssinia. In their view, Abyssinia was a land that blocked Islam in Africa, and oppressed Muslims. Therefore, redemption, according to militant Islamists, is only obtained through forced conversion and subjugation. They selectively latch onto the narrative that the Christian King of Abyssinia converted to Islam two years before his death, and that his people rejected him. This made Ethiopia part of the Abode of Islam. This narrative is highly debatable, primarily since the accounts that date from Prophet Muhammad’s time were not compiled until 230 years after the Prophet’s death, and that the conversion of the King of Abyssinia could be interpreted as wishful thinking on the part of a few Muslims. At best, Najashi was tolerant of Islam, and there is no indication of any Abyssinian monarch converting to Islam. On Muhammad’s saying regarding leaving Abyssinians alone, the radical Islamists urge that since Ethiopia has oppressed Muslims, they have broken that part of Muhammad’s saying, as long as they leave you alone, and are deemed enemies. They cite how the Abyssinian vassal Abraha attempted to destroy the Kaaba (the House built by Prophet Abraham for the worship of God according to Islamic mythos) in 570 CE. They fail to mention that this was the year of Muhammad’s birth, and that Muhammad was not called to prophecy until his 40th year in 609 CE.[71]

Why do these details matter? Throughout the history between Egypt and Ethiopia there has been a trend whereby some periods of the humanistic story of Muhammad and Najashi prevails, and the more destructive interpretation prevails in public discourse. Whenever an analyst attempting to predict conflict between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia pays attention to public and media statements, if there is an increase of such terms as Islam al-Najashi (Islamized King of Abyssinia) narratives, al-Andalus al-oula (First Spain, referring to the loss of Spain by the Muslims in 1492), or the focus on key texts from the Mamluk period (1250-1517 CE) that demonizes Ethiopians, these are indicators of tension that may have at its root cause disputes over the Nile being expressed in militant Islamist rhetoric. The Islamist political group, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which represents the largest opposition group to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) endorses the government line of Egypt’s historic rights to the Nile, while it does not use militant Islamist rhetoric they do embellish their positions on Nile water sharing with tales of a Zionist conspiracy.[72]

The Muslim Brotherhood has not used the more radical Islamist narrative of Islamizing Ethiopia based on the conversion of the Abyssinian monarch who saved early Muslims to Islam in their political narrative. The Muslim Brotherhood narrative is different from that of al-Qaida and its affiliates who refer to Ethiopia as, “The Land of the First Migration,” in their websites. While conflict over sharing the water resources may be the root cause of the conflict, it could manifest itself in an increase in militant Islamist narratives vis-à-vis Ethiopia may be the first indicator of tension.

For the United States to gain an edge in predicting conflict between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, we must not only focus on the mechanics of water disputes but the social, religious and cultural narrative these grievances are expressed in the public sphere. Tension over the Nile may cause a revival of anti-Ethiopian literature in Egypt and Sudan couched in the language of Islamist militancy, they include:

  • Abu Nua’ym ibn Hammad’s, “Kitab al-Futan,” published in 844 CE.
  • Yusuf Ahmad, “al-Islam fi al-Habasha,” published in 1935, as a pro-fascist tract justifying the invasion of Ethiopia.
  • Shihabuddin Ahmad Abdul-Qadir (Arab-faqih), “Futuh al-Habasha,” (16th Century Ethiopian Conquest), edited by Sheikh Fahim Shaltut and republished in 1974.
  • Abd al-Fattah Aliyyan’s “The Hijrah (migration) to Ethiopia and the Argument on the Issue of Islam al-Najashi,” published in 1987. This work was reprinted in 1993, in Cairo, and removes every positive story in the relationship between Muslims and Ethiopian Christians. It reduces the complex Islamic history into a justification for waging war against Ethiopia. In addition, it also attacks any Muslim who shares a positivist view of Ethiopia and its interactions with early Muslims, declaring them as apostates.

While not an exhaustive list, these represent the main works of radical Islamist literature regarding Ethiopia. When excerpts or whole tracts from these books appear in sermons, street literature, and websites it is an indicator of increased tension between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia that could be about water resources, but instead has taken on a religious radical character.

The above highlights militant literature. However, there are also authors who advocate a radical Islamist narrative on Ethiopia, but who at least offer the countervailing views within the text. Dr. Samia Abdul-Aziz Manbasi published a 2001 book entitled “Islam of the Najashi (Abyssinian Emperor) and his Role in the propagation of Islam.” It engages in the same wishful thinking that Najashi converted to Islam, but offers countervailing views that Islamic scholars have proposed, such as the more rational explanation that it was his granting Muslim asylum that was the unpopular decision among his court and not an outright conversion. There are also disagreements whether Muhammad while mourning the death of this Christian King, ordered a prayer over his soul or not.[73] Such disagreements appear to be an attempt to construct a historical narrative to justify an action, usually acts of aggression. These attempts at using history to justify violent acts, dilutes the timeless story of the importance of Christians to the survival of early Muslims.

Radical Ethiopians like radical Muslims are not innocent of this practice either, and have engaged in demonizing their Muslim populations; even compelling forced conversions, as will be discussed later in this monograph. These attempts at using history to justify violent acts, dilutes the timeless story of the importance of Christians to the survival of early Muslims. There are also radical Islamist literature published in recent times that is an amalgam of Islamist justification and socialist land redistribution. In 1989, Muhammad Yusuf al-Siddiq, an instructor of Hadith (sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad) at Mecca University produced a book entitled, “Al-Nil min al-Janah wa Manaah al-Sudani (The Nile is from Paradise and its’ Sudanese Meaning),” that combined Islamic fundamentalism with theories on collectivization and community farming as a means of solving the Nile water resource sharing problems. First, it advocates returning to the farming methods of the Sahaba (6th century AD companions of Prophet Muhammad). He discusses the ills of colonialism, and Marxism, and finally it applies a Qutbist (Sayyed Qutb was executed in 1966 and is the founder of modern militant Islamist ideology) interpretation of the Quran to argue that every Muslim along the Nile should be organized to farm and subsist on 10,000 acres.[74] The number of 10,000 acres is the land that Prophet Muhammad’s early society in Medina subsisted.

Al-Siddiq justifies his view that the Nile is an Islamic entity by quoting a hadith (sayings attributed to Muhammad) in which he says that the Sayhan, Jayhan, Nile, and Euphrates rivers are from paradise.[75] Al-Siddiq also quotes the Quran’s reference linking anhar (river) and faroun (pharaoh) as an implicit reference to the Nile. The author then extrapolates these fragments to mean that it is an Islamic river. Despite the pseudo-intellectualism of this thesis, it is important to highlight this material, as these materials are used to concoct a recruiting slogan for militant Islamists.

One of the more interesting finds at the Library of Congress Near East Collection is a luxuriously bound two-volume set by Muhammad al-Taeb Muhammad Yusuf al-Yusuf. The title of his work is “Ithyubiya wal Urubah wal Islam Abr al-Tarikh (Ethiopia, Arabness and Islam across History),” published in 1996. The two volumes were published by a Mecca printing press in Saudi Arabia, and in two volumes al-Yusuf attempts to prove that not only is Ethiopia an Islamic entity, but that it is also an Arab entity. The work is not scholarly or anthropologically sound. But what is of use to American decision-makers is a section that catalog’s the links of differing tribes within the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt beginning from the first migration of Muslims in 614 CE.[76] Although not the topic of this study, these volumes are valuable in planning potential scenarios for conflict involving the Nile Basin, as it dissects tribes that could make alliances with militant Islamists. The book’s binding, use of fragmented Islamic quotations, linguistic postulations, and tribal linkages give the work an heir of legitimacy. It is only by studying such narratives that a counter-narrative can be developed.

Current Somali Crisis: Staging Ground for Destabilizing Conflicting Nile States

Currently there is a war between Islamists and al-Qaida affiliated militant Islamists over control of Somalia. President Sharif Ahmed although an Islamist does not share al-Qaida’s vision, and has fought the al-Qaida affiliate group, al-Shabab. The U.S. has rushed 40 tons of ammunition and $1 million to mitigate a total takeover of Somalis by al-Shabab. Ahmed has called on the UN to do more, and an increase in the 5,300 African Union peacekeepers currently in Somalia has been authorized.[77] In addition to al-Shabab’s war with the UN-backed government, the group has also fought with a rival militant Islamist faction called Hizbul-Islam. In October 2009, twelve were killed as al-Shabab and Hizbul-Islam fought for control of the port of Kismayo.[78] Their fight is expected to spread southward, and may spill into Kenya, and it shows the tremendous friction al-Shabab is experiencing. These are important dynamics to factor into any study of developing scenarios on conflict among Nile states. Ahmed’s goal is to rid the country of al-Shabab. The problem is that al-Shabab, if defeated, is most likely to retrench into Kenya, Ethiopia, or the Somali interior to await a chaotic opportunity to exploit.

Should the international community intervene in mediating between Nile riparian states in a kinetic conflict over water, it is certain key al-Qaida ideologues and their ideologies will be revived to incite militant action. This occurred in 2003, during the lead up to the American intervention in Iraq, when the anti-American writings of Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), the ideological founder of modern Sunni Militant Islamist movements, was distilled in booklets and passed off as Qutb’s prediction with a conflict of civilizations centered between the United States and Islam. In a localized conflict between two Nile states or a wider conflict involving multiple Nile riparian states, it is likely one will see such Qutb quotes. One likely Qutb quote to be used is, “Ummuna misr, Ammuna al-Sharq, Abuna al-Nil…al-mawt lil istimaar, wal wayl lil-mustama’rin,” translated as, “Egypt is our motherland, the East our uncle, the Nile our father, death to colonialism, and woe to the colonialists.”[79] If the author of this monograph can find this fragment and spin it into an anti-American slogan regarding the Nile Basin, the adversary can as well. Therefore, understanding where this language originates helps with appreciating who we are confronting in a conflict involving Nile states.

Negative Ethiopian Narratives of Muslims

Ethiopians are not immune from demonizing Muslims. In the sixteenth century, Ahmad ibn Ibrahim, known as Gragn (The Left Handed), led a jihadist revolt uniting various tribes, languages, and ethnicities under Islam to strike at oppressive Christian overlords in Ethiopia. His revolt would lead to an Islamic occupation of Ethiopia from 1529 to 1543. Islamic domination of Ethiopia would not end until the involvement of the Portuguese under the command of Alfonso d’Albquerque. The Portuguese navigator discovered a passage to the Red Sea around what is today South Africa.[80] In this narrative called, “The Ahmad Gragn Trauma”, Gragn impacted the psychological thinking among Ethiopian leaders for decades, leaving an impression that Ethiopia was threatened by its local Muslim population. From a Muslim perspective, Emperor Yohannes IV (1872-1889) would assume to Muslims of Ethiopia the same image as Gragn would for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. As previously discussed, Yohannes IV was locked in military campaigns launched by the Egyptian ruler Ismail Pasha. However, Yohannes IV was pursuing a policy of forced conversions of Muslims in Ethiopia to Christianity. This would leave an indelible mark in Ethiopia’s narrative and its relations to Muslims.[81] Understanding the historic terrain of the region will be an important part of situational awareness for any Americans operating in the Horn of Africa. Words like “Gragn,” and “Islam-Habbashi” must be understood to detect signs of potential conflict among local communities living along the Nile.

