Egypt, Aswan and Coming Events

by George Spall

Egypt 's Aswan High Dam is now a little more than two years old, officially. It began holding back water in 1960, long before Russia's Premier and Egypt's President opened it. Since then, it has posed some complex problems for the world's top Hydrologists. The planners had estimated an evaporation loss of 10,000 cubic metres per annum. When Egypt's own Dr Abdul Aziz Ahmed told them in 1964 that they had overlooked the fast wind velocity that would sweep over the water and lift that loss to 14,000 cubic metres, they sacked him. He predicted disaster. It may not be that yet, but it certainly is a great disappointment. Israel's prophet Isaiah said that it would be, 2,700 years ago. And disaster is coming. Isaiah said that too.

President Nasser had good reason to hope for great benefits when he committed his nation to an expenditure of $1,200 million. He expected to get electricity for every village in Egypt, 80,000,000 cubic feet of water, to double the arable and irrigated land area, to be able eventually to feed over the 60 million population by 2,000 .A.D. He expected to pay for it in two years and to double the national income within ten. Instead, he has about half that water, has added only 300,000 square miles instead of 1,300,000; is getting barely a third of the electricity potential out of the 12 magnificent turbine generators, and loses about 15% of that in transmission due to dust and sand on the wires. And he has silt problems in the turbines. Usually only two of them run at a time. No one knows just how much water seeps out through the limestone. There are other disappointments which Isaiah listed in amazing detail.

In February this year it was announced that Japan had lent Egypt $140 million to help her clear the Suez Canal. Egypt had asked for $1,000 million. West Germany has also been asked for a huge loan. Egypt is very deeply in debt, and not all of it is due to her four inconclusive wars with Israel. She owes Russia for the guns, the planes, the missiles and an untold amount of military hardware besides, it is true, but the debt started with the Dam and the many agricultural and industrial projects that belong to it. Egypt has lost seven years' revenue from the Canal, the Sinai oil fields, and the revenue from thousands of fishermen and cotton growers, out of work through the Dam's effect on their industries. President Sadat must wish he could simply pile the huge debts into the chasm behind the Dam and let the rising water bury them out of sight. He cannot do this because the water may never reach the desired depth or expanse. His own Professor Abdel Fattah Gohar fears that if it ever does, it will take 200 years.

This magazine published an article on this subject in November 1971. A number of factors make it desirable to re-tell what was said then. One of these is the realization that what is happening in Egypt now marks a critical hour on the clock-face of predicted history. Israel's national history began in Egypt with the great Escape led by Moses. Israel's modern national history is just as deeply involved with the Nile and its people. For the fourth time in 25 years, Egypt has sought to liquidate Israel and failed. It is this time factor that is so important for us today. It is as if an alarm clock was pre-set by both Daniel and Isaiah to tell us when to expect Egypt's disaster. That time has begun. It ought to be a comfort to Egypt and a testimony to the mercies of God, that the nation will emerge into a time of peace and spiritual renewal when it is over.

A second reason for repeating this article is the fact that the same chapter in Isaiah that pinpoints this time of crisis also mentions a rather mysterious, but mighty, even terrible Personage who will come on the world scene at this period when the Aswan Dam and its consequences become very obvious. Daniel, Joel, and other Biblical writers all refer to him too, by various names -- Antichrist, Desolator, Lawless One, and so on. So, not only Egypt and Israel, but the world at large ought to listen to the ringing of the alarm bell on the prophetic clock. This World Figure is to head up a united Europe, especially Ten nations in that federation. Europe is already in great turbulence, preparing the stage for his arrival. Let us spend a little reading time, looking at what Isaiah Chapter 19 has to say.

And let us not be too clever for our own good. Why should it be difficult to accept Divine inspiration when the prophets who claimed it, proved it by the fact that their predictive statements have come true? Jeremiah said: "When the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known that the Lord hath sent him." (Jeremiah 28:9) Moses spoke similarly in Deuteronomy 18:20-22. And Amos declared: "Surely the Lord will do nothing but he revealeth his secrets unto his servants the prophets." We may reasonably expect that when the Eternal wants his hearers "to get the message" the language He uses will be comprehensible and believable. Some of the original Hebrew in Isaiah 19 is admittedly difficult, and open to alternative translation in some places, but it also must be kept in mind that a lot of the difficulties arise because of a strange reluctance to take what is written at face value.

