There is no position more embarrassing than that of the historian in relation to his subject of expertise: history.
One of the distinguishing features of science from other human endeavors is its ability to predict and anticipate to an ever improving degree of precision, the possibilities, results and outcome of applying of its principles and techniques on real world complications.
History, on the other hand, cannot enjoy this comfort. There is, in practice, no law in the science of history as there is the law of gravity or the law of motion in Newtonian Physics, for instance.
The object of interest to history is the individual event which doesn’t repeat itself, depriving the historian of collecting data on large numbers of similar events that would allow him to draw a general rule or law. But, many, between them some men of prominence in the history of thought, tend to forget this disability of history and jump over it in search for analogies to study the cause which lead to the existence of each element of these similarities and compare it to its peer or peers and then study the upshots which surrounded the aftermath thus drawing a conclusion which more often than not proves unsuccessful. You will see, for instance, one who studies the German conquest of Russia in WWII by lumping it together with the conquest of Napoleon to that same country. An Australian author[i][i] pairs Emperor Tewodros of Ethiopia with the Russian Emperor Ivan the Terrible. However, to draw conclusions, directly, from historical analogies while definitely unsound, is exciting, amusing and call the mind to an adventure of speculation, and perhaps a promise of a little indirect wisdom and insight. This is said, of course, not for showing scorn and disrespect to history; a great human endeavor which even a materialist like Bertrand Russell says this about:
“Of all the studies by which men acquire citizenship of the intellectual commonwealth, no single one is indispensable as the study of the past.”
History is also the branch of knowledge which another great figure of in the history of Human Thought qualified as “Philosophy taught by example!”
An element of a historical event was magically unveiling itself before our eyes this May 4th 2010 as the second peer of a first one related by Admiral William Loring, a confederate soldier, and a veteran of the American Civil War, in his book “A confederate Soldier in Egypt”.
Admiral Loring was the chief of staff to the Egyptian Force conquering Abyssinia in 1876 under an Egyptian commander, Ratib Pasha. In his book, in page 378, Loring wrote:
“Our coming to this camp was marked by the arrival of Leige Barrou, an enemy of King John, who had just burned for this chief his village Adda-Huala [Adiquala in present day Eritrea] and a number of others of those who had adhered to his cause. Being friendly disposed; he came to offer his services to Ratib Pacha. He was tall, magnificently formed, and much the finest specimen of an Abyssinian we had yet seen. He came into our camp with drums and horns, accompanied by the usual rag-tag and bob-tail. Mild and pleasantly mannered, he claimed royal descent and was anxious to join in the fight. He could have rallied a large following of the disaffected. Ratib Pacha positively refused to accept his services, as he did in the case of all others; why he could never explain. I could hear of no orders from higher authority against it. Possibly it was that he did not intend, and did not want many allies to help him. At first Ratib Pacha took a great liking to the chief, but his Mahometan [Muslim] dragoman, Adam (Naib), a Shoho [Saho] chief from the coast, persuaded him out of the notion.
Then it was May 4th, 2010 that the other thread of events coupling took place when the plane boarding the tyrant of Eritrea touched down the airport of the presidential retreat of Sharm el-Sheikh. Immediately, he was driven, escorted by a motorcade, to the presence of President Hosni Mubarak, where the talks dubbed the ‘summit talks’ by the Egyptian press, were to take place. From that point onwards, what happened between the two men inside the meeting and behind closed doors is everybody’s guess. No one was present, no witness no non-sense. No one beside the ailing old Pasha, and no one beside the Eritrean strong man.
The Eritrean dictator, however, wouldn’t let the moment go before articulating and making it clear to the world through the Egyptian media, revealing his real purpose of the visit to the Pasha in his retreat. He told the Egyptian State TV, in many words, that he definitely and unreservedly adopts the Egyptian vision to the dispute with the other seven African Nile river riparian nations. Egypt, shadowing Sudan, and now Eritrea added, therefore, stand against the rest of the Nile riparian African states in their quest for justice in the case of the Nile water distribution and the chocking Egyptian hold and hegemony over the river, a clinch an Ethiopian scholar once qualified as the hidden factor behind hunger in Ethiopia.
