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March 12, 2020


The giant Hidase Dam being built in Ethiopia close to the border with Sudan

A Copt who is versed in his national history cannot but love Ethiopia. It’s not simply because Ethiopia follows the same theology as ours, or because the Church in Ethiopia had been until the twentieth century part of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the daughter church of the Church in Egypt. When the Arabs and Muslims were oppressing and persecuting the Copts, it was Ethiopia – and Nubia – who stood beside the Copts, and often pressurised the authorities in Cairo to ameliorate their tyranny against the Copts. Nubia has sadly succumbed to the Muslim pressure, but Ethiopia hasn’t and has miraculously survived the long assault on her by Muslim invaders which continued until the last was between Egypt and Ethiopia in the second half of the nineteenth century (1874-1876), and in which the gallant Ethiopians defeated the invading forces of Egypt representing the Ottoman Empire. The Copts are therefore in love with Ethiopia – love that has not been born only from brotherhood in religion and theology but above all from a feeling of deep gratitude for what the Ethiopians had done in the past to protect the Copts. The Copts genuinely wish good to Ethiopia as they wish good to Egypt. Regarding Egypt, no other nation in Egypt can outdo us in the love of Egypt, so we don’t need to dwell more on that and we don’t need to prove to anyone in Egypt that we love Egypt.

Our position regarding the Blue Nile dam, Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (or Hidase Dam), which Ethiopia is building must take this long history of brotherhood into account at the same time it elevates our patriotic feelings towards Egypt. But our position must also be built on common sense and not be marred by the kind of ignorance and hysteria that behold Egypt these days.

The construction of the dam is almost 70% complete. When it is complete, its reservoir will take anywhere between 5 and 15 years to fill with water. The dam is essential for Ethiopia’s development and to prevent the cycles of draught and famine that have ravaged Ethiopia so many times in the past. Egypt fears that the dam may cause a permanent reduction of water availability secondary to evaporation from the Ethiopian dam’s reservoir, but that is actually an irrational fear. If anything, the building of the Ethiopian dam will reduce the overall evaporation which is excessive at the Aswan Dam’s reservoir due to the cooler climate in Ethiopia, and will therefore increase water availability for Egypt. Egypt also fears that water availability for her will be temporarily reduced during the filling of the dam’s reservoir. But this is where negotiation between the two countries, in addition to Sudan, needs to focus. It is essential that the dam’s reservoir is filled slowly, but not too slowly, so as not to cut water supplies to Egypt, and Sudan, during the filling period.

But Egyptians are in love with themselves, and they believe themselves superior to Ethiopia and can deal her a defeat through war, and therefore stop the building of the dam. The superiority of Egypt over Ethiopia in war is of course not supported by history. And the threats to Ethiopia over the dam are not new: back in 2013, President Morsi who led an Islamist government, talked about ways of destroying the dam, and revealed plans to support Ethiopia’ s opposition to mount violent attacks on the government and destabilise Ethiopia. This kind of threat still continues under the military dictatorship of President Sisi. In the main stream media and social media we read bellicose calls for Egypt to send a few jet fighters to destroy the dam! It’s completely mad and counterproductive had it not been an absolute bluff and posturing of the kind which characterise many Egyptians.

So, what do Copts who regard themselves as Coptic nationalists think about the Hidase Dam? Three principles guide us:

  1. Ethiopia has the right to build a dam on the Blue Nile to retain water for its agriculture and to generate enough hydroelectric power to help in the development of Ethiopia.
  2. Egypt and Sudan have the right to worry about the flow of the Blue Nile water into them. But the panic one sees particularly in Egypt is irrational and is borne of ignorance.
  3. We support bilateral negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia to agree on the time period in which the dam’s reservoir should reach its fill capacity. The aim is to enable Ethiopia to build its dam without negative effects on Egypt or Sudan. This can be done but attitudes need to change and to work collaboratively.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Zack permalink
    April 18, 2020 11:49 pm

    Thankyou for this entry Dioscorus. I’ve noticed some modern average Egyptians (noncopts) are now claiming to be Copts, I saw three videos of them using the logic of “Egyptian=Copt & therefore all Egyptians are Copts” & the context of these videos is they are trying to convince other modern average Egyptians(noncopts) since most of them don’t buy this claim. Of course most of modern average Egyptians don’t call themselves Copts but there is a noticeable minority among now trying to opportunistically usurp Copt identity. Do you know when did this phenomenon start? From my understanding prior to modernity, none from among them called themselves Copts. Caliphs/historical rulers in Egypt also differentiated between Copts & noncopt Muslims in Egypt.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      April 19, 2020 12:16 am

      Dear Zack, thank you and happy Easter. I think this phenomenon is very recent, and has been expressed only after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001, an attack which was undertaken by Arabs, mainly from Saudi but with their leader being Egyptian. Following the backlash from the West against the Islamic terrorists, who were in this case were Arabs, and the increased association in Western mind between the Arabs and such attacks, Egyptian Muslims tried to dissociate themselves from the Arabs of Saudi and pose themselves as Egyptians who are unrelated to the Arabs.
      It is true that in the liberal period in the beginning of the twentieth century, and under the influence of the British, some liberal Muslim thinkers, saw themselves as Egyptian and not Arabs, but their influence was limited, and the idea remained elitist. It did not withstand the attacks by the emerging neo-Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood) and later the Arab nationalists.
      Although it is encouraging that Muslim Egyptians are restructuring their identity, there is something nasty in some of what they do – the intention of some seems to me to be a desire to deprive the Copts of their unique and great identity rather than a real and genuine desire to join them in it. In my view, this is the worst example of cultural appropriation, when the theft is not of a cultural object or item or symbol but of national identity.
      I hope to write about that in due course.

      • Zack permalink
        April 20, 2020 12:43 am

        Thankyou Dioscorus, looking forward to your piece on this. I personally find this phenomenon disturbing because it entails individuals who are obviously not us claiming to be so. It’s not like they abandon their Arabo-Islamic worldview when they claim our identity, they bring foreign outlooks & their own baggage into this. For example I had one tell me that “Muslims saved Egypt from racial Roman occupation” while simultaneously superficially claiming to be a Copt (this claim is clearly at odds with the standard Coptic worldview on this subject according to the literature on Coptic identity).

        There is no doubt that the Coptic identity was preserved by the Coptic community historically (who most of the Coptic community are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church), there is a book about “Coptic Identity and Ayyubid Politics in Egypt, 1218–1250” that attests to this fact. Our ancestors didn’t struggle so much to preserve this identity for us only for some noncopts with an identity issues to usurp it.

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