Positive Historic Narratives: Shaping the Informational Environment

Amidst the several volumes that take a negative historical narrative between Muslim Nile states and Ethiopia, there are positive volumes that should be highlighted. In the course of preparing this study, the author located an excellent 2005 work by Sudanese historian Saleh Muhammad Ali Omer that delved into the Sudanese role in restoring Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to his throne after being evicted by Italian forces in 1935. Although not the subject of this book, it is important to highlight positive works that demonstrate the importance of relations between Sudan and Ethiopia in ridding the Horn of Africa of Mussolini’s dominance. The book contains maps, statistics, tactical descriptions and strategic decisions in which Ethiopia maintained a robust army in exile that harassed conventional Italian forces. In addition, a logistical base, routes of egress and ingress, and Sudanese forces was provided in collaboration with Ethiopian forces to attack Italian army units. The book culminates with Haile Selassie’s six months in Khartoum and the final entrance of the Ethiopian emperor, and the combined Ethiopian, Sudanese, and British forces into Addis Ababa in 1941. Saleh Muhammad Omar, had the assistance of Sudanese and Ethiopian officials and government archives in the preparation of this new volume. Whenever both Ethiopia and Sudan digress into years of grievances, it is important to remind them of this rich history of cooperation.[82] It is recommended such Arabic works be translated, analyzed and debated in the halls of America’s military academies and war colleges. It provides the Arab and African perspectives of World War II, as well as a mechanism of understanding the terrain through the study of a military theater of war (World War II Horn of Africa) that has gained a renewed interest in the 21st century. It also is a means of integrating Sudan into the positive narrative of being part of ridding the world of fascism. It is likely the theater in the Horn of Africa tied down Italian Axis forces keeping them from reinforcing other fronts, such as the Libyan front, that pitted Axis and Allied forces in the Western Desert and that threatened control of Egypt and the strategic Suez Canal.

Great Lakes Nile Riparian Nations: 21st Century Revolt Against the Status Quo

While the focus of this study is Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, where conflict over water sharing is likely to occur, one cannot neglect the impact of the Great Lakes region where 15 percent of the Nile originates. These nations include Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Burundi. Their posture on Nile tributaries impacts on the pressures between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Any Nile collective will include these Great Lakes nations yet their contribution to the Nile flow is less than 1/6th that of Ethiopia’s. One item not covered in the literature is proportionate contribution, and rights on sharing the Nile. The reality is Ethiopia is much more significant than the Great Lakes in terms of Nile water contribution, yet when every BCM of water needs to be maximized, these nations cannot be ignored.

Nile Basin Revolt at the 1990 Royal Geographical Society Conference on the Nile

Zewdie Abate, the late General Manager of Ethiopia’s Valley Development Authority delivered remarks at the London Royal Geographical Society in 1990. Egyptians and Sudanese delegates noted his remarks. Abate said that Egypt and Sudan are the only nations enjoying the full exploitation and development of the Nile, particularly in the realm of bringing more of their land under cultivation. Both (Egypt and Sudan), through the 1959 Agreement, share in 83 BCM without regard for other Nile Basin states. Egypt built the Aswan High Dam without consulting Ethiopia. While Ethiopia contributes 72 BCM or 86 percent of the Nile to Egypt and Sudan, Ethiopia only uses 600 MCM per year, despite being affected by famine, drought and disease plaguing parts of the country. Abate mentions that Kenya, Uganda, and Zaire use between them 500 MCM annually despite its need to feed a growing populace. Ethiopians claim that the Sinai is not a natural part of the Nile Basin, and diverting water to that desert region would increase Egypt’s already growing appetite for water. Egyptians disagree saying the Nile delta historically extended to El-Arish but over the centuries retracted to its present location.[83]

In this same 1990 London conference Odidi Okidi, Chairman of Environmental Studies at the Daniel Moi University in Nairobi, said that Kenya, a nation that contributes to the Nile through six tributaries and Lake Victoria needs to address two-thirds of its land being arid or semi-arid. Kenya’s development was contingent on the use of these waters for further irrigation. He lamented that no agreement on actual water allocation was concluded among the Nile riparian states except for the 1959 Agreement between Sudan and Egypt. He advocated that Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda could announce its rejection collectively of colonial agreements, like Sudan did upon its independence in 1956; which compelled Egypt to negotiate the 1959 Water Agreement. Okidi highlighted that traditionally Egypt has shown little care for other Nile riparian states except for Sudan, and Uganda’s Owen Falls Project. When Kenya acquired its independence in 1963, it announced a willingness to honor the 1929 Nile Water Agreement for two years. From Kenya’s perspective, the 1929 Agreement was void as of December 12, 1965. In addition, Kenya does not recognize the 1959 Egyptian-Sudanese Nile Agreement because it divides the entire Nile basin and keeps out eight other riparian nations. Finally, Kenya has the right to develop and utilize its water resources within its borders. Okidi calls on talks between Egypt and Kenya on the issues of water sharing before it escalates into a crisis; as Kenya plans to irrigate the Kerio Valley, bringing 570,000 hectares under cultivation.[84]

Tanzania, upon its independence, sent a diplomatic note to Egypt, Sudan, and the United Kingdom declaring the 1929 Nile Water Agreement to be void. Egypt petitioned Tanzania for a two-year grace period that lapsed on July 4, 1964, however, before the deadline Egypt dispatched a diplomatic note affirming that the 1929 Agreement remained in effect until a substitute agreement could be negotiated. Egypt still operates under the assumption that Kenya and Tanzania are bound by this agreement.[85] In a 1990 Egyptian national security report, it highlighted Tanzania’s plans to exploit Lake Victoria and the Kagira River to cultivate 55,000 acres, the same report raised an alarm at Rwanda and Burundi’s plans to build a hydroelectric dam that could reduce the levels of Lake Victoria by 1 BMC.[86] This Egyptian national security report compares water usage from 1980 to 2000 in BMC, showing a concern for reductions in upstream Nile water flow. It broke it down as follows:

  1980 (in BMC) 2000 (in BMC)
Tanzaniya 
0.34 
3.34
Uganda
0.14
3.42
Kenya
0.26
1.35
Rwanda 0.13
0.53
Burundi
0.01 0.16
Total
0.88 8.88

These numbers represent an Egyptian study and must be compared with data from other Nile riparian states. One of the key problems of effective Nile resource sharing is a lack of transparency on the data of other states. Perhaps Egypt is the only Nile state that has consistently made most of its parliamentary debates, and national security reports public. It is likely the public government reports from Cairo are designed to send a message to other Nile riparian states. These reports include the statement from an Egyptian delegation attending a 1981 Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting that declared, “no nation had the right to unilaterally undertake projects or change the natural course of the river that would adversely impact its neighbors.” Some Great Lakes and Ethiopian delegates in the meeting objected to this statement invoking the Harmon Doctrine that gave the United States absolute rights over the Rio Grande River vis-à-vis Mexico, since the Rio Grande originated from the United States. Egypt asserted that the (Harmon) doctrine has no application in international law.[87]

Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda: The Great Lakes Region

Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda all share the Great Lakes region of Africa with Lake Victoria providing 15 percent of the Nile’s sources through the White Nile. Another remnant of the colonial redrawing of Africa’s borders is the dispute between Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan over the Illemi Triangle, which caused former Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi to abrogate the 1914 and 1938 agreements that managed this disputed region. The Kenyans have joined the Ethiopians in support of the SPLA, and it is unknown if an independent Southern Sudan, would mean that Kenya would gain full control of the Ilemi Triangle. The impact of the Ilemi Triangle dispute is a tangential one when it comes to sharing the Nile, except it adds further impetus for the secession of Southern Sudan which would control significant tributaries, swamps, portions of the Blue Nile, and a cataract of the Nile. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania participate in the Kagera River Development Project. The Kagera River represents one of many sources of the Nile and flows into Lake Victoria, feeding into the White Nile. Arabic language studies look to the unmanaged development of the Kagera as a source of problems for Egypt and the Sudan. As the Kagera River represents the upper most extent of the Nile, it demonstrates Egypt’s need to fight for every drop of Nile water to manage its growing population and develop its own resources. Arabic reports read by Egypt’s foreign policy circles have also mentioned the Congo’s Lake Mobutu (formerly Lake Albert), that feeds into Lake Victoria, as a body of water of interest to Egypt and the Sudan. In November 2008, Kenyan Water Minister Charity Ngilu has emerged as a vocal critic of Sudan and Egypt’s rejection of the NWBCF, the framework that would address water security of upper Nile states. She said that since the framework was signed by six riparian states it could be implemented without the non-signatories.[88] Should the six states band together and begin development, this would be a serious challenge to Egyptian and Sudanese efforts to preserve the status quo.

NILECOM 2009 Meeting: A Disturbing Trend

These perceptions of Egypt and Sudan’s near veto power over the Nile by the rest of the Nile riparian states is very much alive today. In May 2009, the Nile riparian states, excluding Egypt and Sudan, called for the convening of Nile Basin Initiative members to adopt a draft pact, the Nile Water Basin Cooperative Framework (NWBCF) that would establish a permanent Nile Basin Commission. It was hoped this body would erode Egypt and Sudan’s influence. The May 2009 NILECOM (Nile Council of Ministers) meeting had seven Nile riparian states adopting a draft pact that did not recognize Egypt and Sudan’s “historical rights and uses,” of the Nile waters. Egypt and Sudan recognized this troubling trend that united the Nile states on the Blue and White Nile on this draft statement, and insisted that the following clause be inserted for their concurrence to the Nile Basin Commission: “Not to adversely affect the water security and current uses and rights of any other Nile Basin states.”

