Cairo — President Sadat's suggestion that Egypt provide Nile water to Israel has aroused an emotion-charged controversy in Egypt. Mr. Sadat thinks the scheme may contribute to the achievement of a comprehensive peace. But critics claim that such a project would contribute to the realization of a slogan engraved in the Israeli parliament building, "From the Nile to the Euphrates."
President Sadat originally mentioned the idea in late September during his visit to Haifa, Israel. He suggested providing Nile water to help in the reclamation of the Israeli Negev Desert. Later, he modified the idea to provide water to the holy sites in Jerusalem.
For Mr. Sadat, the Nile water scheme is another in a series of good-will gestures to show that Egypt harbors no ill intentions towards Israel. His intention is to provide the right atmosphere for possible Israeli concessions on other issues, such as autonomy for West Bank Palestinians.
On Nov. 27 Mr. Sadat inaugurated work on Egypt's Salam "peace canal." The canal, taking water from the eastern or Damietta branch of the Nile delta to the Sinai, will help reclaim up to 600,000 acres of land in the vicinity of the Suez Canal. Critics of the Nile water proposal fear that the canal may one day be used to carry water to Israel.
An article in the leftist newspaper Progress questions whether Egypt has extra water to give Israel. The paper notes that Egypt has been studying various ways to conserve water, such as charging peasants for its use.
Egypt has contributed half the cost of constructing the $300 million Jonglei Canal in Sudan to save eight million cubic meters of Nile water annually, which will be split between the two countries.
The leftist paper also points out that Egypt plans to reclaim up to 2.8 million acres of land by the year 2000. To do so, it will have to find new sources of water to fulfill its own needs.
Even the moderate editor of the influential October magazine, Anis Mansour, pointed out in a recent editorial that "Israel is complaining of a continuous decrease in her water resources. . . . Thirty percent of her drinking water comes from the slopes of the Golan Heights, 30 percent from the Litani River [in Lebanon]. . . . The old Jewish dreamers were no idiots when they thought of a greater Israel extending from the Nile to the Euphrates. They meant to get water from the two rivers."
The Progress newspaper goes so far as to say that "Israel was unable to get the Nile by force so it got it by peace."