Trump and the Nile

By Christopher Harper

Against the backdrop of continuing tension in the Middle East, the United States is playing a peacekeeping role in a dispute among Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia.

You won’t read about the Trump administration’s mediation in the mainstream press because it doesn’t fit the meme of a war-mongering president.

So here goes. The three countries agreed to meet this week in Washington to tackle problems over a dam project on the Nile River that may greatly affect water resources in Egypt and Sudan.

The differences among the three countries date back to May 2011 when Ethiopia started building a dam, which is known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The $5 billion hydroelectric dam would exist on the Blue Nile near the Ethiopia-Sudan border. The reservoir would hold up to 67 billion cubic meters of water and take at least seven years to fill, which would decrease the river’s flow for at least that period by 25 percent. For Ethiopia, the dam would aid water needs and economic development, as it is set to supply the country with more than 6,000 megawatts of electricity. But it could be devastating for Egypt, which relies on the river for irrigation, fishing, and transport.

The river is so vital that Egyptian officials have made it clear that military action may occur if Ethiopia doesn’t come to an agreement.

In 2015, the three countries signed the Declaration of Principles, which agreed that the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, would not be negatively affected by the construction of the dam. In October 2019, however, Egypt blamed Ethiopia for hindering a final agreement. Under the earlier declaration, the three countries would seek mediation if they could not reach an accord.

Enter the United States as the mediator. Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia agreed to a series of four meetings in Addis Ababa, Cairo, Khartoum. This week’s meeting in Washington is the fourth in this round of negotiations.

It’s unclear whether the United States will be able to help settle this longstanding dispute. But it’s readily apparent that Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia think the Trump administration may be able to help.

Unfortunately, the American media are unlikely to mention this peaceful role the U.S. is playing.

Update (DTG): Delayed Instalanche, thanks Glenn, welcome folks take a look around. If you liked this piece by Christopher Harper a former member of the MSM and current professor of journalism writes here every Tuesday and often covers things nobody else bothers to, particularly on his oversees trips. Check out his previous pieces like Egyptians for Trump a Greek Getaway and Trump, on his Majesty’s service, and Fake News and me. Oh just check out the lot, both here and on the old host.

And if you think he and the rest of my Magnificent Seven are worth your time considering kicking in to DaTipJar and help keep them paid.

Egyptians for Trump

By Christopher Harper

It came as a pleasant surprise when I heard about the widespread support for Donald Trump in Egypt.

“No one wanted Hillary,” said one Egyptian acquaintance. “She and Obama were a disaster.”

I heard this sentiment several times during a two-week stay in Egypt.

Back in 2009, President Obama called for a “new beginning” between the Islamic world and the U.S. during a speech at Cairo University. He promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, to pursue Palestinian-Israeli peace, and to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq.

His promises went nowhere. It’s also worth noting that the president insisted on having a delegation from the Muslim Brotherhood attend the speech, a group that eventually came to power and ushered in two deadly years at the head of Egypt’s government. 

By the end of his presidency, Obama faced a great deal of bitterness from Arabs. That view came across in a variety of Arab countries in a Pew Research Center survey in June 2015. Support for Obama was incredibly low: about a third of the Lebanese, 15 percent of Palestinians, and 14 percent of Jordanians. See https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2015/06/23/1-americas-global-image/

Although Egypt was not included in the Pew survey, the country got little support from Obama after the 2009 speech.

The Hoover Institution provided an analysis of what Obama did wrong in his relationship with Egypt:

–Obama ignored Egypt’s traditional role as a bridge between Arabs and Israel.

–The president ignored Egypt when taking on Libya and removing its leader.

–The administration failed to lean on the most significant military power in the Arab world during a variety of problems in the region. 

When the Egyptians finally got rid of the Muslim Brotherhood, Obama suspended military aid. 

Ultimately, Obama and Egyptian President Abdel el-Sisi only met on the sidelines at the United Nations. That rebuff to a traditional Arab ally left a bad taste in the mouths of many Egyptians.

“For its part, Washington should expect to provide Egypt’s military leaders the political embrace that Obama was always reluctant to offer, but also requests from Egyptians that it would compensate them in the currency that matters most – U.S. regional leadership that would lead to a resumption of Saudi and other Gulf assistance to help Cairo weather crushing economic problems,” a Hoover Institution analysis argued at the beginning of the Trump era. 

Three years later, Trump has accomplished much of what the Hoover Institution suggested. That’s why Egyptians were happy that Trump beat Hillary and remain so today.