In August 2009, the World Bank hosted 12 development partners that stated: “Our experience of providing support in other river basins suggests that this will not deliver the scale of economic and security benefits and reductions of future risks that basin wide cooperation will yield.” Unhappy with this statement that benefits Egypt and Sudan, the seven Nile riparian states have called to question the development partner’s impartiality, and have adopted a six month deadline for Egypt and Sudan to adopt the draft or risk isolation.[89] This tactic can only work if seven Nile riparian states can hold together. This is a tall order considering the disputes amongst these states. Another wildcard is China, which is not part of the Nile’s development partners, but is investing heavily in Africa. China’s policy of pursuing a “Peaceful Rise,” as a counter-weight to the Bush doctrine of preemption, has led to what Josh Kurlantzick has called “a mutli-faceted charm offensive,” targeting Africa leaders foreign assistance and bilateral attention, which when compared to China’s prestige to many African nations is considered an elevated form of attention diplomatically.[90] To understand the need for the United States to consider incorporating China in discussions over Nile riparian conflicts, the Chinese have become the African continents largest trading partner, with $100 billion in trade 2008.[91] This is giving China a voice and while the relationship between African states and China centers on trade, this could evolve into these states seeking regional protection from a great power that does not concern itself with human rights or anti-corruption crusades. In December 2009, the People’s Liberation Army increased its peacekeeping contingent in the Sudan.[92] This should be welcomed by the United States, as another indicator of China’s willingness to assume the responsibilities of being a responsible emerging power. The problem of Nile water sharing can be used to consider the wider context of Sino-American exercise of power to manage conflict on the continent. Since July 2011, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Sudan ended, but the conflict between north and south Sudan may necessitate a redeployment of peacekeepers.

As a result of the May 2009 meeting and the adoption of the draft statement by seven Nile riparian states, Egyptian experts are blaming this on a U.S and Israeli conspiracy. Thankfully these conspiratorial notions have not entered the language of Egypt’s officials, but among the masses the line between Egyptian experts and officials can be slim. Dr. Adbel Moniem al-Mashet, the Director of the Research and Studies Center of Cairo University is stoking these conspiratorial flames. Both al-Mashet and Dr. Eglal Rafat are talking of Egypt resorting to war over water sharing and have invoked the late President Anwar Sadat’s past statements about taking Egypt to war over water. The sternest language from Egypt came from Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in July 2009 saying, “Egypt’s need for water is a red line that no one can cross, and Nile Basin countries should consult Egypt before carrying out any projects that could impact Egypt’s share of water.”[93]

The pace of these discussions is not keeping up with the demographic realities of all nations of the Nile. In 2000, the average water consumption rate per Egyptian fell below 1,000 cubic meters per year, making Egypt a water scarce country. In 2009, Egypt’s per capita usage of water ranged between 800 and 750 cubic meters.[94] Pressures include the other nine Nile riparian states who tap into the Nile waters for irrigation, hydropower, and development.

This competition is not limited to Nile Basin nations, for wealthy nations have looked to Ethiopia as a source of cheap farmland and labor to grow food. In 2009, Ethiopia has made 2.7 million hectares of land available to companies from the Middle East and Asia. The largest investors are India, Saudi Arabia and China which is engaging in shoring up food supplies and head off potential food shortages.[95] This investment in exploiting Ethiopian farmland places further strains on the Nile and its tributaries. Should it escalate into hostilities between nations downriver, this could involve intervention from China or India under the pretext of protecting its investment in Ethiopian farmland. Ethiopia could also use this new business model to exploit the Nile, the thought being that Egypt, the regional Nile power, will not risk conflict with China or India. In a sense, Ethiopia is addressing the lack of a Nile agreement through this new business model of making farmland available to emerging powers. Finally, changing the land to farmland blocks proposals that Ethiopian farmland should be used to conserve Nile water by growing food for other Nile states downriver as a means of getting Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to share and maximize the resources of the Nile. The investments by India, China, and Saudi Arabia in Ethiopian farmland complicate matters and must be taken into account should the United States involve itself in alleviating tensions among the Nile states.

Primer on Nile Treaties for Military-Political Decision Makers (1891-1959)

It is impossible to understand sources of potential conflict between these nations without delving into five central agreements that attempted to organize water rights along the Nile. These agreements stretch back to 1891, with the fifth agreement concluded between Sudan and Egypt in 1959. These are:

(1) The 1891 Nile Protocol: Negotiated between Great Britain, representing its protectorate of Egypt and the Sudan, and Italy representing its colony Ethiopia. This protocol stipulated that Ethiopia would not undertake any project along the Atbara River which would impact the Nile water levels.[96]

(2) The 1902 Nile Agreement: This agreement was between Britain, Ethiopia and Italy. The agreement compelled the Ethiopian Emperor not to undertake any projects along the Blue Nile, Tana Lake, and the Sobat River that could impact the water levels of the Nile without prior agreement with the British government as representative of Egypt and the Sudan.[97] Egypt utilizes its interpretation of Articles 11 and 12 of the 1978 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties to affirm that the 1902 agreement cannot be amended except by agreement of all parties.[98] Both Egypt and Ethiopia were among the signatories to this document adopted as a result of the rapid change in the international landscape due to decolonization. The Egyptians also utilize Article 3, Section 4 of the Organization of African Unity Charter (OAU) signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the precursor to the African Union that affirms signatories to “a peaceful settlement of disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation or arbitration,”[99] to emphasize that prior treaties granting Egypt dominance over the Nile cannot be amended except by negotiation. Egypt uses its influence in the African Union to bar any discussion proposed by Ethiopia that amends the Nile agreements in place; in effect it thwarts attempts at negotiation of the status quo.

(3) The 1929 Nile River Agreement: This agreement was between Egypt and Great Britain representing Sudan, Kenya, Tanganyika (modern day Tanzania), and Uganda. It stipulated no development along the Nile, its tributaries and lakes without Egypt’s approval with particular references to diverting the river sources and placing dams for power generation. Egypt was granted the right to send inspectors along the length of the Nile, and tributaries that feed the river. To date, only Uganda allows Egyptian hydrologists that aid in helping Uganda generate power without impacting the flow of the river upward. In 2003, Kenya withdrew from this treaty, and is leveraging its active role in combating militant Islamist terror groups in East Africa to form a coalition of East African states to break Egypt’s monopoly over the Nile.[100] Chinese companies are attempting to win lucrative contracts for Kenyan water development projects, and Kenya’s abrogation of the 1929 treaty is a tremendous blow to Egypt’s regional hegemony. Stimulating Kenya’s Muslim minorities in Mombasa may be a means by which Egypt could punish Kenya, while stepping up efforts to block international loans on developing Kenya’s water resources; a tactic it has used successfully in the past against Ethiopia.[101] Kenya’s actions may cause a ripple effect, as Tanzania has also called on the abrogation of colonial treaties such that give Egypt sole rights over the entire Nile.

(4) The 1949 Agreement between Egypt and Uganda, established a storage dam and hydroelectric plant in Uganda in return for recognition by Uganda of Egypt’s exclusive rights to the Nile. Egyptian officials consider this agreement the ideal bargaining position for sharing the Nile, which allows Egypt to administer projects that could impact the Nile river flow. Uganda is an interesting case in the Egyptian management of increasing demands on the Nile and its tributaries. In January 1953, the Egyptian and Ugandan government entered into an agreement that resulted in the construction of the Owen Falls dam, the storage of water to be used by Egypt and the Sudan, and compensation to Uganda for unused water quotas. In addition, the surplus electricity generated by Uganda’s Owen Falls Dam is sold to Kenya. Uganda is the only nation that permits Egyptian engineers to monitor the Owen Falls, and has through this agreement acknowledged Egypt’s hegemony over the Nile.[102]

(5) The 1959 Egypt-Sudan Agreement divided the entire Nile among the two nations, stipulated cooperation on Nile projects, joint hydrologic studies, and attempts to provide a unified front between Sudan and Egypt against the other eight nations that share the Nile basin. It is perhaps the clearest articulation of a zero-sum game between Egypt and Sudan on the one hand and other Nile basin nations on the other. This agreement also committed Egypt to aiding in the development of river projects in the Jonglei Region of Sudan, a project of canals and dams to reclaim 4 BCM of water along the Nile. These projects have been stalled by the civil war in southern Sudan, against the Sudanese Popular Liberation Army led by the late John Garang. The then-autonomous Government of South Sudan (GoSS) in August 2009 revived its intent to develop the Jonglei canal that could divert parts of the White Nile further reducing Egypt’s water flow.[103] Another worry for Egypt and Northern Sudan is a scheduled 2011 referendum by Southern Sudanese to vote to secede. This would add potentially an eleventh independent entity to the Nile basin, and one that controls the first cataract of the Nile, part of the White Nile, along with the Sudd Swamp; all of which affects about 15 percent of the flow upriver to Egypt. By 2017, Egypt’s water demand will exceed its supply as the population of the country pushes towards 80 million people.[104

Egypt attempts to preserve as much of the 1902, 1929 and 1959 agreements that give it hegemony over the entire Nile. Egyptian officials consider the Nile a single hydrologic entity, and have pursued a policy of Nile cooperation collectives such as the Undugu (Swahili for Friendship) Group, as long as it is the prime influencer of the group.

These five agreements provide Egypt almost a monopoly on the entire Nile River Basin and its negotiations in the 21st century is focused on preserving the historic rights Egypt has enjoyed over the Nile for centuries. However, in the 21st century over imperialistic tactics have been supplanted by legal arguments, and technical support that attempts to preserve as much of Egypt’s hegemony over the Nile as possible. The problem is that 20th and 21st century Nile meetings such as Nile 2002, and the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) have recognized the need for an equitable distribution of water resources, as well as the need to collectively conserve as much of the Nile waters as possible. The pace of those discussions are being overwhelmed by the demographic realities of population growth and displaced persons congregating along the Nile; which translates to a need for more irrigable land, and hydropower.

The problems with these agreements is that it is not keeping up with the rapid rates of change the Nile riparian states are experiencing, some of which are beyond their control and include:

  • Rate of waste and inefficient use of river resources.
  • Legal positions each Nile state takes from a zero-sum perspective.
  • Different rates of development among the ten Nile States.
  • Overall population increases.
  • Perceived regional ambitions of each state.
  • Slow pace of finding alternate sources or more efficient uses of the Nile through technology, conservation, and maximizing use of the Nile water for all riparian states.

Legal Argumentation Over the Nile: A Primer for America’s Military and Political Policy Officials

International water law is principally explored by three organizations; the Institute of International Law, the International Law Association (ILA), and the International Law Commission (ILC). The ILA proposed the 1966 Helsinki Rules, which factored a complex set of variables including geographic, hydrologic, climatic, historic, social, economic, and technical into water apportionment. While some aspects please downriver nations like Egypt, other aspects such as the concept of new user compensation are subject to disagreement. The central issue among Nile riparian states when discussing the theoretical application of the Helsinki Rules is the definition of “fair” and “equitable,” distribution of water. The ILC is tied to the United Nations Security Council, and has proposed that riparian states not cause harm in the development of shared river assets. In March 1997, Secretary General Kofi Anan said, “the projected growth of the world’s population over the next 30 years makes developing cooperative international agreements on shared water resources one of the urgent issues in the global agenda.”[105]

The UN Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses was voted on in 1997; 103 nations voted yes, two abstained, and three voted no. Egypt and Ethiopia were the two abstentions, with Egypt maintaining that the 1929 and 1959 Nile Water Agreements address the issues of the Nile. Ethiopia cited a lack of clear distinctions between the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of international rivers, and objected to the clause of not causing significant harm. Ethiopia saw in the language of the 1997 UN document loop holes for Egypt to maintain hegemony over the Nile River Basin. Here are the articles within the 1997 UN document of contention:[106

  • Article 5: Each riparian state has an equality of right with every other co-riparian to utilize the waters in a reasonable and beneficial manner.
  • Article 6: Contains seven factors that define equitable entitlement and includes the population dependent on the watercourse, the effect of use by one state on another.
  • Article 7: A state is entitled to use the flow of the river in its territory, but only in such a manner that it does not cause ‘appreciable harm’ to another riparian.