What seems impossible to rationalize, even to the many Egyptian commentators, is Eritrea’s voluntary and impetuous attempt of involvement in a regional dispute that matters little to the interests of the Eritrean People. Of course what caused the Egyptian commentators to be baffled by this is their unfamiliarity and ignorance of the crude, alien style of the dictator and ignorance of the foundations of the decision making of the tyrant which were, since the first days of the independence, based on such a logic as produced only by an urchin who pursues the realization of a life long dream of luring a rich and powerful patron who may adopt him and take him as a son, and then that patron accepts to map ( the urchin dreams) his small time agenda of an impossible and useless vendetta into the universal headaches and interests of the patron. It was the US and Israel in the beginning, then it was followed by the rich Emir of Qatar. Iran followed, and now Egypt. In each contact he came with these countries’ statesmen, the dictator offered a piece of the country (any piece), for rent as a base for Military forces. When Ethiopia was selling its insatiable appetite to investments, the strong man of Eritrea was trotting the world trying to sell Eritrea as a multipurpose Military base. The Baffled Egyptian commentators will soon understand and see this first hand, now that it has knocked at their door.
In his address to the Egyptian public from the forum of the Egyptian TV the tyrant was clear on his alignment with Egyptians. There is no reason, also, to disbelieve that he wouldn’t propose, as he usually did with other powerful leaders, leasing a piece of Eritrean real state to be used as a military base to the Egyptians, although, this would, certainly, trigger a war with Ethiopia, no doubt.
The visit and the Eritrean tyrant’s approach fitted very well into the talking points of the loudest war mongering hawks of the Egyptian Society, even though they were in no need of help to escalate their belligerent discourse:
General Nabil Luqa bebawi, a member of the Egyptian shurah-council (Lower House of Parliament), a well known author and politician said this:
“If the upstream Nations insist on decreasing our share of the Nile waters, we will appeal to the international organizations. If we fail, international law allows us to wage war even if that means devastating nations with bombs. We will never hesitate to protect our children and women from thirst. “
The Lebanese daily Al-Nahar , also, wrote this:
Egyptian experts were talking on Cairo’s plans, and that Egypt will not directly attack Ethiopia militarily if it ignored the old agreements of the distribution of the Nile waters, instead it will strike Ethiopia using Sudan. Cairo, according to this scenario of punishment, may take advantage the long Sudanese border with Ethiopia to create unrest in it as happened before, or Egypt may cooperate with Eritrea and Somalia, both being in conflict and enmity with Ethiopia
The Egyptian Website almohit wrote this under the title “Mubarak frustrates the conspiracy through Afeworki”:
Some in Egypt may not see the visit of the Eritrean President to the country in the ordinary circumstances with great interest and may consider it a usual matter of state relations. But the timing now bears great significance; not because Eritrea is considered one of the ten Nile Basin states and has an effective role, specially with what pertains to Ethiopia who is leading the call for the redistribution of shares of the Nile waters and threatens the endorsing a new agreement on this matter, even if it has to disregard Egyptian approval.
In another part of the same comment the website goes on saying:
“And because Egypt understands the dimensions of the older Ethio-Eritrean dispute, the meeting of Presidents Mubarak and Afeworki in Sharm el-Sheikh in the 4th of May send an embedded warning message to Ethiopia on the consequences of obstinacy and the threatening of Egypt’s share of the Nile waters.”
There were, however some, in Egypt who saw the Eritrean dictator’s visit with skepticism and some went as far as giving a proper name for the man’s advices to the Egyptian leadership and called it FITNA [instigating a fight.]
Egyptian economists have disclosed their skepticism and have strongly opposed Eritrea’s support over Ethiopia describing the dictator’s advice as superficial and calculated to incite conflicts between the two nations, Sudan tribune reported.
Sudan’s position looks ostensibly an ordinary and self serving egoist position. A little investigation, however, would show that the story is more complex than it seems. To start with, one should recognize that Sudan can’t afford to adopt a different position because of agreements signed in the past with Egypt most notable its approval and footing of the 1959 agreement documents, seen by many Sudanese as unfair to particularly that Sudan is accordingly to adopt Egypt’s position as its own in case of future disputes arising with upstream Nations. A Sudanese journalist, Maher Abul-jukh recently wrote an article on the Sudanese daily Al-Sudani in which, in the context of analyzing Sudan’s situation on the crisis, said:
“In my reckoning Sudan suffered great injustice in the treaty of 1959, injustice which had surpassed that partial pertaining to Sudan’s meager share of the water to what is more, far more than this. Sudan is obliged to concede the same quantity of water as the quantity which Egypt is to concede if a new agreement of shares distribution for the benefit of the upstream Nations usage is ratified. This is unfair and unjust and doesn’t conform to any logic, for if the distribution didn’t accompany equity, regardless of the logic behind the distribution, what makes the equity existing in taking and absent when giving.
