Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The High Dam : A Bless Or A Curse

Hopefully insh Allah this will not be the last post about the high dam jubilee

Last January 15th 2010 Egypt has celebrated the jubilee of launching the high dam aka Aswan Dam construction in 1960. Unfortunately we did not celebrate it as it should because of the heavy rains that hit Aswan. We were supposed to have more celebrations especially that three countries are participating in the event : Egypt , Russia "for its huge support" and Syria 'as we were one country then'. It is great anniversary for sure and it is sad that younger generations do not know or understand its importance or its controversy.

I would like in the start to assure you that I am not a Nasserite. This is important fact I hope you put it in your mind while reading this post hopefully till end.

With no doubt I believe building the dam in 8 years "4 years during the war with Israel" was more than great achievement , I will not  execrate if I say that the Aswan high dam  was our great pyramid of the 20th century. I believe it was and is from the true achievements of Nasser with no doubt just like the nationalization of Suez canal.

The high dam project was the real first national project in the 20th century . Egyptians from ages, from all classes , from all backgrounds,ethnics and religions were participating in building this dam and standing against the mighty Nile river and the whole world too. Of course the Nasser's propaganda machine played a very role in positioning this project in the hearts and minds of Egyptians then , still I the dam proved to be more than a propaganda project after 50 years.

I know that there is a huge controversy about this huge project from political point of view , from economic point of view ,  from ecological point of view and from national security point of view. Those who are against the dam have different reasons to be so but not all the reasons are right. We should think in the right way comparing pros and cons of the dam then and now so we can be objective and fair.

The reasons of having the dam are simple to understand : To tame the Nile flood , to reserve water for drought time and to generate electricity. 

You do not know how the Nile flood was so destructive , you only have to see the Nile river water reaching to the Sphinx then you have a little image. The Palace of Khedive Ismail at Giza where he used to live in was drowned in the flood in the 18th century. We are speaking then about Giza and Cairo , well you can imagine how Upper Egypt used to suffer. Huge losses in lives and homes making the flood a bless and curse at the same.

During the flood

Giza in the flood

Yes the flood brought the mud but how Egypt was with drought !!?? If you open any of Judaism , Christianity and Islam holy book , you can have a little glimpse of how Egypt suffered in time of drought through the story of Joseph. If you are a  secular who believes only in science , well I recommend you to read the Al-Maqrizi's books about Egypt in the middle age and how this land witnessed horrible famines. Ok the previous example is not that good , after all Al-Maqrizi could be execrating , then you must check the 1930s and 1940s press to see how the people suffered because of the floods forced to be displaced from their houses which usually drowned not to mention the flood sometimes brought with it malaria. Ok this is in the 1930s and 1940s , what about the drought that hit East Africa last century !!? You had then a water source that did not dry in those years despite having a bad minister of agriculture then

I do not know if I should speak about the electricity which now we are exporting to other Arabic countries reaching to Syria but it is enough that this huge energy is produced through a renewable source we must thank God for.

The idea of taming the river was not the second half of the 20th century idea on the contrary but rather old an one . During the Islamic era Alhazen was living Egypt when he was ordered to find a solution to the flood problem. He proposed the idea of a dam but it seemed impossible to implement then. Then in the 19th century the idea was revived again in a simpler way : The Aswan reservoir aka Aswan low dam

Aswan Low Dam Workers

The construction works of the reservoir started in 1898 and was inaugurated in 1902, still it was not enough to regulate or rather tame the floods and river Nile. In 1946 the dam almost overflowed and thus the government then began to think about another bigger modern dam but of course during that time it was hard to implement such big project.

Aswan Reservoir

The idea of the dam as we know it now came in 1954 and America was going to fund the project if it were not for the difference in political opinions that made the leader of the free world stood against the project.Politically I believe the West paid a huge price of not supporting Egypt in building this dam more than we did ; the Soviet union had a strong alley in the Middle East : Egypt. This was a huge strategic mistake regardless of what the Americans thought at that time. I think that the West of the United States then believed we could not complete the project nor it would be successful but they were wrong.