Having studied both Egyptian and Ethiopian arguments on the Nile, the Egyptians are likely to use the concept of ‘acquired right,’ ‘population dependence,’ ‘existing use,’ and ‘appreciable harm,’ to maintain the status quo. Ethiopia will derive the concept of ‘water contribution (85 percent of the Nile derives from Ethiopia),’ ‘potential uses’, and ‘socio-economic need’ to change the status quo. The root of arguments among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan is balancing equitable use and appreciable harm.[107] Legal arguments are driven by Egypt’s traditional tactics of:

  • shaping the environment whereby the 1959 Nile Sharing Agreement with Sudan is non-negotiable;
  • maintaining that the Nile is one hydrologic entity and not subject to the rules of sovereignty, due to the appreciable harm it causes downriver nations, mainly Egypt;
  • encouraging and dominating collective programs such as the Undugu (Swahili word for friendship) Group of Nile riparian states to manage development downriver so as not to impact Egypt; and
  • advocating and pressuring international organizations not to fund Nile projects that could impact Egypt’s share of the Nile.

A pressure on Egypt and Sudan is that despite the 1997 UN Convention not being ratified by many states, it is therefore not technically in force. It is increasingly becoming the legal norm in discussions over trans-boundary water issues.

One little-known pan-African legal doctrine utterly rejected by Egypt, a champion of pan-Africanism, is the “Nyerere Doctrine,” named after Ghana’s first President Julius Nyerere (1922-1999), a legendary pan-African and African independence figure. The Doctrine unveiled in 1961 stated, “former colonial countries had no role in the formulation and conclusion of treaties done during the colonial era, and therefore they must not be assumed to automatically succeed those treaties.” 108 This would obviously negate or call for the renegotiation of many treaties involving the Nile that date back to the 1890s. The Nyerere Doctrine is invoked by upstream Nile riparian states from time to time; in particular Kenya and Uganda. Burundi, Rwanda and the Congo take a different approach, citing that their former colonial master Belgium was not a signatory to any river agreements so they are free to act as they please.

Legal theories that revolve around the issue of water sharing for riparian states, all of which have been included in discussions over the Nile comprise the following:

  • Theory of Absolute River Integrity: This stipulates that a riparian state may not control a river if it harms another riparian state.
  • Theory of Common Natural Resources: This asserts that the river and its natural resources are common to all riparian states, and should be developed for the benefit of all riparian states. This theory is troublesome when dealing with the Nile, as there are ten states, it is more practical when less states share the river.
  • Theory of Limited Territorial Integrity: This attempts to combine the theories of absolute river integrity and absolute territorial sovereignty. It acknowledges that sovereignty but says that the sovereignty of one is contingent upon the sovereignty of all The main concept to make this theory feasible is the notion of reasonable and equitable use of river water.
  • Theory of Common Interest: This simply stipulates that the river is one entity and should be treated as such.
  • Theory of Absolute Territorial Sovereignty: This stipulates that a nation is a master of its own territory and the water resources therein. It was further advocated by the US Attorney General Judson Harmon, and is known as the Harmon Doctrine.[109] This doctrine is used to assert that the United States has full rights to do as it pleased with waters of the Rio Grande. This theory is the least constructive model for the ten Nile riparian states, and if pursued is most likely to lead to conflict.

The Nile Basin Initiative

Launched in 1999, the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is a comprehensive plan for trans-boundary cooperation. It purposefully avoided addressing the complex issue of water sharing, and instead focuses on being a transnational arrangement to foster information sharing, technical assistance, and joint development until a legal framework could be negotiated. NBI brings together donors, Egypt, Sudan and other Nile riparian states to agree on a document regarding the Nile. The highest decision-making body is NILECOM (Nile Council of Ministers) which is supported by NILE-TAC (Technical Advisory Committee). NBI drafted an action plan with a shared vision program and subsidiary action program. All Nile states agree on water sharing, in theory, but disagree on how to go about doing it. In reality, beyond tangible case by case joint projects, NBI maintains Egypt’s dominance and status quo as stipulated by their 1959 agreement with Sudan. One method to break the intractable issue of water-sharing advocated by the World Bank is the concept of “benefit-sharing.” The concept of benefit sharing is developing projects along the Nile that all or a good portion of states can benefit from. This could be, for instance, generating hydro-power to sell to downriver states, or growing grains upriver for export downriver along the Nile.[110] The notion of exporting grains from areas that have a wider potential for cultivable land is called exporting virtual water by J. A. Allan, a Geography Professor at London’s King’s College. Allan makes a compelling argument that nations like Egypt already is a leading importer of grain, and that since it takes 1,000 tons of water to grow one ton of grain, in effect Egypt in importing virtual water. Seen from this vantage point, a solution to the Nile problem may lie in growing food upriver for exclusive import downriver. This would maximize use of water, soil, and employ thousands.[111]

A more direct example is the building of reservoirs upriver to conserve water through less evaporation, with allotted BCM of water shared among the nations upriver. As was seen in Taez, Yemen[112] and in Tanzaniya’s Arusha Region[113], aside from population growth, and discontent from Nile riparian states, one trend is that tribes along the Nile simply undertake irrigation on their own and they resist any state interference. The slow pace of the negotiations over water security in the Nile, could result in an increase of tribes taking matters into their own hands, particularly with the impact climate change can have on the Nile and its tributaries.

Egyptian Use of the African Union Charter

The 1963 Organization of African Union (OAU), the precursor to the African Union (AU) charter signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia contains an article that is utilized by Egypt to extrapolate its claims of its historic rights to the Nile. Perhaps the best analysis of the OAU Charter was published in 1968 by Zdenek Cervenka, who worked closely with the Secretary General of the OAU, Diallo Telli, in publishing “The Organization of African Unity and its Charter.”[114]

Article 19 of the OAU Charter pledges member states to settle all disputes among themselves by peaceful means. It then further outlines those means as mediation, conciliation, and arbitration. It omits resolving disputes through judicial means such as submitting disputes to the International Court of Justice; likely because these are considered products of western states, and the OAU Charter was crafted in an atmosphere of pan-Africanism. Article 19 also addresses the issue of boundary disputes and opts for the preservation of existing boundaries due to the following rationale:[115]

  • African states have not achieved a level of internal stability and cohesion;
  • Self-preservation of the state is paramount (concerns for what we today would call balkanization).
  • The issue of tribal balance in which redrawing of borders could increase the weighting of one tribe against another within the newly independent African state.
  • The status quo is to the advantage of member states, due to the fragility of colonially drawn borders.
  • The reasoning of the OAU is to promote pan-African unity; addressing border issues would render this unity impossible.

The question over three decades after the creation of the OAU Charter is does this border status quo extend to historic rights for rivers? The OAU has yet to address the issue of water sharing or African border regions in which common mineral or water resources may lie. On the issue of water sharing, the OAU has limited itself to expressing deep concern for scarcity. However, the focus has been to promote unity, an attitude Egypt has exploited in blocking attempts to alter the status quo regarding the Nile.

In 2009, Egypt launched an ambitious plan to build a series of river ports along the Nile. This was to allow 20 percent of all goods in Egypt moved internally along the Nile River. Currently, 98 percent of cargo is moved overland within Egypt.[116] While pollution will not be an issue for nations upstream, dredging combined with needed draft for cargo barges, may cause Egyptians to draw more water from the Aswan High Dam for non-sustainment (food and water) uses. Another potential impact would be a domino effect of other Nile nations upstream exploring their own port facilities and increasing transport using the river, thereby causing pollution problems for nations downriver. By switching to river transport rather than transporting goods by land, there is a pollution tradeoff between reducing diesel trucks emissions versus the pollution of the river. The question is whether there is a big enough tradeoff to justify the expansion of river transportation. Expanding use of the Nile for transport is a new unexplored dimension of legal issues for the 21st century.

Managing the Nile’s Complexities: Recommendations for Policy-Makers

There have been many complexities and ideas proposed thus far in this monograph. While there are many technical issues regarding the Nile, from BCMs of water to Kilowatts generated, that is appealing for American planners to focus on. It is important not to lose sight of the wider religious, social, and cultural implications of the tensions between Nile riparian states. This section will propose a series of twelve recommendations (highlighted) from a strategic, operational and tactical level for consideration by America’s policymakers and Combatant Commanders. The U.S. should adopt positions or general principles regarding the Nile such as:

Support the development of the Nile River and its tributaries as a single hydrologic entity and not simply for the most powerful user. This is in line with Egypt’s view that the Nile is a single hydrologic entity. However collective development must be fostered that benefits groupings of Nile riparian states. These groupings may represent Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia along the Blue Nile, or Egypt and the Great Lakes states along the White Nile. The collective development may vary depending on where the developments occur.

Incorporate China and India into the group to mitigate the problem of Nile riparian states appealing outside regional and international donor entities for financial assistance. Currently China is investing heavily in Africa, combining aid with investment that leaves the potential for single Nile states striking deals at the expense of the other. Chinese aid, not being regulated under an international regime like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank, leaves them as a financial wild card in exacerbating Nile tensions. The Director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Ambassador William Bellamy, advocated in a June 2009 paper entitled, “U.S. Security Engagement in Africa,” greater outreach with China on African affairs, and to avoid the U.S.-Chinese interests in Africa from evolving into a strategic rivalry. Bellamy recommends greater collaboration to integrate Chinese peacekeepers in Africa.[117]

Cultivate empathy between Ethiopia and Egypt vice versa by presenting each other’s views bilaterally in such forums as the annual U.S.-Egyptian Military Coordination Committee (MCC), a Defense Department level annual meeting with Egypt’s Chief of the General Staff. There must be room made not only for Arab affairs in talks, but also for African issues with Egyptian military and diplomatic bilateral meetings. Topics such as instability in southern Sudan or the progress of Ethiopian forces in marginalizing al-Qaida’s presence in Somalia can be agenda items in the engagement with Egyptian officials. These bilateral talks can then lead to multi-lateral talks over maintaining stability in the Nile basin.

