A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Morsi's Brinksmanship on Ethiopia: A Dangerous Game?

Egypt's President Morsi, in an address to a rally of Islamist groups yesterday, called for Egyptians to unite against an external threat, in this case the controversial Ethiopian dam.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that Morsi is using the dam project as an attempt to rally the opposition behind him prior to big anti-Morsi demonstrations scheduled for June 30 and marking one year in power. From Ahram Online:
The president also said that "all options" were on the table to respond to the current situation and insisted that Egypt would not accept infringements on its water security.
"We have said several times that Egyptians with their revolution carry a message of peace...We do not want war, but we do not accept threats to our security."
Morsi also asked opposing political forces to stand united at a time when Egypt faces hard challenges and to put aside all political rivalries. He went on to call for "national reconciliation," adding that he was certain that political figures would respond positively to his appeals.
"The country demands that we stand united," he said, issuing his call for reconciliation only weeks before planned mass demonstrations on 30 June to demand snap presidential elections.
Morsi did say Egypt is committed to dialogue with Ethiopia and praised dialogue over other approaches, but the implied threat was clearly there.

While the outreach to his domestic opponents may be welcome, the apparent escalation of an international dispute in order to rally unity at home can be risky, and is already drawing criticism. International grandstanding and brinksmanship in an escalating situation can spin out of control easily; that should be obvious in the week of the 46th anniversary of the 1967 war, when Egypt paid a huge price for just such brinksmanship. True, Ethiopia and Egypt share no common border, and threats may be seen as empty, but domestic posturing in international disputes can put diplomatic solutions at risk.

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