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Pharaonic prophecy raises fears of drought in Egypt

In light of the ongoing Nile dam crisis, Egypt fears long periods of drought as happened during the era of King Djoser, as depicted in a granite slab with inscriptions written in hieroglyphic script.
This picture taken on April 5, 2019 shows a view of hieroglyphic inscriptions and relief on a wall of the the New Kingdom period (16th-11th centuries BC) Temple of Seti I, at the archaeological site of Abydos near Egypt's southern city of Sohag, about 540 kilometres from the capital Cairo. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)        (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images)

CAIRO — An ancient pharaonic granite slab from the time of the ancient Egyptian King Djoser, which was discovered years ago, has recently resurfaced amid the crisis over the Ethiopian dam on the Nile River, raising the fears of Egyptians over a stone-carved inscription about the drying up of the Nile River.

The stone tells the story of a drought that occurred during King Djoser’s era that lasted for seven years, during which the Nile ceased flooding during its usual season.

In this context, Abdel Rahim Rihan, general director of the Department of Research, Archaeological Studies and Academic Publication in South Sinai of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, said, “There is a carved stone in the Seheil Island in Aswan, with an inscription mentioning seven years of drought and famine under King Djoser. In the upper part of the stone, Djoser is depicted making offerings to three Egyptian deities — Khnum, Satis and Anuket — during the era of Ptolemies, who ruled Egypt from 332 to 31 B.C.”

“The stone is a granite one cut in a rectangular shape. The inscription is written in hieroglyphic script with 42 columns. The upper part of the stone depicts three Egyptian deities, Khnum, Satis and Anuket, with Djoser holding offerings in his outstretched hands. A deep crack, which was already there when the inscriptions were made, cuts the stone in half. Some parts of it are damaged, rendering some passages of the text unreadable,” Rihan told Al-Monitor via phone.

“The stone depicts the king’s wrath and concern over the drought in Egypt that dragged on for seven years, as the Nile did not flood throughout this period. King Djoser later ordered that offerings be carried to the south to be offered to Khnum in a bid to please him,” Rihan said.

Egypt, whose land is mainly a desert with little rainfall, depends on the Blue Nile River for more than 95% of its water needs. Egypt has had concerns about its water security since 2011 when Ethiopia announced its intention to start building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) at a cost of $6 billion, which would retain 74 billion cubic meters annually of Nile River water. This would affect Egypt's share of the Blue Nile River and is an existential threat to Egypt.

Addis Ababa seeks to turn the GERD into the largest power project in the African continent, but Cairo fears this would impact its water shares exceeding 55 billion cubic meters annually, most of which it gets from the Blue Nile.

In his most recent statements upon the faltering of the last round of negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the GERD, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said at the UN Security Council that the issue of the dam had tremendous consequences on the Egyptian people, which necessitates efforts and cooperation on the part of the international community to reach a fair solution to this crisis.

Ethiopia had announced in July the completion of the initial filling of the dam without reaching an agreement with Sudan and Egypt. This angered the two downstream countries.

Shoukry stressed in his UN address that the GERD crisis threatens the water resources for 100 million Egyptians and poses great risks to an entire nation, noting that Egypt resorted to the Security Council to avoid further escalation.

Shoukry added that Egypt is well aware of the GERD’s importance for the Ethiopian people, but filling the dam unilaterally without any agreement would endanger Egypt and Sudan.

An agreement signed in 1959 stipulates the Nile water shares of Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia, among other African riparian countries, however, contests the legitimacy of that agreement. They argue that it was concluded during the Colonial era, during which African countries had no say in their internal affairs.

The per capita share of freshwater in Egypt annually has reached 570 cubic meters, or 150,000 gallons per person, while UN reports found that a water-poor country is one whose water shares are fewer than 1,000 cubic meters per capita per year.

Mohamed Nasr Allam, former minister of water resources and irrigation, expressed concern about the stalled GERD negotiations. Allam explained what went wrong in the talks.

“There was a lack of commitment to pledges on part of negotiators, particularly Ethiopia. There was no set agenda for any round of talks. The date of the negotiation round would be announced only a few hours before the talks began. There is only a moral commitment to abide by the talks until the construction of the dam is completed. The role of observers and experts, even the African Union itself, is ambiguous. Reluctance or embarrassment in issuing statements of condemnation or a summary of the obstacles and their causes. Finally, no party in the world is capable of predicting or knowing the results of the negotiation process,” Allam wrote on Facebook Sept. 14.

The last tripartite meeting was held Aug. 28-29 under the auspices of the African Union and in the presence of observers from the United States, South Africa and other member states. The talks did not yield any positive results or real indication to solve the disagreement between the three concerned countries over the GERD.

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