Designate U.S. embassy leads or special envoys in anticipation of future regional conflicts. In Somalia, there is the potential for confusion as to which American Embassy has cognizance over the issue of militant Islamist encroachment. Can the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya can claim oversight or the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia? The U.S. maintains no representation in Mogadishu, and should there be a disconnect and U.S. officials had to designate a lead embassy this could not be done at the Assistant Secretary of State level, since the Ambassador is the representative of the President. This complexity is magnified if the ambassador is a political appointee or career foreign service, for instance in Egypt the U.S. ambassador tends to be a political appointee and in smaller African nations they are career foreign service officers. Reconciling egos and importance of portfolio in advance would be useful in constructing any contingency planning involving multiple Nile states. The Nile riparian states are ten in number, with some nations like Egypt having a massive diplomatic presence compared with Burundi. Due to this fact, the U.S. should pre-designate an embassy lead or special envoy. Is a Nile conflict better served by a Special Envoy to the President? The U.S. must game this scenario out to develop contingencies should the region digress into conflict over water resources.

From a military perspective, since the eleven Nile riparian states involved cut across two U.S. Combatant Commands (COCOMS) who should take the lead? AFRICOM or CENTCOM? While AFRICOM has responsibility for nine of the ten Nile riparian states, CENTCOM has cognizance over Egypt; the most developed, populous and dominant Nile state. What may drive this of course is if CENTCOM is engaged in other future conflicts in its troubled region.

It would be in the interest of U.S. officials to hold interagency table top exercises that pull together, State, Defense, Combatant Commanders, and consider other agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Department of the Interior (water conservation). This assembly could test and develop tactics to respond to a conflict over the Nile will of course test U.S. ability to coordinate and identify shortcomings in responding to an Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia crisis scenario over the Nile. Due to the issue of transnational terrorism, any tabletop exercise should include representatives from the intelligence community. Of note, when the author spent time with the War Gaming and Simulation Center of the National Defense University, the director indicated that the last time a Nile scenario was gamed out was twelve years ago, and that it was a limited exercise in which participants played each country. In addition, no results of the war game conducted twelve years ago could be located for this study. There is a need for a complex war game or conflict simulation of the Nile basin both in an interagency and with other organizations that have gamed the conflict over water resources involving the Nile. One example of an institutional game that the National Defense University could benchmark is the University of Muenster Model UN scenario for 2009 entitled “The Nile River: Potential for Trans-river Boundary Water Conflict in East Africa.”[118] Incorporating other entities into the discussion can offer more ideas to expand gaming beyond traditional military response options. Ambassador Bellamy, among his six U.S. priorities for Africa, recommends creating an on-going interagency effort combing State, Defense, and the U.S. Agency for International Development under firm White House Guidance to pursue Africa’s highest priorities.[119] One could add that this interagency effort be placed in direct support of Presidential Envoys assigned to African issues, such as the U.S. Envoy for Sudan.

Indentify now expertise in such non-traditional military roles such as agri-business, and soil conservation as well as linguists and cultural experts for the nations of the Nile Basin. This expertise will need to be identified from America’s National Guard, a source of skill not traditionally associated with the U.S. military. Another aspect of the National Guard is the State Partnership Program, in which over 60 states have partnered with respective nations sharing common problems within the industrial and agricultural realms and exchanging civil-military programs as well as business expertise. Of note, none of the ten Nile riparian states has a state partner, only Kenya is expected to be joined with a state partner in late 2010.[120] Another problem is growing linguists and cultural experts from among the ten Nile riparian states. Aside from Arabic, there will be a need to cultivate Somali, the Sudanese dialect of Arabic, Amharic, Swahili, and a host of dozens of languages along the Nile Basin.

Recognize that al-Qaida affiliates will exploit instability. The Somali group al-Shabab, which controls a significant portion of the country, formally pledged their loyalty to Bin Laden in a 2009 videotape. The group attacked African Union (AU) peacekeepers with car bombs and has engaged Ethiopian forces along the border.[121] No study of conflict regarding the Nile can be written in the 21st century without anticipating the interjection of al-Qaida affiliates. Should al-Shabab control more territory in Somalia, or interject itself in a conflict over the Nile, scoring victories against Ethiopian forces it will transform these actions into attempts to elicit a formal declaration from al-Qaida Senior leaders that they are formally al-Qaida in East Africa. Al-Qaida has yet to declare al-Shabab its formal representative in East Africa. So far statements from Bin Laden and Zawahiri have been limited to designating Somalia an important front in fighting infidels. Conflict over the Nile or even conflict over the results of the 2011 referendum for secession of Southern Sudan may provide opportunities for al-Qaida affiliates in the Horn of Africa.

Address the issue of dealing with objectionable leaders through selective engagement. Among the ten Nile riparian states, the current Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir is an indicted war criminal, and Sudan remains on the U.S. Sponsor of State Terrorism List. There has been much criticism over the Obama Administration’s engagement of Sudan through its designated special envoy, retired Air Force Major General Scott Gration, who has advocated normalization with Omar al-Bashir. Appointed in March 2009, Gration visited Sudan for five days and concluded that engaging the ruling Sudanese National Congress Party was the only way to avert a potential devastating war. This statement was ahead of the semiautonomous southern region’s 2011 vote on independence.[122] Gration rightly identifies the potential for civil strife in Sudan on the eve of the 2011 referendum; however what he has missed is the linkage that if southern Sudan secedes they would control significant tributaries of the Blue Nile, that feeds into the Nile. This geographic fact would make a potentially independent southern Sudan an area of national security interest to the government in the north, as well as the regional Nile Basin power Egypt. To quote the late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser in his book, “The Philosophy of the Revolution”: “There remains another important reason (for engaging Africa). It is that the Nile is the life artery of our country, bringing water from the heart of the continent.”[123] Adding to the potential secession of southern Sudan, is the status of Darfur, which contains no rivers, not even a perennial creek. Human habitation in Darfur clusters around oases and baobab trees that all function as watering holes. Should Darfur be an autonomous region or consider secession like southern Sudan, it simply has no water to develop as an independent entity. It will likely digress into smaller tribes allying themselves with larger tribal confederations for access to water, and even the Nile itself.[124]

While there is much merit to engaging Omar al-Bashir, another alternative to outright normalization is to undertake selective engagement with Sudan on issues primarily dealing with alleviating human suffering, counter-terrorism, and the Nile. Depending on how the ruling regime handles these issues this can be the start of confidence building between the U.S. and Sudan, which has had estranged relations since being placed on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List in August 1993.[125] By the executive branch designating areas for selective engagement, those lobbying on behalf of Sudan’s government in the U.S. can avoid the illegality of doing business with a State Sponsor of Terrorism; as long as they are in areas designated by the executive and approved by Congress. Former National Security Adviser Robert McFarland was caught in the issue of interpreting whether his efforts on behalf of Sudan violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and the ban on engaging in certain trade with designated state sponsors of terrorism.[126] It is hoped that Sudan can get off the State Sponsor of Terrorism list if they maintain a constructive posture on those key issues. In other words, Sudan should earn normalization of relations with the U.S. but until then we should not limit ourselves from discussing select issues with Omar al-Bashir involving the human suffering of his own people. It is important to utilize his July 2008 indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as leverage for constructive action on issues pertaining to humanitarian suffering in the Sudan. While the charges for genocide have been dropped, five of ten crimes against humanity have been upheld (murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape), as well as two war crimes (pillaging and directing attacks on civilian populations).[127]

Any project involving the Nile or a Nile tributary must be carefully scrutinized by a single federal agency and de-conflicted before approval, with an eye towards benefits sharing versus benefiting one Nile nation at the expense of another. Another challenge is coordinating the different U.S. aid programs directed at Africa from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), State Department Programs, 2002 Millennium Challenge Account, and US elements within the World Bank. Currently the 2002 Millennium Challenge maintains projects in four Nile riparian states (Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda). Thus far, no project has impinged upon downriver Nile states but there have been small scale agricultural and water projects that could expand and become an issue in the future. Of note, all Nile riparian nations are designated “critical” or “in danger” in the 2009 Index of Failed States compiled by the Foreign Policy Journal.[128] It is the tendency of policymakers to focus on a country that is critical and neglect nations that are in danger in the quest to mitigate the crisis of the moment. Sudan, Kenya, and the Congo are designated “Critical” among the Nile states. This means that they meet twelve indicators that cover a wide range of elements of the risk of state failure; such as:

  • extensive corruption and criminal behavior,
  • inability to collect taxes or otherwise draw on citizen support,
  • large-scale involuntary dislocation of the population,
  • sharp economic decline,
  • group-based inequality,
  • institutionalized persecution or discrimination,
  • severe demographic pressures,
  • brain drain, and
  • environmental decay.129

Advocate a change in thinking among Nile riparian states from a state-centric view to a more basin wide viewpoint should be part of U.S policy. Unilateral development is simply unsustainable and aggravates conflict. A hybrid to this approach is to focus on the two core regions of the Nile both, consisting of Egypt and the Sudan and the Blue Nile including Ethiopia only and the White Nile consisting of the African Great Lakes countries only. In other words, negotiations could take two tracks in negotiations, as the White Nile and Blue Nile are sub-regions that feed into North Sudan and Egypt. For this to succeed the newly created country of South Sudan must be designated a Blue or White Nile State, as it contains within its territory tributaries from both. Since the Blue Nile represents the majority share of the Nile, it is recommended to classify South Sudan with Ethiopia, as a Blue Nile state.

Find alternative water sources could include finding a more energy efficient means of desalination plants, this may require entertaining a nuclear energy option to draw water from the Red Sea and convert it to fresh drinking water. Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, wrote in the “The Futurist,” in an article entitled, “Draining Our Future: The Growing Shortage of Freshwater,” that Egypt vies with Japan for the top spot as the world’s leading wheat importer. Of note, Brown highlights the water needed to produce a year’s worth of imported Middle East grain is equivalent to the annual flow of the Nile River at Aswan. In essence, it takes another Nile in the form of imported food to feed the Middle East and North Africa.130 Such descriptions are useful in appreciating the enormity of the problem but also highlight the merits of J. Allen’s proposal to consider the concept of virtual water, growing food downriver for import upriver and looking at the problem as a basin-wide issue.

AFRICOM and CENTCOM must jointly think of potential conflict among Nile riparian states now; not just from a military response perspective, but more importantly begin the time consuming process of understanding tribes, religions, and historic narratives of the terrain. Will instability among the Nile states lead to a migration towards the Red Sea, and increased piracy along parts of the length of the Red Sea coastline? Discussing such scenarios is helpful in understanding the region, and issues before a crisis escalates. Learning from past mistakes of Operation Iraqi Freedom; where American service members were given little orientation on the nuances of Iraq’s religious groups, tribal composition, a primer on Baathism and the history of the creation of modern Iraq, a proactive approach is indicated. Additionally, growing linguists and cultural experts from among the ten Nile riparian states will be essential. Aside from Arabic there will be a need to cultivate Somali, the Sudanese dialect of Arabic, Amharic, Swahili, and a host of dozens of languages along the Nile Basin.

