Understanding ‘the other:’ My travels from Egypt to Ethiopia

Posted: July 24, 2014 in Alarabiya
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Egypt and Ethiopia issued a joint statement a few weeks ago, confirming their mutual commitment to the principles of cooperation, mutual respect and good neighborly relations as well as to the principles of respecting international law and achieving common interests.

The statement was issued by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn following discussions they held in Malabo during the recent African summit.

The statement reminds of the special relations the two countries enjoyed before they witnessed what I see as an obvious chill in ties during the eras of Hosni Mubarak and Mohammad Mursi.

If we take a quick look at the Egyptian-Ethiopian relationship, we realize that it dates back to Egypt under the pharaohs, before borders were crystallized, and that it has continued to develop and flourish thorough consequent periods until its decline during the Ottoman era.

I visited Ethiopia in an attempt to understand the situation, as our problem is that we always have a preconception about certain issues and people

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

This change in relations was, I believe, due to the Ottoman Empire’s participation in the struggle between Islamic emirates and Ethiopia as well as the Ottomans’ settling of Ethiopia’s coastline and preventing the local population from communicating with the outside world.

This situation continued as such until Mohammad Ali seized power in Egypt and later Sudan. This led to the establishment of joint borders between Egypt and Ethiopia.

Understand the situation

I visited Ethiopia in an attempt to understand the situation, as our problem is that we always have a preconception about certain issues and people. It’s these preconceptions that make us arrive at the wrong conclusions. My attempt to understand was an attempt to understand what is currently happening regarding the Nile Basin issue and regarding Ethiopia’s stance on the matter.

It’s also an attempt to understand where we currently stand.

Ethiopia is a territory inhabited since ancient times and it’s one of the African countries with the longest history of independence – though not continuously. Ethiopia maintained its independence during the period of colonization in Africa and it remained as such until 1936 when the Italian army invaded it.

British and Ethiopian forces defeated Italian forces in 1941 but Ethiopia did not restore its sovereignty until the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement was signed in December 1944.

We also have Islamic ties with it as Ethiopia is thought to have been the first place to embrace the first wave of Muslims who migrated from Makkah to flee the Quryash’s persecution and King Aṣḥama ibn Abjar.

Ethiopia’s rivers all head toward the west and end at the Nile River valley – except for the Omo River located in the south that heads toward a lake. The Tekeze River, also known as “Setit” locally, rises in the Ethiopian Highlands and flows north. But one of Ethiopia’s biggest rivers is Abbay, or the Blue Nile, which originates from Lake Tana and the Lesser Abbay River which rises in the mountain of Gojjam.

Ethiopia’s area is 1,127,127 km2 and has a population of around 96,633,458, according to the CIA Factbook. Ethiopia’s frequent droughts in the past century have led to significant humanitarian and environmental losses. There are various languages and races in Ethiopia as well as various religions. The origins of the people are diverse, ranging from Oromo, Amhara, Tigreans, Somali among others.

As I said, I went to Ethiopia in an attempt to understand. The truth is that we all need to come closer and understand this cultural and historical diversity as well as the relations that we hope can be better than they have been in the past.

This article was first published in al-Masry al-Youm on July 20, 2014.

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