CAIRO: International media are being reticent in their support of the new Nile Treaty, signed in Entebbe last week, questioning the move of the four signatory countries to enact a treaty not including Egypt and Sudan.
Simultaneously, Egypt is harshly criticized — not only for its intransigent attitude, but also for its little effort to diversify its water resources during the last decades.
"It would not be a very good idea for seven countries to sign a document at this stage," said Marc Franco, head of the European Union delegation in Egypt, the day before the signing of the treaty, adding that a separate deal would "make the political problems that exist worse."
Also, “the Nile Basin Initiative’s [NBI] main funder, the World Bank, has said it will not go along with any projects in upstream countries unless Egypt agrees”, Joseph Mayton writes in the Guardian.
Although, according to Mayton, the Egyptian intelligentsia has largely supported the government’s rejection of a new agreement, criticism from inside Egypt remains.
“A unilateral signing will kill all the cooperation projects in the framework of the NBI, projects that could profit everybody,” Hani Raslan, researcher at the Egyptian Al-Ahram Center of Strategic and Political Studies, said.
“The Egyptian behavior towards the Africans is like the Israeli behavior towards the Palestinians: They say they want to negotiate, but they do not make any compromise on sensitive questions,” an occidental diplomat in Cairo told French weekly newsmagazine Jeune Afrique.
Currently, Egypt is sending its officials to various countries to justify its position. “The move appears aimed at pre-empting potential funding from abroad for upstream projects that could affect Egypt’s water share,” William Wallis and Heba Saleh wrote in the Financial Times.
"Egyptian leaders try to reassure themselves, hoping that the dissenting countries will face difficulties in finding capital for their projects,” Pierre Prier writes in Le Figaro, a leading French newspaper, “but they forget China who already finances a number of projects and will act following its interests.”
“For Cairo, the treaty is a vital question,” Prier wrote, referring to the fact that the about 80 million Egyptians provide 90 percent of their water from the Nile.
But, “At the time of the first Nile Treaty in the 1950s, when Egypt and Sudan got the lion’s part of the Nile water [86 percent], Uganda had just 6 million, Ethiopia just 20 million inhabitants – today there are respectively more than 30 and more than 85 million,” Karim El Gawhary wrote in Austrian daily Die Presse, pointing at the core of the water repartition problem, the population growth along the Nile.
At the same time, official reports project that by 2017; the Nile water will not cover Egypt’s needs anymore.
“The irony is that while government officials and commentators give a doomsday scenario to justify Egypt’s dominance of the Nile’s water, millions of Egyptians already suffer from water shortages on a daily basis,” Mayton writes.
“Egypt could make itself a lot more efficient by fixing leaky taps, installing meters and getting farmers to switch from crops such as rice that are particularly thirsty, wherever their water originates,” The Economist wrote, targeting the little effort Egypt has made in the last decades to diversify its water sources.
“The Egyptian government could come to a deal with the other NBI countries that would see it reduce its Nile resources in favor of erecting desalination plants along the Red Sea and Mediterranean,” Mayton proposes in the Guardian.
“By compromising and establishing alternative solutions, Egypt could avoid potential war,” he adds.
International media have also discussed the potential of a war for water in the region. “With populations soaring, demand for water increasing and climate change having an impact, there are warnings that wrangling over the world’s longest river could be a trigger for conflict,” Will Ross of the BBC said.
On the other hand, “conflict is unlikely,” according to The Economist, because “nothing the smaller basin-countries can do would affect the flow very much.”
But international analysts do not give Egypt large power either. “The conflict flares up at the moment where the two giants, Egypt and Sudan, are more or less destabilized by their internal changes,” Marie-France Cros wrote in Nouvelle Afrique, pointing at the presidential elections in Egypt and the referendum for the self-determination in south Sudan that will both happen early 2011.
“Could Cairo execute its threats?” Prier asks in Le Figaro, concluding that “in reality, we don’t really imagine the Egyptian army starting expeditions against the Nile riparian states. The war for water probably will not happen.”