Conclusion and Areas for Further Research

A conflict over the water resources of the Nile basin needs to be debated in light of various complicating factors. Most of the literature focuses on the competition for water between the ten Nile riparian states generally, and the antagonism between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia specifically. However, the element that have not been explored is the impact a conflict between two or more Nile states has on the dynamics of militant Islamist networks, or the posture of major investors like India and China in Ethiopian food production for export. Research on new and emerging sources of conflict over the Nile is necessary in predicting potential flashpoints in the 21st century. Among the research topics recommended for exploration:

  • How does and should the United States incorporate the Chinese in mitigating the impact of conflict along the Nile?
  • With South Sudan declaring independence in 2011, how would al-Qaida affiliates interject themselves in a civil war between North and South Sudan?
  • How should the United States confront Egypt’s ever-increasing demand for Nile water at the expense of Nile riparian nations upriver? How does one balance the needs of 80 million Egyptians with those of over 200 million people living upriver?

These questions represent ripe topics for study and research for future graduate level students and it is recommended that grant money be provided so that interviews are conducted with Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Kenyan officials, members of AFRICOM, and World Bank officials.

This monograph covered a wide array of topics involving the future challenges of the Nile basin. While conflict is not a foregone conclusion, increasing demands on the Nile is, and therefore mitigating and managing the impact of these demands will be among the major challenges for the 21st century. One lesson derived from Operation Iraqi Freedom is that we cannot afford to enter a theater without understanding the dynamics of conflict from the religious, sociologic, tribal, cultural and linguistic view. This takes time and must be conducted during times of peace. Before World War II, the United States prepared war plans that were color coded between nation-states, for instance a U.S.-Japan conflict was labeled “Plan ORANGE.” We require such detailed planning not just from a nation-state perspective, but from an asymmetric and regional perspective. As evidenced by the complexity of the challenges of the Nile basin, collecting, analyzing and gaming contingency options from not only a military but interagency viewpoint takes time. It is the earnest hope of the author, that this monograph stimulates debate, and encourages further research that can be incorporated in a game scenario for future attendees of the National Defense University. Giving America’s future leaders and allies attending NDU an immersion in the language, issues, culture, and challenges of what could escalate into a potential conflict over the Nile River.

About the Author

Youssef H. Aboul-Enein is a U.S. Navy Medical Service Corps Commander, Middle East Foreign Area Officer, and is author of “Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat,” published by Naval Institute Press. In April 2012, Naval Institute Press will publish his book, "Iraq in Turmoil: Historical Perspectives of Dr. Ali al-Wardi from the Ottomans to King Feisal." A book introduces U.S. combat forces to Iraqi history from an Arab viewpoint. CDR Aboul-Enein currently is Adjunct Military Professor and Islamic Studies Chair at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF). He also is Military Adjunct Faculty for Middle East Counter-Terrorism Analysis at the National Intelligence University. From 2006 to 2009, CDR Aboul-Enein served as a Senior Counter-Terrorism Advisor, Warning Officer, and Instructor on Militant Islamist Ideology at the Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism (JITF-CT) in Washington DC he has returned to that position in addition to his part-time teaching duties upon graduation from ICAF in 2010. CDR Aboul-Enein also served as Country Director for North Africa and Egypt, Assistant Country Director for the Arabian Gulf, and Special Advisor on Islamist Militancy at the Office of the Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs from 2002-2006. At the Office of the Secretary of Defense, he helped prepare Defense Department officials engage in ministerial level talks with their counterparts from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. He has attended many working level interagency meetings on counter-terrorism, disarmament, and Middle East regional security issues. Among the interagency working groups he participated in were, Libyan disarmament, coordinating the first Defense Ministry level bilateral talks with Algeria, arranging the freedom of 407 Moroccan POWs held by the POLISARIO Front, and Saudi Energy Infrastructure Security. He has published many articles on Islamist militancy, Arab affairs, and Middle East military tactics for Military Review, the Infantry Journal, the Marine Corps Gazette, Small Wars Journal.com, and the Foreign Area Officer Journal. CDR Aboul-Enein is author of Ayman Al-Zawahiri: The Ideologue of Modern Islamic Militancy, published by the U.S. Air Force Counter Proliferation Center in March 2004. He is co-author of Islamic Rulings on Warfare, published by the Army War College in October 2004. CDR Aboul-Enein is engaged in a long-term project to highlight Arabic works of military interest in the pages of the U.S. Army’s Armor and Infantry Journals. Aboul-Enein has published in U.S. military journals, a multi-part series on Usama Bin Laden Arabic literature, and is working on a multi-part series on the memoirs of General Mohammed Fawzi, Egyptian War Minister from 1967 to 1971 for the U.S. Army Infantry Journal, scheduled for publication over two years in 2012. He highlighted excerpts of memoirs by Egyptian, Syrian and Algerian Generals. CDR Aboul-Enein is cited in two Project Air Force/RAND studies on Islamist Radicalism and two Naval Institute books by naval historian Thomas Cutler. His education consists of a B.B.A from the University of Mississippi, an M.B.A and Masters in Health Services Administration from the University of Arkansas, an M.S. in Strategic Intelligence from the National Defense Intelligence College, as well as an M.S. in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (Class of 2009-2010). CDR Aboul-Enein’s operational tours include Liberia, Bosnia, and the Persian Gulf. CDR Aboul-Enein’s personal awards include the Army Commendation Medal presented by General Tommy Franks, the Joint Service Achievement Medal presented by the Commandant of the Joint Forces Staff College and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal (DMSM) awarded by the Secretary of Defense, a second DMSM awarded by the DIA Director for Analysis. Among his unique awards is a citation from the NYPD for counter-terrorism work, as well as a citation from the Egyptian 13th Special Forces Battalion for work assisting in the protection of US forces participating in Exercise BRIGHT STAR. CDR Aboul-Enein is rated proficient in the Egyptian, Peninsular, Levantine, Modern Standard (Upper Level) and Iraqi dialects of Arabic by the Defense Language Institute.

The views expressed in this paper are those of author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Glossary and Acronyms

  • Abun: Leader of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
  • AFRICOM: United States Africa Command
  • AQIM: Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb
  • BCM: Billion Cubic Meters, a measure of water utilized by hydrologists studying large bodies of water
  • CENTCOM: United States Central Command
  • COCOM: Combatant Command
  • DRC: Democratic Republic of Congo
  • DUP: Democratic Union Party, a Sudanese pro-Egyptian and pan-Arabist Political Group
  • EIJ: Egyptian Islamic Jihad
  • EPRDF: Eritrean Popular Revolutionary Democratic Front
  • FARA: Foreign Agents Registration Act
  • Geez: Language used in Ethiopian Church liturgy
  • GoSS: Government of Southern Sudan
  • Habasha: Arabic term for Abyssinia
  • Hadith: Sayings, actions, or affirmations attributed to Prophet Muhammad
  • Hijrah: Migration of early Muslims to Medina and Abyssinia to escape Meccan genocide
  • Hijum: Eritrean tactic of mass guerilla attack, also Arabic word for attack
  • Hizbul-Islam: A rival militant Islamist group to the al-Qaida affiliated al-Shabab in Somalia
  • ICC: International Criminal Court
  • ILA: International Law Association
  • ILC: International Law Commission
  • IMF: International Monetary Fund
  • IRGC: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps
  • Kasha: Sudanese term meaning the government sanction capture and repatriation of rural immigrants to production centers
  • Khedive: A heredity title of the ruler of Egypt and the Sudan used from formally by the Ottoman Empire from 1867 to 1914. Equivalent to viceroy.
  • KWH: Kilowatt per Hour (measurement of electricity production)
  • MCC: Military Coordination Committee, description of the annual defense talks between the United States and Egypt, at the ministerial level
  • MCM: Million Cubic Meters (hydrologic measurement)
  • NBI: Nile Basin Initiative
  • NDP: Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party
  • NIF: National Islamic Front, a Sudanese amalgamation of Islamist political activists in Sudan led by Sheikh Hassan al-Turabi, who was related to Usama Bin Laden by marriage
  • NILECOM: Nile Council of Ministers
  • NWBCF: Nile Water Basin Cooperative Framework
  • NILE-TAC: Nile Technical Advisory Committee
  • OAU: Organization of African Unity
  • OIC: Organization of Islamic Conference
  • OLF: Oromo Liberation Front
  • Najashi: Arabic term for the leader of Abyssinia, likely derived from the Geez term Negus meaning King
  • PJTC: Permanent Joint Technical Commission
  • Qaretta: Splitting, an Eritrean guerilla tactic of harassing attacks designed to isolate and break up larger military formations
  • Quran: Islamic book of divine revelation, revered by Muslims as the word of God
  • Riparian(s): Nations that share a common river, its tributaries and sources
  • Sahaba: Companions of Prophet Muhammad who knew him well and from which many traditions about the Prophet were derived, and in who compiled such seminal texts as the Quran
  • Al-Sahab: Al-Qaida Centrals Main Internet News and Website
  • Al-Shabab: Al-Qaida affiliated group in Somalia
  • Sirdar : British Commander in Chief of the Egyptian Army and Governor of the Sudan
  • SNF: Somali National Front
  • SPLF: Sudanese Popular Liberation Front
  • SPLA: Sudanese Popular Liberation Army
  • Tahal: Israeli Engineering and Water Conservation Firm
  • TECONILE 2002: A framework for technical sharing of information on the Nile developed in 1992 among Nile states
  • TPLF: Tigrean Popular Liberation Front
  • Umma Party: Sudan-first nationalist political party
  • Undugu : Swahili meaning friendship, but referring to a 1983 Nile agreement between Egypt and the Great Lakes Nile nations of Uganda and Kenya
  • UNESCO: United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
  • UNMIS: United Nations Mission in Sudan
  • UNIFIL: United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon
  • USAID: United States Agency for International Development and Aid
  • USF: United Somali Front

References

1. The 9/11 Commission Report: The Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 2002), 61-63.

2. Michael Moody, “Conflict Trends in the 21st Century,” Joint Forces Quarterly, 53.2 (2009): 19-27.

3. Robert M. Gates, speech to the National Defense University, September 29, 2008. http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1279.

4. Mohammed Abdel-Ghani Soudi, Ifriqiyah Dirassa fee Shakhsiyah al-Qarah wa Shakhsiyah al-Aqlim translated as Africa: A Study of the Personality of a Continent and Personality of a Region (Cairo, Egypt: Maktabah al-Misriyah Press, 1983), 263.

