A Chieftain In The Pasha’s Camp


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.   

Saad Mahyo, a Lebanese commentator and a syndicated columnist, while advocating Egypt’s supremacy, power and belligerence, entered a passage, in one of his recent columns, from the diary (1990-1993) of an Egyptian famous author, Dr. Gamal Hamdan, Mr. Mahyo wonders at the great power of prediction that Dr. Hamdan Displays in this piece: 

“Egypt today is either Egypt of Power or Egypt of extinction. It is either Power or death. If Egypt doesn’t transform itself into a super power dominating the region, all will come to eat what is in the pot, Enemies, brothers, friends close and far. One of the most dangerous variables which could hit on the essence of the Egyptian existence, not only in terms of placement but of Place, is: for the first time in its history competitors, demandants and hydro- claimants (water) appear. Egypt was not only the mistress of the Nile but its lone owner too. Now all came to an end and she became the envied and accountable partner. Its water assets has become defined and fixed and no hope for increment if not fear of decrement; the future is black, the days of drench are over and those of thirst are here.” 

The reference of Mr. Mahyo to Dr. Hamdan is not accidental, it is deliberate, proper and in place; for the professor is considered the highest Egyptian intellectual authority in matters of Egyptian nationalism.  

The Egyptian Embassy in Washington DC’s website places Dr. Hamdan at the head of its highlights of modern Egyptian culture, even on top of the Nobel Prize laureate Naguib Mahfouz and Dr. Taha Hussein, the father of free education for Egyptians. 

Dr. Hamdan and his works are in this new-old development are the heaviest quoted in the Egyptian and Arab Media. A word about this extra-ordinary intellectual seems in order at this point. 

Dr. Gamal Hamdan (1928-1993), was a Professor of geography at Cairo University, a polymath and perhaps the greatest Egyptian thinker in the twentieth century. He was and still remains an exceptionally influential and revered thinker among all present Egyptian political and social currents. His magnum opus, four volumes, encyclopedic book “Personality of Egypt” is considered by many Egyptians to have created the blue print for Egypt of the future as it should be. The work is a system of thought which extracts the plan of Egypt’s from its Geographical location, Geological profiles, Historical layers, and Anthropogeographical assumptions.   

An Egyptian describing  that book writes saying: 

“In this prestigious book, he elaborately expounded the constituent factors making-up the Egyptian personality since the early days of the Pharaohs. To him, Egypt was the central chapter of the book of geography. Egypt, to Hemdan was a unique non-repetitive geographical phenomenon. Apart from the “Description of Egypt”, which appeared in print during the French Expedition, Hemdan’s book “The Personality of Egypt” remains an unprecedented scientific masterpiece. 

Many non-Egyptians, however, wouldn’t extend credibility to. Dr. Hamadan’s qualification of the Nile when he philosophizes saying this in Part III, p416 of that same book: 

Egypt’s waters[ii][ii] is not a benefaction, charity or favor from any one, it is rights acquired not extorted. The geography of the Nile basin is arranged such that the pinnacle of life settle and stay in the North; and as the whole power of Egypt is concentrated in the Nile Valley, so is the power of the Nile basin concentrated in Egypt. The Nile basin without Egypt looks like Hamlet without the princehood.  There is no disagreement or real conflict of water interests between the parts of the Nile basin parts and states. Water politics in the entire basin is a politics of cooperation and integration and not conflict and contradiction as nature itself has decreed .” 

These words of Dr. Hamdan are, it appears, a recast of an idea expressed by the Imperialist Winston Churchill, the architect of the 1929 agreement, in his book “The river war”. This is what he said:    

“The Nile was like a huge palm tree with its roots spread over central Africa—in Lakes Victoria, Albert and Keoga- the long trunk in Egypt and Sudan, while the crown is the Delta in Northern Egypt; if the roots were to be reduced then the rest of the tree will dry and eventually die.” 

However, recently, Dr. Saad-e-ddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian American professor of sociology and a Human rights activist penned an article on the Egyptian daily “ Al-Masri al youm”  in which he made reference to his interview with another Egyptian American,  a 90 year old professor of Geology, Dr. Rushdie Sa’id who said this: 

It was at the closing years of the nineteenth century and the dawn of the twentieth that Great Britain, occupying Egypt and Sudan at the time, that it started to show interest in the continuation of the flow of the river from upstream countries to the downstream nations, principally, Egypt. The attention was not for the love of Egypt or the care for Egyptians’ interests. It was more cupidity and avidity of the Egyptian cotton produce, specially the long staple cotton. The agreements of 1894, 1901, 1902, 1906 which prohibits the source nations (or any of the foreign controlling it: France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy) of constructing works which may obstruct or decrease the run affecting Egypt and Sudan’s share. 

Dr. Hamdan has a view of Egypt, which, if looked closely at, would shed light on why he seemed desperately yearning and searching a superior place for Egypt under the sun. He says this about his country, Egypt: 

“It is now usual to lump Egypt with others of the third world—backward Nations named for the sake of political correctness, developing countries. It is so if measured with western standards, but that shouldn’t make us forget that it is according to the standards of the orient and the world of civilizational competition an advanced contestant. It was a pioneer since the dawn of last Century (19th century) in many fields of Civilization and it was about to second the west in some of its civilizational innovations. 

