Global Fire Power, a site specialising in military affairs, revealed in its 2021 annual report on the world’s armies that Egypt ranks ninth among the largest and most powerful armies in the world.
Within a matter of years, Egypt has succeeded in raising its military rank from 13th to 9th. This indicates the unprecedented development enjoyed by all branches of the Egyptian Armed Forces, which we follow daily, whether from continuous updates or announced arms deals.
This development also appears through the keenness to raise the efficiency of equipment and personnel, as well as technical and military cooperation, with the world’s largest armies.
This force may make some people wonder why Egypt is silent on the encroachment made by much smaller countries on its territory, and why it does not use its force against them. Here we must return to the statement in which President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi emphasised that Egypt’s army is one of the most powerful armies in the world, but it is a rational army that protects and does not threaten.
In other words, President Al-Sisi means that possessing excessive force does not necessarily mean that you use it in all circumstances and times. The matter is related to the sensitivity of each situation, its circumstances, and its regional and international complexities.
Ethiopia may be one of the examples that require the use of Egypt’s military force to deter this system, and secure the country’s only source of water, River Nile. Ethiopia ranks far lower on the world military order compared to Egypt, with 50 ranks coming between the two.
Besides the weakness of its army, Ethiopia is a country that has faced many crises, as it suffers from civil war and ethnic conflicts. Indeed, the internal problems in Ethiopia are extremely complex, and there are no pre-prepared solutions for them.
The matter has reached the point where experts and specialists are calling for the need to implement the idea of separation between regions, or in other words, the division of Ethiopia into several countries.
This matter is exactly what Egypt fears, because fragmentation means the dispersion of interests and the multiplicity of beneficiaries, and matters may reach internationalisation. And this result may be similar to what Ethiopia might face in the event of a military strike by Egypt. In fact in many crises, having one party to negotiate with, regardless of the degree of their intransigence, is much better than negotiating with several parties who are in conflict with each other.
Ethiopia, previously called Abyssinia by the Arabs before more recently taking on its current name, which means “dark face” in Greek, is a mixture of different races and ethnicities. The country is home to more than 80 ethnic groups representing differences in language, religion, and customs.
The Ethiopian system is in a state of unprecedented fragility because ethnic quotas rule the country, and there is a long history of political crises that have accumulated over the past decades that led to the current scene.
One of the causes of the current crisis is the system of distributing political positions in the Ethiopian government that depends on ethnic budgets and quotas, including the Oromo, Tigray, and Amharic. It also takes into account the presence of an extension of some of those tribes into southern Sudan.
Despite this, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed continues to insist on using the crisis to obstruct any negotiations, whether related to the country’s large dam project or the internal conflict. He aspires to win the negotiations in order to dictate his conditions to everyone. I believe that this illusion will not last for long due to the complexities of the map of alliances and regional and international interests in that region of the world.
The Egyptian position is settled and has been announced more than once. Egypt does not seek to stop the prosperity and development of Ethiopians.
Rather, all it is demanding is not to reduce its share of water. It also announced during the negotiations that it would accept the shortage of its share of water until the construction of the dam as long as the flood water was sufficient.
However, it only required stopping storage and filling during drought years and prolonged drought. In all cases, and despite the Ethiopian intransigence, Cairo will remain keen on continuing negotiations and excluding military solutions as long as hopes remain for reaching satisfactory solutions that do not harm one party at the expense of the other.
What governs the Egyptian position in its commitment is its unwillingness to overthrow the Ethiopian regime. Simply because this system is perhaps the best of the worst among the options available, and this is the core of any negotiating position.
By Dr Hatem Sadiq, Professor at Helwan University