5. Taqrir Lajnaa Shu’un Arabiyah bi Majlis al-Shaab al-Misriyah, Azmaa al-Miah fee Mantiqah al-Arabiyah. Translated as Arab Affairs Committee Report of the (Egyptian) Lower House of Parliament entitled, “The Water Crisis in the Arab Region,” (Cairo, Egypt: Egyptian Government Press, 1991), 2.

6. Muhammad Abdel-Hadi Radi, “Naqs al-Miah wa Athar al-Mutribah Alayhaa.” Arab Research Journal on Water Issues of the Arab World and its Impact Projecting to the year 2025. (Cairo, Egypt: Arab Research Center, January-February 1992), 4-5.

7. Jamal Hamdan, Misr: Dir’asa Abqariyah al-Makan translated as Egypt: A Study of the Genius of (Geographical) Place, Second Edition (Cairo, Egypt: Alam al-Kutub, 1981), 905-906.

8. Rushdi Saeed, Mustaqbal al-Istifada min Miah al-Nil translated as “The Future of Benfiting from the Waters of the Nile,” within a collection of essays and reports edited by Rushdi Saeed under a book entitled, Azmaa Miah al-Nil (Cairo, Egypt: Arab Research Center, 1988), 20-27.

9. Ibid.

10. Egypt and the Nile River, (Cairo, Egypt: Egyptian Foreign Ministry Study, 1983), 3.

11. David H. Shinn, remarks entitled, “Impact of Transnational Issues on Stability and the Evolution of African Militaries,” presented during an AFRICOM Conference on the Evolution of African Militaries held on February 7-8, 2009 in Garmich, Germany. Downloaded from http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=2590 on October 11, 2009.

12. Hamdan, “Misr: Dir’asa Abqariyah al-Makan,” 937.

13. Yusuf Abu Najm, Nahr al-Nil wa Amn al-Qawmi al-Misry translated as “The Nile River and Egypt’s National Security” (Cairo, Egypt: al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, 1985), 56.

14. One feddan is a unit of land measurement used in Egypt and equal to 1.038 acres.

15. John Waterbury, The Nile Basin: National Determinants of Collective Action (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 73.

16. Egyptian Foreign Ministry Study, 1983, 18.

17. Umar Muhammad Ali Muhammad, Alaqa bain Itifaqiyah 1929 wa Itifaqiyah 1959 li Miah al-Nil translated as “The Relation between the 1929 and 1959 Nile Water Agreements,” (Cairo, Egypt: Published Proceedings of the International Nile Basin Conference, March 1987), 9-11.

18. Hamdan, “Misr: Dir’asa Abqariyah al-Makan,” 938.

19. “Statement from Sudanese Ambassador to Egypt Ezz-al-Deen Hamed,” al-Alam al-Yom Newspaper, October 23, 1991, Cairo, Egypt, 1.

20. “Egypt Closes Two Consulates in Port Sudan and Abyad,” al-Ahram Daily Newspaper, front page, June 23, 1993.

21. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 2002), 57-63.

22. “OIC information ministers meet in Dakar,” Saudi Embassy Press Release December 1, 1997, downloaded from http://www.saudiembassy.net/archive/1997/news/page21.aspx on October 11, 2009.

23. Mahmoud al-Zain, International Water Security: Domestic Threats and Opportunities (New York: United Nations University Press, 2008) 129-148.

24. Ibid, 129-148

25. Ibid, 129-148

26. Louis Charbonneau, Threat of new North-South Sudan Conflict Remains, 11 September 2009, Reuters Africa. Downloaded from http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFJOE58A0J220090911) on October 11, 2009.

27. Mahmoud Al-Zain, 129-148.

28. Ibid, 129-148

29. Andrew Nastios, “Beyond Darfur: Sudan’s Slide toward Civil War,” Foreign Affairs, May/June (2008), 77-93.

30. United Nations Mission in Sudan Website at http://www.un.org/depts/dpko/missions/unmis/facts.html downloaded October 11, 2009.

31. Ibid

32. Omar Muhammad al-Tayeb, al-Amn al-Qawmi li Wadi al-Nil wa Inakasat fee Majal al-Askariyah translated as National Security over the Nile Valley and its Impact over Military Affairs (Cairo, Egypt: Nahar Publishing, 1998).

33. Collins, Robert O., The Waters of the Nile, Hydropolitics and the Jonglei Canal 1900-1988 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 383.

34. Omar Muhammad al-Tayeb, al-Amn al-Qawmi li Wadi al-Nil wa Inakasat fee Majal al-Askariyah, 72-76.

35. Amin al-Sayed Abdul-Wahab, Miah al-Nil fee Siyasah al-Misriyah translated as The Nile Waters in Egyptian Politics (Cairo, Egypt: al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, 2004), 45-46.

36. M. El-Fadel, Y. El-Sayegh, K. El-Fadl, and D. Khorbotly, The Nile River Basin: A Case Study in Surface Water Conflict Resolution, Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, 32, (2003), 107 – 117.

37. Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Egypt’s Liberation: the Philosophy of the Revolution, (Washington DC: Public Affairs Press, 1955), 83-114. Nasser is the lead revolutionary that ushered in the Republic of Egypt, and is considered the leading figure in a movement known as pan-Arabism. He was Egypt’s leader from 1954 to 1970 and his legacy remains in Egyptian political life to this day.

38. Sadiq al-Mahdi, Miah al-Nil al-Waad wal Waeed translated as Nile Waters Promises kept and Broken (Cairo, Egypt: Al-Ahram Printing and Translation, 2000), 9. Sadiq al-Mahdi is a Sudanese religious and political figure. Religiously he heads the Ansar, a Sufi sect that pledges allegiance to Muhammad Ahmed, who claimed to be the expected one, until subdued by Anglo-Egyptian forces in 1898. Politically he heads the Sudanese nationalist Umma Party and served as Sudan’s Prime Minister twice

39. Ibid, 129

40. Ibid, 153

41. Egyptian Foreign Ministry Study, 1983, 27.

42. Tefayse Tafesse, The Nile Question: Hydropolitics, Legal Wrangling, Modus Vivendi, and Perspectives (Munster, Germany: Lit Verlag, 2001), 2.

43. Ibid, 44

44. Ibid, 44

45. Waterbury, John and Whittington, D. “Playing Chicken on the Nile? The Implications of Microdam Development in the Ethiopian Highlands and Egypt’s New Valley Projects.” Natural Resources Forum, 22.3, 155-163. 1998.

46. Tefaye Tafeese, 48.

47. Ibid, 49

48. Ibid, 48

49. Abraham, Knife. Nile Dilemmas: Hydropolitics and Potential Conflict Flashpoints. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development, 1995.

50. “Court sentences Mengistu to Death,” BBC World Service dated May 26, 2008. Downloaded on January 31, 2010 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7420212.stm.

51. For a sample of the exaggerated claims of Arab sources of the work the Israeli Water Company Tahal in Ethiopia in English see the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 1991 article entitled, “Water: The Real Reason for Israeli Occupation.” This can be downloaded at http://www.wrmea.com/backissues/0791/9107026.htm. Downloaded on October 11, 2009.

52. Tahal Israeli Engineering Company’s projects in Africa can be reviewed by accessing their website http://www.tahal.com/Africa.aspx?FolderID=101&lang=en. A comparison with Arabic sources shows wide variations that appear to be an attempt to weave an Israeli narrative of conspiracy designed to weaken Egypt.

53. Wondimeh Tilahun, Egypt’s Imperial Aspirations over Lake of Tana and the Blue Nile (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, United Printers Ltd, 1979).

54. Hakim Abdel-Salam, Qiyam Dawla al-Mamaleek al-Thaniyah translated as The Rise of the Second Mameluke State (Cairo, Egypt: al-Kutub al-Arabiyah Printers, 1967), 161.

55. Tafeese, 62

56. Shaltout, M. A. Mosalam; El Housry, T., Advances in Space Research, Volume 19, Issue 3, p. 515-518), downloaded at http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1997AdSpR..19..515S. The Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). The ADS is Operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under NASA Grant NNX09AB39G).

57. Tareke Gebru, The Ethiopian Revolution: War in the Horn of Africa (New Haven, CT: Yale Library of Military History, 2009) 59-74

58. Ibid, 93

59. Ibid, 94

60. Joseph Nye Jr., Understanding International Conflicts (New York, Longmans, 2002), 171-172.

61. Daniel Kendie, “Egypt and the Hydro-Politics of the Blue Nile River,” Addis Tribune, Ethiopian English Language Daily, August 6, 1999, front page.

62. Waterbury, The Nile Basin: National Determinants of Collective Action, 71-72.

63. Ibid, 76

64. Tefayse Tafeese, 81-82

65. Mohammed Herzallah, “Egypt Parches Africa,” Newsweek, September 28, 2009: 12.

66. “Somali Insurgents Praise Bin Laden,” Washington Post, World Section, September 22, 2009, A-7.

67. “Sudan: Dozens Are Killed in Ethnic Fighting,” Washington Post World Section, September 22, 2009, A-7.

68. Barry James, Averting Conflict in the Nile Basin (New York: UNESCO Publication, 2003).

69. Haggai Erlich, The Cross and the River: Ethiopia, Egypt and the Nile (Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner, 2002), 15-22.

70. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Quran: Text, Translation, and Commentary (Elmhurst, New York: Tarikhe Tarsile Quran Inc, Fouth U.S. Edition, 2004), 770.

71. Erlich, 22-30

72. BBC Monitoring Middle East, London, Egyptian Muslim Brothers see Zionist Plot behind Nile water Rights Demand, Amlaommah website, Alexandria, Egypt, 01 June 2009

73. Dr. Samia Abdul-Aziz Manbasi, Islam al-Najashi wa Dawruhu fee dawa al-Islam (Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Fikr al-Arabi Publishers, 2001), 80-84.

74. Yusuf al-Siddiq. Al-Nil min al-Janah wa Manaah al-Sudani (Mecca, Saudi Arabia: Mecca University), 191-197.

75. Ibid, 5. The author extracted the saying attributed to Prophet Muhammad from the al-Bukhari volumes, Hadith number 5610.

76. Muhammad al-Taeb Muhammad Yusuf al-Yusuf, Ithyubiya wal Urubah wal Islam Abr al-Tarikh translated as Ethiopia, Arabness and Islam Across History (Mecca, Saudi Arabia: Hai al-Jirah Press, 1996.

77. Mary Beth Sheridan, “Leader Says Somalia’s Plight is Urgent,” Washington Post, October 3, 2009: A-3.

78. “Killed as Islamists Fight for Control of Port,” Washington Post, October 2, 2009: A-10, 12

79. Sayyid Qutb, “Lughat al-Abeed,” translated as “Language of the Enslaved.” Al-Riasala Newspaper, (Newspaper of the Muslim Brotherhood), Number 709, February 3, 1947): 137.