The stigma of Camp David

By Christopher Harper

The Camp David Accords—once heralded by the United States, Israel, and Egypt as a solution to the Middle East crisis—continue to stymie any significant efforts to address the problems in the region.

More than 40 years ago, I arrived in the Middle East just after the peace agreement was signed. At the time, Americans saw the agreement as a major step forward. Instead, the accords resulted in the isolation of Egypt—once the leader of the Arab world.

Until now, Egypt has been relegated to a secondary role in the region. Moreover, the agreement led directly to the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the rise of Saddam Hussein, and myriad troubles in the Middle East from Syria to Libya and even Iran.

For Egypt and Israel, the agreement has resulted in what many call a “cold peace” during which the two countries don’t face the possibility of war but with little interaction beyond cursory talks about security and economic issues.

For example, my wife and I have been traveling throughout Egypt over the past two weeks. We wanted to stop in Israel for a short visit. But we found it virtually impossible to find a way to travel directly between the two countries.

The huge volume of U.S. aid has had almost no impact on improving the lot of the average Egyptian, most of whom see little benefit from the Camp David agreement.

Cultural exchanges—once seen as a way to improve relations between Egyptians and Israelis–have faltered badly. For example, Farouk Hosnoy, the former minister for culture for more than two decades, refused to visit Israel and threatened to burn any Israeli book he found in the Alexandria library. Every year, organizers of Cairo Film Festival refuse to allow Israel to participate in the event. When the Israeli Center for Research and Information translated Alaa al-Aswany’s popular novel, The Yacoubian Building, he threatened to sue the center because he opposed to cultural normalization with Israel.

At one point, Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld a ruling that ordered the revocation of citizenship from 30,000 Egyptian men married to Israeli women.

The long-term tension between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip that borders Egypt, has created problems for the Cairo government. The Egyptians, who brokered a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, has grown increasingly tired of the actions of both sides.

Despite the long list of diplomatic ills, however, a recent gas deal between Egypt and Israel provides some hope for the future.

Partners in Israel’s Leviathan and Tamar offshore gas fields agreed last year to sell $15 billion worth of gas to a customer in Egypt in what Israeli officials called the most significant deal to emerge since the neighbors made peace in 1979.

With this significant step in economic ties, perhaps the “cold peace” will at least result in some future cooperation between the two sides. But the Camp David accords—once hailed as the pathway to peace in the region—will remain a sore point for Egypt, Israel, and the rest of the Middle East.

Egypt Today

By Christopher Harper

Ahmed, a middle-aged tour guide, didn’t work for almost six years as Egypt’s economy fell into a downward spiral as a result of government instability, terrorism, and crime.

His health suffered, leading to two heart operations. His children’s plans to attend college had to be put on hold until recently.

Today, however, he’s optimistic about the future because the government of strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has brought stability to the largest country in the Arab world.

I first visited Egypt more than 40 years ago, and it’s been eight years since I last traveled there—a time of great hope after the 2011 revolution.

That hope became despair in only a few months after the Muslim Brotherhood took control of the government for two years until the military seized power in 2013.

My wife and I just started a two-week stay that will allow us to travel throughout Egypt.

The people I’ve spoken with share Ahmed’s optimism. For example, Mina, who is Coptic Christian, said the greater attention to terrorism and street crime has made Egypt far better than under the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the hope of the Arab revolution of 2001 failed to be achieved, Mina is content that times are better than in recent years.

The Coptic Christians, who make up about 20 percent of Egypt’s population of 100 million, came under intense harassment at the hands of Muslim extremists for several years. Copts were killed because of their religion. Their churches were burned. Most lived in fear of what would happen next.

Although security remains relatively tight around Coptic churches, my wife and I visited the center of the Christian population. The streets bustled with local residents and tourists, with little concern about possible attacks during the Christmas holidays.

After a visit to a Coptic monastery in the western desert, however, military police accompanied our tour bus until we made it to more populated areas.

Tourism seems to have picked up after the problems of the past decade, although my wife and I didn’t see too many Americans. Many of our friends thought we were crazy to make such a trip, so Egypt will have to convince people from the United States to return there.

El-Sisi and his team have rolled out a variety of economic programs, including a major building project at the Suez Canal to increase traffic. Also, the government has devalued the currency, making foreign investment far more appealing.

But Egyptian skeptics remain. One of my friends whom I visited during the 2011 uprising left the country for Central America. When I asked him if any of my acquaintances remained in Egypt, he responded, “They’re dead, in prison, or they left the country.”

El-Sisi and his supporters still have to convince some of their fellow countrymen that the economic and political situation will get even better.

One final note: A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you from Egypt!