I disagree with those who hate the dam just because it was from iconic projects of President Nasser's era riding the wagon of those who are against the dam for other reasons. Some of them have gone too far saying that that dam caused the 1956 Suez war as Nasser had to nationalize the Suez canal company to find a funding for the project !! The war happened for several reasons not only the nationalization of Suez canal.

Displacing the Nubians I believe was not done in the right way , The people there should have been compensated properly , the Hassan Fathi houses were not enough I am afraid. The Nuba for sure is neglected just like the rest of Upper Egypt ,it is not ethnic issue like some would like to claim . The Egyptian regime I believe since Nasser did not work hard to make the people of Nuba feel that they are Egyptians , of course our only solace is that all Egyptians have the same feeling of being alien in their own country. The Nuba problem can be solved so easily if we want too. Of course I must hint out that the Nubian activists who are jumping to the radical Egyptian Christians abroad wagon are harming the cause.

By the way Displacing the people of Nuba was not a Nasserite regime's invention, it happens all over the world when nations build dams.

Also we had to transfer our monuments to other places otherwise they would be drowned but I do not think that we had a real problem in this because the UNESCO took care of this matter in cooperation with a great minister of culture then called : Tharwat Okasha.  With my all respect to have water reserve all the time , to have access to electricity all the time and to protect millions of Egyptians in the South from the Wrath of the Nile is more important than these temples. Do not get me wrong but even the Pharaohs themselves thought in the same way. I know it sounds shocking but I am not speaking of destroying these temples but rather transferring them. At least now there are not flooded from time to time

Aswan during the flood

I agree that it has bad economic and ecological side effects : The rich fertilized mud brought by the Nile river is being blocked by the dam. This accumulated mud is not only a bless but a curse now , it can threat the body of the dam not to mention it helps in building up the coastal delta which is currently eroding.  The first point was raised by experts whom were calmed down by the the builders of the dam and current dam officials that there is no danger on the body of the dam as that matter was taken in consideration. The second matter , well I think with the current climatic changes other countries with no rivers face the same issue , of course for us the matter is worse due to our regime's indifference to problem. Another problem we face is our soil salinity due to the lack of floods which I think we can use natural biofertilizers like in old days to fight it.

The High Dam image by Nasa

I am not an expert but why can't we used this high fertilized mud transferring it from behind the dam to the valley in some way or another !!?? I think if we have a real serious government that thinks in the future this would be from its priorities.

We have fantastic brains can solve these problems , after all we built the pyramids and this dam too. It is common perception that those who designed this dam were actually army officers from Nasser's office , well there were not army officers with all my due respect to the army "I swear I do" they were from the brilliant minds of architects this country have seen like for instance former minister Hassab Allah El-Kafrawy.

Our political relations with the Nile basin countries are be improved through politics and joint economic projects, already this is what is happening as currently we are investing in Ethiopia. Already I believe it was and is our right to build this dam. 

Now there is a stupid con I have heard recently , in any future war Israel will bomb the dam and drown us !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Of course this stupid con is based on the threat of our dear Israeli friend Lieberman before becoming a minister and regardless the fact that Aswan has an air defense system as powerful as the one currently protecting Cairo and according to sources the army took Lieberman's bluffs seriously upgrading the systems all the time , this is just nonsense and bluff from Lieberman. Of course Israel is not that stupid because it knows if it brings down the dam on our heads ,the first thing we will hit is their precious Dimona reactor and let Armageddon start in the world as simple as that .

I want to say something the pros and cons of this dam to Egypt are just like the pros and cons of any  dam in the world even in developed rich countries. We have knowledge and technology that we did not have back in the 1960s and we can use them to increase our benefit from the dam and also to solve its side effects.

The agriculture in Egypt is not affected negatively by the dam but rather with bad deliberate wrong policies. The dam is not responsible that hundreds of Egyptian villages do not have access to water or electricity nor it is responsible of  the dam that we are currently wasting its reserved water in north coast swimming pools, it is the responsibility of the regime.The dam just like the various resource this land has not been used as it should after all those years.

