Climate change will affect Africa disproportionately. The Nile basin is 10% of the African landmass but contains 40% of its population, including some of the oldest African civilizations and states. Egypt, “The Gift of the Nile”, could experience serious water shortage by 2025, due to population growth, economic growth and climate change. This risk is aggravated by four distinct ongoing factors
1- The decline of the Sudan into a failed state. The Sudan has been Egypt’s “buffer” for use of the Nile.
2- The large scale purchases of land in the Nile basin by external powers. China, Gulf countries and Multi-nationals are all buying land in the African heartland south of the Sudan. No doubt the water use will increase.
3- The mismanagement of agricultural and water policy by inept governments. Ethiopia, with the encouragement of China, has been particularly inept in a combination of neglect, land sale and attempts to dam up the Nile.
4- The failure of the Nile basin governments to agree on common policies. Egypt, the largest country, has ignored this problem for decades.
The focus of Egyptian foreign policy since the 1940’s, when the Muslim Brothers stockpiled arms for expeditions into Palestine, has been the Arab world and Israel. This is a perversion of Egyptian interests. Israel is an emotional issue, but not an existential threat to Egypt. Egypt has little leverage over any of the Arab countries, nor Israel. The Arab-Israeli wars have drained Egypt, while most Arab countries sat on the sidelines and cheered.
While everyone is arguing about the exact nature of the Islamist society, no one is paying attention to the fact that Egypt’s future, indeed survival, is linked closely with Africa. Egyptians have always attempted to suppress their African links. Perhaps it is a desire to be accepted by the West, or the effect of Islamist thinking which emphasizes Arabian links. Whatever the reason, it is an unhealthy state.
Almost any attempt to engage with Africa will mean that Egypt needs to reassure African countries about the Islamist trends. The disasters of the Sudan(and now Nigeria) have made most African countries wary of Islamists. Egypt will need to both stabilize the Sudan (most likely by ditching its current pseudo-Islamists rulers) and create a sensible policy with Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya to manage the Nile. Egypt also needs to displace some of the external actors, such as China, and can do so only with trust and a fair share of economic strength. This is a major administrative and executive shift, and will require innovative economic thinking and use of global capital and technology. Are the Islamists the best candidates for this shift?