Of these pioneering aspects is that Egypt was one of the first countries to introduce the railways and its history with Petroleum is exceptionally and notably early. We were ahead before India in adopting the modern techniques. We may be considered among the first in the eastern world in the demographic revolution and it may be true that we are not far apart from some of the western pioneers at starting and volume. In modern technology Egypt owns a technical cadre not small in terms of quantity and quality which makes it nearer to the small advanced nations and in superiority to many third world countries.”  (The personality of Egypt Book IV, p515)    

Couple this with another excerpt in Book IV..p 698 and you have a sharp and clear image of the psyche of the Egyptian elite vis-à-vis Africa and the Nile: 

“And although it[iii][iii] is African by its waters and soil, it is Caucasian and European by race and blood. Egyptians in this sense are, then, half Europeans as Egypt is a piece of Africa while staying part of Europe at the same time. Egypt is in Africa but does not belong to it and it is European but is not in Europe. Egypt is also Asian by orientation, by History, by effect and destiny; it is by Asia and for it. The final net resultant is that Egypt is half European, a third Asian and one sixth African. It is inside Egypt that Europe begins at Alexandria, Asia at Cairo, and Africa at Aswan. “  

The demand of the African basin Nations for justice in the question of the Nile is heavy on the Egyptian psyche and it is considered by most Egyptian opinion forming institutions, think tanks and  Media outlets a taboo, a challenge and a commitment to an insurgency against what they perceive an advanced and civilized Egyptian arrangement by deprived, backward African countries bunched up and ganged around Ethiopia, another giant but weak and backward African country. According to them a life/death question is at hand. Vital Egyptian National interests are exposed to attack. 

Al Kifah Al-Arabi weekly, wrote this in its electronic copy: 

“The last few days have, with absolute clarity, revealed the dimensions of the conspiracy which Egypt is exposed to, when Ethiopia inaugurated a big dam on the river few days after signing the new agreement by the Nile basin states in which Egypt and Sudan were absent from. The exciting matter here that Ethiopia declared that the dam construction price tag was $500 million with no contribution foreign financiers into. The paradox here is that the reader would believe that one of wealthy oil nations is the one who finance the project and not Ethiopia which suffers an endemic hunger and extreme poverty and which no less than 500 thousand of its people take refuge into Sudan fleeing hunger.” 

Readers will not miss the condescending and contempt for Ethiopia embedded in this passage. The oblique finger pointing to third parties for perceived financing of projects, exemplifies hypocrisy. This financier is supposed to be Israel as many Egyptian media outlets have openly accused Israel for standing behind the demands of the upstream nations and behind financing dam construction projects for the purpose of striking at Egypt’s power. This of course is none-sense and can’t stand the test. A quick read of what the Israeli daily Haaretz wrote  recently will not only undermine this accusation but sends it to its grave with a boom. Besides, is it not Egypt who is standing in guard of Israeli borders, committing international crimes, lynching Eritrean and other African refugees, so how are these to conform with the  accusation with this solid fact. 

The Egyptian National psyche is deeply scarred and under continuous pressure since the Army’s dismal performance in the six days war with Israel in 1976. Egypt never recovered from that blow since then, and even the 1973 war brought nothing which looks like the victory they memorialize each year.  And although The Camp David treaty, which followed the 1973 war, Brought billions of Dollars to its coffers, it eroded Egypt’s influence in the Arab world and its leadership there was left in tatters. Since then many other competitors have appeared: Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran not excluding the microscopic Qatar.    


How is Egypt reacting to all these? 

Monitoring Egyptian media these days reveals that Egyptians feel that their country is  being exposed to a complete and integrated conspiracy at all levels: From its Arab National strategy to the Geographic National security and from thought pioneering and leadership to economic and social self sufficiency. 

What most of their analysts and opinion makers believe is that when Egypt bought into the peace treaty of 1979, it thought peace will offer it a chance to building itself,  a matter they think was lacking during the sixties under Nasser and before that during and after the aborted  Imperialist experiments Muhammad Ali Pasha’s  adventures.  

When Egypt booted itself from the Arab-Israeli conflict it was in calculation that that would lead to a new Middle Eastern regional arrangement in which, Egyptians assumed, they will be offered a fresh leading role, but all that came to an end with the unexpected reverse results in which Egypt was excluded in favor of other Nations including Israel. Egypt was left in the cold and look like a forgotten big brother on roles in matters of grand strategic decisions concerning the pan- Arab and regional parameters. 

And now Egypt is feeling that it is under attack in Africa. It (Egypt) is now exposed to a new type of challenges; Nile source Nations have for the first time in the history of Egypt, encouraged by Israel, for the purpose of decreasing Egypt’s share of the Nile waters which will definitely lead to chocking of the Egyptian economy and the transformation of Egypt from an industrial-agrarian economy into an economy of Services which totally contradicts the nature of Egyptian history 

beside the Arab, African and regional challenges, Egypt faces another challenge more sensitive at the post Peace Agreement with Israel: the internal political challenge is a pressing agent because of its internal crisis of governance, where the president wishes and maneuvers and presses continuously for the introduction of inheritance of power to inheritance allowing him to leave the presidential throne to his young son, a choice facing difficulties at the popular level and left, liberal and Islamist circles. This is quite pressing, and especially important because of the early 2011 elections. If a Nile war happens it would unify the internal front, behind the current leadership justified by considerations of external dangers or threats to National security and thus Mubarak wins the battle of the presidential election and pass of the crown to his offspring. 

Some readers of this essay may wonder why such a long essay about Ethiopia in a website mostly with Eritrean content, the writer invites such readers to have a good and hard look at the matter and they will find the whole thing is about Eritrea and Eritrea alone, after all one can define a horse by enumerating what it is or inversely by what it is not. If the reader is one who asks himself why Eritrean refugees, young men, woman and children are lynched on the Israel-Egyptian boarder by Egyptians will find the link within this essay.

[i] Alan Moorhead : “The blue Nile”

[ii] The Nile

[iii] Egypt



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