80. Erlich, 49-50

81. Ibid, 72

82. Saleh Muhammad Ali Omar, Al-Dawr al-Sudani fee Tahrir Ethiopia wa Irjaa Ibratur Haile Selasie ila Arshu (1935-1941) translated as the Sudanese Role in the Liberation of Ethiopia and Restoration of Emperor Haile Selasie to his Throne (1935-1941) (Khartoum, Sudan: International University of Africa, 2005), 2-7.

83. Kamel, Anas Mustafa. Nahu Nizam Jadeed lil Taawun al-Aqlimi fee Houd al-Nil translated as Towards a New Arrangement in Regional Cooperation in the Nile Basin, Al-Siyasa al-Dawliyah Journal, Cairo, Egypt, July 1991, 24. This reference is also found in Zewdie, Abate. The Integrated Development of Nile Basin Water, 1991. In addition it was discussed in a 1990 Conference on the Nile sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society in London and the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, 2 to 3 May 1990.

84. Okidi, Okidi. History of the Nile, Lake Victoria Basins through Treaties. Paper presented at the Conference on the Nile convened at the Royal Geographic Society and the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Conference convened on 2-3 May 1990, conference proceedings, 194-220.

85. Mahmood Sameer Ahmed, Maarek al-Miah al-Muqbilah fee al-Sharq al-Awsat translated as Future Water Conflicts in the Middle East (Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Mustaqbal al-Arabi Press, 1991).

86. Hoqooq Misr al-Tabeeah wal Tarikhiya fee Miah al-Nil wama Yartubit biha min Itafiqay translated as Egypt’s Natural and Historic Rights to the Nile and its Binding to Bilateral Agreements. (Cairo, Egypt: National Security Report, Office of the Presidency, 1990), 12.

87. Ibid, 19

88. Malingha Doya, “Donors Back Egypt, Sudan on Nile Water Pact.” The East African Daily Kenyan Newspaper, 10 August 2009. http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/-/2558/636806/-/r15679z/-/index.html. Accessed on 23 December 2009.

89. Kurlantzik, Joshua. Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008. Taken from Wilson, Ernest J. “Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power.” Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science, March (2008), 616.

90. Scott Johnson, “Cracking Down in Africa.” Newsweek, October 19, 2009: 11.

91. “China starts deploying peacekeepers to Sudan,” February 18, 2009, People’s Republic of China Ministry of Defense Website http://eng.mod.gov.cn/Peacekeeping/2009-02/18/content_3100789.htm

92. Muhammad Yamany and Wael Neguib. “Nile Basin Countries May Fight for Water,” Xinhua News Agency, August 3, 2009: http://www.ethiopiangasha.org/tmp/NileBasin.html

93. Adam Morrow and Khalid Moussa al-Omary. “Unquiet Flows the Nile,” InterPress Services part of the Global Information Network, June 21, 2009: http://globalgeopolitics.net/wordpress/2009/06/21/egypt-unquiet-flows-the-nile/

94. Ibid

95. Stephanie McCrummen, “The Ultimate Crop Rotation: Lured by a New Business Model, Wealthy Nations Flock to Farmland in Ethiopia, Locking in Food Supplies Grown Half a World Away,” Washington Post, November 23, 2009: A-1, A-12.

96. Najib Suleiman. Al-Amn al-Miah al-Arabi, translated as Arab Water Security. Al-Ahram Economic Report (Cairo, Egypt: October 26, 1992), 54.

97. Ibid, 54

98. 1978 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties on-line. http://untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/3_2_1978.pdf

99. Organization of African Unity Charter http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/Documents/Treaties/text/OAU_Charter_1963.pdf.

100. “Kenya says Sudan and Egypt want to Monopolize Nile Water.” Sudan Tribune, November 9, 2008:http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article29199.

101. Tesfaye Tafesse, 51.

102. Alaa al-Hadidi. “Al-Siyasa al-Kharijiyah al-Misriyah itijah al-Miyaah Nahr al-Nil,” translated as “Egypt’s Foreign Policy as it Relates to Nile River Water Resources,” al-Siyasah al-Dawliyah Report, number 104, (Cairo, Egypt: 1991).

103. Jonglei canal project needs to be revised, South Sudan says, Sudan Tribune, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article32062, August 8, 2009.

104. The Battle for the Nile. Stratfor Intelligence Report, December, 16, 2003. http://www.stratfor.com/battle_nile.

105. United Nations Press Release SG/SM/6185, March 21, 1997.

106. The UN Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Water courses was voted on in 1997

107. Tafesse, 70

108. The “Nyrere Doctrine” adopted by Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi. See S. T. Maliti & E. E. Seaton, Tanzania Treaty Practice (Nairobi, Kenya: Oxford University Press, 1973), 19; and F. N. Okoye, International Law and the New African States (London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1972) for Nyrere Doctrine and different approaches taken by African States.

109. In the water rights case United States v. Texas, 162 U.S. 1, 16 S. Ct. 725, 40 L. Ed. 867 (1896), the legal theory of absolute territorial sovereignty which has come to be known as the Harmon doctrine was introduced. U.S. Attorney General Judson Harmon argued, "[T]he rules, principles and precedents of International Law imposed no liability or obligation on the United States" to let parts of the waters that were diverted upstream by the United States flow to Mexico. According to Harmon, nations had exclusive jurisdiction and control over the uses of all waters within their boundaries.

110. Teshome B. Wondwosen. “Transboundary Water Cooperation in Africa: The Case of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI),” Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol 7, No 4, Winter (2008): 34-43.

111. J.A. Allan. “Water Security in the Middle East: The Hydro politics of Global Solutions,” King’s College Water Research Group, School of African Studies, Columbia International Affairs Online Case Study, May (2002). www.cionet.org/casestudy/alj01

112. “Armored Clashes in the Yemeni Governorates of Taez and Zamar,” Ain al-Yaqeen Newspaper, June 25, (1999): http://www.ainalyaqeen.com/issues/19990625/feat8en.htm. Author’s survey of the Ain al-Yaqeen Yemeni Newspapers printed in the summer of 1999 reveals several reports of clashes over water shortages, with headlines such as “18 Citizens and Policemen Killed and 39 Wounded in Tribal Disputes over Land and Water.”

113. Alemu, Senai, “Problem Definition and Stakeholder Analysis of the Nile River Basin.” Paper presented at the 3rd Annual Nile 2002 Conference. Arusha, Tanzania, February 13-15.

114. Zdenek Cervenka. The Organization of African Unity and its Charter (New York: Praeger, 1968.

115. Ibid, 85-92

116. Sherine el-Madany. “Egypt to Tender for Four Nile River Ports in 2010,” Reuters newswire, October 15, 2009: http://af.reuters.com/article/investingNews/idAFJOE59E0BR20091015.

117. William M. Bellamy. “Africa Security Brief: U.S. Security Engagement in Africa,” (Washington DC: National Defense University Africa Center for Strategic Studies): No 1, June (2009).

118. Munster University International Model United Nations 2009 case study, The Nile River – Potential for Trans-boundary Water Conflict in East Africa, http://www.muimun.org/studyguides/GA-TopicA.pdf. Munster University convenes graduate and undergraduate students from around the globe to participate in a summer long program to study complex global issues. The 2009 case study focused on the Nile and offers an excellent template for creating an interagency exercise on the complex issues of Nile conflict.

119. Bellamy, Africa Security Brief.

120. Patrick McCollum, “National Guard Adds Liberia to Partnership Program,” US Africa Command Press Release, August 17, 2009: http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=3294&lang=0

121. Khaled Wassef, “Somali Terror Group Vows Loyalty to Al Qaeda,” CBS News On-Line, Worldwatch Section, September 22, 2009: http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/09/22/world/worldwatch/entry5328722.shtml

122. Stephanie McCrummen, “U.S. Envoy's Outreach to Sudan Is Criticized as Naïve,” Washington Post On-line, September 29, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/28/AR2009092802336.html?nav=emailpage

123. Gamal Abdel Nasser. Egypt’s Liberation: The Philosophy of Revolution. (Washington DC: Public Affairs Press), 110-111.

124. Robert O. Collins. A History of Modern Sudan (London, UK: Cambridge Press, 2008): 286.

125. U.S. State Department List of State Sponsors of Terrorism downloaded from http://www.state.gov/s/ct/c14151.htm.

126. Dan Eggen, “A Cold War Man, a Hot War, and a Legal Gray Area: Reagan’s Aide’s Dealings Raise Questions on Americans’ Involvement with Sudan,” Washington Post, September 30, 2009: Front Page.

127. Peter K. Bechtold, “Darfur, the ICC and American Politics,” Middle East Policy Journal, Summer 2009, Vol 16, No 2, 149.

128. Foreign Policy Journal On-Line, 2009 Failed States Index. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/06/22/2009_failed_states_index_interactive_map_and_rankings

129. Foreign Policy Journal On-Line, 2009 Failed States Index methodology: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/06/22/2009_failed_states_index_faq_methodology

130. Brown, Lester. Draining Our Future: The Growing Shortage of Freshwater, The Futurist Magazine, Vol 42, No 3, May/June (2008), 16.

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Acknowledgements

The concept of exploring potential conflict among Nile states has been a subject I have wished to explore since the late nineties. My year of study at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF) allowed me the freedom and time to peruse documents, and analyze archives from various sources to produce this monograph. First, I would like to thank my ICAF Research Advisor, Dr. Christina Lafferty for guiding me through the process of educating myself as a first step towards educating others. Dr. Paul Severance endured my morning discussions over aspects of this project and kept me focused on the wider strategic implications of conflict and warfare. Dr. David Blair, my ICAF Primary Faculty Advisor, convinced me that I would be better suited pursuing a thesis option for my elective; a difficult choice given the wide range of elective options offered by the National Defense University. This monograph would not have been possible, were it not for the following libraries and exemplary librarians:

  • National Defense University Library, Washington DC
  • Library of Congress, Near East and African Reading Room, Washington DC
  • Widener Library, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts
  • University of California, Berkley Library
  • University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Library
  • John T. Hughes Library, National Intelligence University, Washington DC
  • Princeton University Library, New Jersey

All of the above listed libraries provided me with access to Arabic source materials, and made the process of research a pleasure. I would like to express my thanks to CAPT Eugene Smallwood, MSC, USN (Ret), CDR Jay Bottelson, USN, LCDR Margaret Read, MSC, USN, and YN1 Gavin Irby, USN, for their excellent edits and helpful comments which enhanced this monograph. Finally, my thanks to my wife Cheryl Anne, for enduring hours of discussion over the concepts and sections of this work at home and while taking long walks amidst the nature of southern Maryland as the leaves turned this fall season.

 



 
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