I know I am from the Pro-dam team ,still I hope that I explained why I support it in this post.

Photo sources:

Queen Nazli's visit report from Dr. Ahmed Kamel Royal photos collection


  1. as always zeinobia you r so neutral , i agree with you that the high dam was one of the greatest achievements of this era, but i think the issue of the nubians was deserved to take more researches ,at last the dam was built for these people not to punish and neglect them as always.

  2. Zeinobia wrote:

    "Now there is a stupid con I have heard recently , in any future war Israel will bomb the dam and drown us !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Of course this stupid con is based on the threat of our dear Israeli friend Lieberman before becoming a minister and regardless the fact that Aswan has an air defense system as powerful as the one currently protecting Cairo and according to sources the army took Lieberman's bluffs seriously upgrading the systems all the time , this is just nonsense and bluff from Lieberman. Of course Israel is not that stupid because it knows if it brings down the dam on our heads ,the first thing we will hit is their precious Dimona reactor and let Armageddon start in the world as simple as that ."

    You Egyptians are just dieing to start another war with us, don't ya? What's wrong, is your "Arab pride" still hurt from your colossal defeat in 1973(and '48 and '56 and '67 I should add)? Oh, wait, I forgot you "won" that war. Hahaha. Good joke.

    Seriously Zeinobia do you really think you can beat us in a war or even attack Dimona? Keep on dreaming dear.

    And if you think we don't know that all Egypt's millitary drills are aimed at invading israel, think again.

    And if you think we don't know about your Scud-C missile base at Jabal Hamzah, think again.

    Now, since you are so obssessed with the '73 war (since for some reason you think you won it) you may be interested to know that two new books (each one some 600 pages) on the subject have been published in Israel.

    The 1st one is by Aviram Barkai and called "On containment: the story of the 188th Brigade during the Yom Kippur War".

    The 2nd one is by Shmuel Gordon (who was a Phantom pilot during the war) and called "30 hours in October: the Israeli Air Force at the beginning of the Yom Kippur War".

    But since this site is SO Anti-Semitic I will not tell you what the books say.

  3. Sudanese Observer2/17/2010 04:20:00 PM

    I cannot believe that you managed to write a post on the Aswan Dam without mentioning Sudan once.

    I'm sad to say that I am disgusted.

    Nasser's government supported the first military take-over of power in order to sign the 1959 Agreement which would 'address' the issue of inundation and displacement on the Sudanese side.

    The fact that Sudan did not participate in the 'celebrations' is very telling.

    No one in Sudan supports the Dam, or the 1959 Agreement.

    You spoke of electricity export to ... Syria, yet Lake Nubia floods 'Sudanese' territory and has inundated Halfa which was an economically properous city - and Sudan does not receive not one watt of electricity from the Dam some 50 years on.

    I believe you are too intelligent to surmise that Nazif's trip with a plane full of businessmen is enough to quell 'historical grievances' by upstream States - including Ethiopia and midstream Sudan.

    Congratulations on the dam, commiserations on the selective, short-sighted analysis.

  4. @Joel,I will not engage in some useless debate with you faraway from the main topic "not because of fear or lack of knowledge believe me"
    My dear we do not want to go in to war with anyone but if anyone attacks us our

    @Sudanese Observer, this post about the pros and cons of the dam to Egypt , I tried not to get deep in to political issues as much as I can in order to focus more on the main cons always addressed in the media.
    I think I addressed the neighbour countries shortly when I said that diplomacy and politics can solve our problems with our neighbours above them Sudan

  5. Sudanese observer2/17/2010 09:34:00 PM

    Diplomacy and politics 50 years on from a project that has transnational effects (damage to Sudan) and no tangible benefit whatsoever?!
    Recognition of a problem is the first step towards dealing with and resolving it. Denial and selectivity will only exacerbate the time bomb that is Egypt, not Sudan's problem.

  6. What denial !!?? What time bomb you are speaking about !!?? Strangely you put all the blame on Egypt , what about Sudan with its instability !!?? I think the egyptian investments in Sudan now are helping in pushing the relations.

