Nile day: should Egypt celebrate?

People in Cairo enjoy celebrating on the Nile after sunset, jumping on glittering boats with loudspeakers full volume and sailing on the river crossing the city center. Episode 3 of the podcast “The sources of the Nile” has been released this week to join official celebrations of #NileDay2018. Feb 22 marks the anniversary of the establishment of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), the intergovernmental partnership between the eleven riparian states. After the adoption of the Cooperative Framework Agreement (2010), Egypt has frozen its participation to the NBI, arguing that the treaty does not safeguard downstream countries’ water security and rights. Moreover, the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam seems to mark the end of Egypt’s hegemonic role in the basin, and casts many shadows on the future of the Egyptian share of the Nile. So our question is: what should Egypt celebrate on Nile day?

Night boats on the Nile….Cairo…” by VasenkaPhotography released under CC-BY-20 licence.

Nile day official celebrations this year have been hosted by the Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa, at a very crucial time for Ethiopian politics: last week several political prisoners, including journalists and opposition leaders, were released; the prime minister Haile Mariam Desalegn resigned; and a state of emergency has been declared declared for the second time in less than two years. We begin the episode by discussing with Wondwosen Michago Seide (University of Lund) how these facts might impact on the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, as well as on the negotiations with Egypt and Sudan. He argues that the Dam transcend political, ethnic and generational cleavages in Ethiopia and therefore it will not be affected. As usual, we are interested in your opinion too.

Then we move from Addis to Cairo to discuss media, science and Nile politics with Rawia Tawfiq, assistant professor of political science at Cairo University, and Ayah Aman, journalist at Al Shorouk newspaper. Rawia’s recent publications include a book chapter with Ines Dombrowksi, discussing the opportunity of shifting from the idea of sharing water to the idea of sharing the economic benefits of water. In the podcast we discuss if there is room to promote such a shift in the contemporary Egyptian public debate, as well as the and the role that researchers could play in it. You should listen carefully to her remarks on the friction between scientific data and their political interpretation: what seems rational from an economic or ecological perspective might not always be politically feasible or desirable by those in power.

With Ayah go back to the days of the Egyptian revolution in 2011: that was also the time when Egyptians heard for the first time about the commencement of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Ayah discusses what is left of the legacy of the revolution when it comes to social media and communication practices. One of my readings to prepare the conversation was “The city always win” by the Anglo-Egyptian filmmaker Omar Robert Hamilton. It’s a fiction book about the revolution, social media, where female characters play a prominent role. I was therefore very curious to discuss with Ayah the challenges that a female journalist might face when reporting on Nile and water issues, traditionally considered a rather masculine field. I am sure Margreet Zwarteveen, Edwin Rap and many others will be interested in Ayah’s answer.

I felt very honored to have Rawia and Ayah as guests in our podcast. While listening to their bold remarks I was thinking that it is relatively easy for me to comment on Nile politics, media and science in Egypt from a university desk in the Netherlands. Much more challenging, and precious!, is their daily work and sharp contribution from the field in Egypt. This is something that we should all celebrate and support!

We begun the podcast by celebrating the release of political prisoners in Ethiopia: journalists like Eskinder Nega, or scholars and political activists like Merera Gudina. Unfortunately too many are still in jail because of what they dare to say or to research, not only in Ethiopia. Specifcally, when I think about media and research in Egypt I cannot forget two persons. The first one is Alaa abdel el Fattah, media activist who has been jailed as political prisoner under Mubarak, then under Morsi and now under al-Sisi. The second one is Giulio Regeni, Italian PhD student that was kidnapped, brutally tortured and killed two years ago while he was conducting research in Cairo. After two years we still don’t know who the instigators and perpetrators of that murder are. This episode of The Sources of the Nile is dedicated to both of them. This week we have been celebrating the Nile and I hope that we could soon celebrate justice and freedom for Alaa as well justice and the truth for Giulio.

You can listen to the full episode here:


Cite this blog post
Emanuele Fantini (2018, February 24). Nile day: should Egypt celebrate? FLOWs. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Emanuele Fantini

Emanuele (@emanufanti) is senior lecturer and researcher at the Water Governance Department of IHE Delft. Committed to public engagement and crossover projects with artists and journalists, Emanuele coordinates the project “Open Water Diplomacy. Media, science and transboundary cooperation in the Nile basin”, he hosts the podcasts “The Sources of the Nile”, “Water Alternatives Podcast”, and “Si dice acqua”, and he is the editor of IHE Delft Water Governance Blog, FLOWs.

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