In another article “Struggle over the River Nile; what should be Sudan’s Strategy?” Professor Ali Abdalla Ali, a Sudanese National and an expert of economy, complains bitterly, thus reflecting, the conscience of many other Sudanese nationals and the frustration and disappointment they suffer by the unfair relations of Egypt and its condescending treatment of their country. He points out to the Halaib triangle as an example of the Egyptian State’s hypocrisy in which Egypt singing brotherhood with Sudan while their military occupation of Sudanese lands, Halaib Triangle, is still standing since 1958, in spite of a UN’s Security Council resolution to that effect, at the time. At a point in his article, Professor Ali writes this:
“This is what I would like to prove through my experiences and observations over the last forty five years as a young officer in the Bank of Sudan(1963-1977), as Economic Advisor to three ministers of finance (specially during the office of late Bheiry) , as a development journalist, as a member of the United Nation Institute of Planning Dakar, Senegal and as an academician in DSRC, University of Khartoum (1982-1985); the National Council for Research (1995-1997), and Sudan University of Science and Technology(1998-2008) . Through all these years I have been noticing that official Egypt had always been thinking about its own interests – in a single-minded and determined attitude- more than caring to the interests of Sudan ,Ethiopia and others. In short words a sort of superiority over all else. We have always been made by Egypt to feel that we are the younger brother who is supposed to only listen and obey and conform on every issue related to Egypt even if the younger brother had to sacrifice his rights to the big brother. Every file in the relation between Sudan and Egypt is always kept in closed drawers and guarded with heavy secrecy.”
The Sudanese website Sudanvotes, too, wrote this:
“The outbreak of a regional struggle in the Area, predicted by numerous media institutions in Egypt and Ethiopia, be it a direct conflict between the two countries despite the lack of common border between them- or indirectly by feeding conflicts in the Area across a number of scenarios which makes Sudan and its lands in the furnace of a regional war which it will principally suffer its consequences, even if it was only dragged into it. The regime of the alliance forged between the group of eight will threaten Sudan from most of its sides, and these will lead to exasperation of its internal crises the inflammation of which is only a common knowledge, this is in addition to the fragile internal state of affairs which cannot bear the upshot of more wars or conflicts of regional type in its human manifestations represented in waves of displacements and migrations let alone the involvement in those regional wars.”
Is a war possible between Ethiopia and Egypt? There are no common borders and neither of these Nations is an industrial power. None of them have long range cruse missiles or long range bombers. Ethiopia is a land locked and therefore has no Marine force. The only way left for Egypt to wage war on Ethiopia is if it acquires access to the Sudanese territories or Eritrea as the Egyptian Al-Shaab, indicates:
“If war breaks between Sudan and Egypt on the one side and Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda on the other, some experts of strategy expect that adopting aerial strikes in the theatre of operations would be a decisive factor. The experts asserted that the front will quickly move from Egypt to Ethiopia on the Sudan-Ethiopia border a logistic support unit from some nations neighboring the Nile Basin or even the. Other countries, hostile to Ethiopia, like Eritrea.”
If war breaks out, then, that the most practical or even perhaps the only practical, efficient and least expensive plan is for Egyptians to move a considerable part of their Air Force to Sudan and perhaps Eritrea. They should also have large companies of infantry and mechanized units to protect all that. If old experiences are supposed to throw light on the present in general, then the fact that the Eritrean strong man saw a chance for his old and recurring dream to be realized: Leasing a piece, or pieces, of Eritrea, for building of foreign Military Bases on it.
This time around, this step of moving, even a single Egyptian soldier to Eritrea would, almost, definitely, provoke a war between Eritrea and Ethiopia immediately, as Ethiopia seeing the action as it is : an act of war by Eritrea. .
There is another route for Egypt to wage war on Ethiopia and that is by feeding existing unrest inside Ethiopia and arising more sleeping troubles for making Ethiopia busy ever fighting its internal wars and ever deferring its struggle against the hegemony of Egypt.
All this is in case the war breaks out, which leads us to the other, more important question to consider: what are the probabilities and the chances of its occurrence?
The probabilities as predicted by most western and Arab Media Institutions are pessimistic as most of them agree that it is high and likely; in fact some see it inevitable The dominating arguments are seen mostly to weigh the occurrence of the war heavier than not
After five of the riparian countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda) have, on the 14th of May, 2010 signed a framework agreement, in which all colonial agreements where annulled and ignored henceforward. They also extended an invitation to Egypt to sign and join them as one between all equals; the ball seemed to be at the Egyptians’ court.
Accepting the invitation is tantamount to abandonment of the 1929 treaty and the loss of the position of the dominating country of the whole Nile which since long have self-conditioned and got used to it. Accepting the invitation will also mean to the Egyptian elite a great fall of conceived position of superiority and prestige in Africa which could signal to further losses in influence in the Arab world, the power of Egypt depends on its absolute control over the Nile as it ever was since 1929.