September 25, 2011

Egypt and Ethiopia: "Everything Old is New Again"

We're focusing on Verdi's Aida lately, as Virginia Opera's first-ever production is fast approaching.  Like all dramas, the storyline to Aida is formed by conflict.  The conflicts explored include
  • the conflict between duty and personal happiness;
  • the conflict between father and daughter (always of interest to Verdi);
  • the conflict between two women in love with the same man; and
  • a conflict between two nations, Egypt and Ethiopia, during the time of the Pharoahs thousands of years ago.
That last one is the bloodiest of the group.  These two nations really had no use for each other.  Think Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Israel.  Think Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins.  Think Harry Potter and that dude with the weird nose thing going on.

So I got to wondering: what's the current state of Egyptian-Ethiopian relations?  Has the modern era brought a cessation of hostilities?  To the internet, at once!

It didn't take long to get my answer.  I found a fairly innocuous and apparently benign press release from some nameless bureaucrat in the hierarchy of pre-revolutionary Egyptian government, when Mubarek was still shakily warding off his inevitable fate early in 2011.  It's a model of sterile officious good cheer and bland neutrality.  Let me quote it here:

"Egypt's Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation expresses its hopes for new relations with Ethiopia while seeking clarification on the possible effects of the Millennium Dam project.

"(The Ministry) announced today that it wishes to open a new page in Egyptian-Ethiopian relations based on good will and the intention of improving cooperation around mutually advantageous developmental projects.

"...Egypt, in line with accepted legal practice, has officially requested from the Ethiopians all information related to the proposed 'Millennium Dam' on the Blue Nile so that Egypt can study its effects on the nature of the Nile and downstream countries.

"...Egypt's final position on the dam will be determined by its effect on Egypt's water quota. ...Egypt hopes Ethiopia will prove receptive to its initiative for buiding new relations based on transparency."

Well now, isn't that nice?  Downright neighborly, I'd say.   Then I kept reading.

You know how it is on the Internet; material is posted, and then readers can post their comments below.  My eye was drawn to a comment from an Ethiopian citizen.  Would he join Egypt in adding his blessings to this optomistic expression of "transparency"?

Oh no.  No, indeed.  Let me quote from his somewhat rabid diatribe.  Just for effect, to simulate what I sense was his (or her) tone, I will type in in bold-face, all caps.  The grammar is the writer's own; I have not corrected it.

"THEY HAVE NO RIGHT TO DETERMINE OR TO ACCEPT OR REJECT OR TO QUALIFY OR TO DISQUALIFY THE PROJECT!  IF THEY ARE COMING WITH THIS ATTITUDE THEY BETTER STAY IN EGYPT!

"ETHIOPIA MUST NEVER NEGOTIATE ON THIS MATTER.  WHO HAS GIVEN THEM THE QUOTA? WE DID NOT GIVE THEM.  THEY HAVE NO QUOTA ACCORDING TO ETHIOPIA.

"THE LEADERSHIP IN ETHIOPIA MUST STAND FIRM.  THIS NICETY OF EGYPT WANTS NEW RELATIONSHIP IS FAKE AND FALSE.  THEY ARE THE SAME PEOPLE. THEY ARE TRYING TO SMILE WHILE THEY ARE NOT SMILING!!!  THEY ARE TRYING TO CONFUSE OUR PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hoo-boy.  (Okay, I confess I added a few exclamation marks to convey the writer's indignation as potently as I could...  call it "blog-etic license"...)

5000 years later, and what's changed?

Nothin', honey...

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