  7. Correction: the 1st book is called "On the edge" and not "On containment".

    Zeinobia, why on earth would Israel want to attack Egypt or its dam, which isn't even a military target?

  8. Sudanese Observer2/18/2010 09:17:00 PM

    What denial?

    Denial of many things.

    Denial of how unfair and inequitable the Aswan Dam was and is towards Sudan.

    You did not mention the transboundary damage that Sudan's land, economy and people suffered due to the Aswan Dam.

    You did not mention the Aswan Dam's role in putting into effect an allocation regime of 55.5 billion cubic metres of water for Egypt, a smaller amount for Sudan - and nothing for other Nile Riparians.

    I don't understand what you mean when you refer to Sudan's instability. What does Sudan's instability have to do with an honest appraisal of the Aswan Dam and its transboundary effcts?

    And what of Egypt's government at the time interfering in Sudan's internal affairs by supporting from the inside the first military takeover of power?

    The civilian, democratically elected government was 'not' going to sign the 1959 Agreement.

    As for Egyptian investments pushing relations - surely you don't mean politically...

    Egyptian investments in Sudan are a drop in the ocean when compared to Saudi, Qatari, Emarati and of course Chinese investment.

    If you haven't been following the news Sudan's Vice President Ali Osman Taha was recently on an official visit to Cairo with a delegation including the head of Sudan's Chamber of businessmen Mr Ali Abbarsi.

    The Vice President met with a delegation of Egyptian businessmen and intellectuals who criticised obstacles that are in place that impede their investment - such as the imposition of tarrifs on certain Egyptian products.

    Mr Abbarsi replied stating that Egyptian obstacles were even more obtrusive than Sudanese ones - no Sudanese goods (and the people accompanying them) are allowed to pass through a 10km buffer area on the border.

    He also criticised the fact that the '4 Freedoms' which were cut and pasted from the EU (the EU took many decades until it reached the stage where it could implement freedom of movement, employment, residence and ownership of land) were not applicable to Sudanese citizens in the way they were applicable to Egyptians in Sudan.

    In his concluding remarks the Vice President stated that the philosophy behind economic interaction between both countries should be complimentary and not competitive, which it currently is.

    Investments are not doing anything to assuage popular grievances over the illegal military occupation of Halayeb and over the detrimental water relations we have with Egypt that originated from the 1959 Agreement which we do not like which was signed by a government we did not chose, whose purpose was to pave the way for your dam in Aswan.

  9. Sudanese Observer2/18/2010 09:19:00 PM

    Sorry and the time-bomb that Egypt is facing that I'm referring to is 2017 when Egypt uses up all of its 55.5 cubic metres of Nile water.
    That will leave Egypt's *finite* groundwater as a strategic reserve.
    Egypt will then have to desalinate - which is very expensive and energy intensive.

  10. My dear he is only using the same language the Egyptians use in regard to Israel and Jews: the language of force, threats and violence. He is simply puting a mirror in front of you to show you how you look. Here are some examples:

    Egyptian calling to rape Israeli women

    Egyptian MP threatning to nuke Israel and wipe it out of existence (sound familiar?)

    Egyptians claiming Eilat is theres

    Egyptian "culture" minister threatens to burn Israeli books,7340,L-3543242,00.html

    Not to mention your daily anti-Semitic attacks on Jews via your (state-owned) press, books, TV and religious sermons in mosques.

  11. Nuclear attack on Aswan dam would succeed in it's goal of destroying Egypt as a nation state. No air-defense system could prevent this. End of story for Egypt. Israel could absorb any counter attack, even if Dimona were destroyed, it is simply a replaceable structure, it would not destroy Israel. Arabs really are dumb. I like to see attacks on them and when they kill each other (every minute of every day) I do find it very funny and enjoy it. Thanks for being a violent mutant for the rest of the world to laugh at.

  12. Arnold says, the Aswan dam will be filled with mud
    silt and sediment about 2065. What happens then?
    Back to the centuries old annual over-flooding?
    One comment here asks, how can the present silt in
    the dam be removed and used as fertilizer? Answer?


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