The chapter is in two parts. It is noteworthy that the words "In that day" are used six times from verse 16 onwards but not at all in the fifteen verses preceding. "In THAT day" refers to a time, well known to Israel, called "The Day of the Lord" and a study of the hundred or so occasions when these words are used make it more than obvious that, however silent and aloof the Lord may appear to be now, very soon He will be very active indeed. When that period of time arrives, not for a simple twenty-four hour day, but for an era when His power and authority will be undisputed, will He "judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He has ordained."

When Isaiah promises that "in that day" shall Egypt be like to women, and the land of Judah a terror to it, and, "in that day" there shall be an altar to the Lord in Egypt, he is putting those promises into a time slot in history. So, when he gives precise details about the Dam and its disappointments in the few verses just prior to those promises in verses 16 to 25, he is sounding the bell on the alarm clock. He is saying, "Now is the time to awaken; the day of the Lord is nearly here." Can you not hear the bell?

Verse 1. "The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord rides upon a swift cloud and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it." That ancient land was always idolatrous. There was a time when its gods were numbered by the thousands. Engineers have just moved a few of its vast figures to safety, away from the rising waters of Lake Nasser. The word for 'idol' is in Hebrew, "a thing of nought" which is a good description. Egypt follows Islam these days but still holds to many of its ancient superstitions and folklore. All of them "are things of nought". When the judgement of God falls, small wonder if the heart of Egypt will tremble.

Verse 2. "And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians, and they shall fight every one against his brother ... city against city ..." Since Isaiah's day, Egypt has had a most unhappy history. A succession of conquerors have exploited and ruined it, sapping its morale to the point of exhaustion exactly as predicted in verse 3. "And the spirit of Egypt will fail, and I will destroy the counsel thereof."

Reference to the history books shows the heights and depths of grandeur and despair through which the country has passed. Some of the fratricide of these verses has been experienced before and has recently been current history. Witness the hundreds of political prisoners who perished in Nasser's prisons after attempting to win political and personal freedom. Witness the coup that failed in June 1971 and the immediate execution of many. Witness the shooting of the Generals by Sadat after the war of last October. Ever since he succeeded Nasser, Sadat has had to cope with insurrection and attempted 'take-overs'. During the June 1967 war, Egyptian tanks destroyed each other through confusion. When his troops started their retreat, Nasser had the desert water supply turned off in their path. No one will ever know how many died on the desert sands.

Now look at this amazing situation. Verse 3. " ... and they shall seek to the idols, (things of nought) and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits and to the wizards." One of the attempted coups against Sadat was instigated by a séance which was attended by a group of dissidents. A tape recording of one séance is quoted by "The New York Times". It revealed that the former War Minister, General Mohammed Fawzi asked the spirit of an old sheikh, "What would be the best time to start a war against Israel?" The General now languishes in jail so apparently the spirit was not too well informed!


Verse 4. "And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord, and a fierce king shall rule over them." A stricter translation would read: "Into the hand of cruel lords." It is usual to render the Hebrew 'adonim' a plural word, with the singular 'lord', but it is to be doubted if custom is always right. From Assyrian and Persian, through Grecian and Roman ages, to Byzantine and Arabian times, and indeed right through to modern history, Egypt has had a succession of overlords, many of them very hard indeed. Egypt has had much difficulty in the past few years with Russian 'advisors' and military technicians and political agents. Now Colonel Gaddafi of Libya poses a problem. He has twice pressed for full union with Egypt, and Sadat may well think twice before yielding to a strong man like Gaddafi who could prove to be a cruel lord. Then of course, there is to be that Powerful Personage, spoken of in Daniel 11:35 to 44 who is "to stretch forth his hand also upon the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. He shall have power over the treasures of gold and silver and over all the precious things of Egypt."

Nor do we need to push these prophecies into the far distant future, because verse 5 reads (and we quote from the Jewish translation by Alexander Harkavy, 1916, published by the Hebrew Publishing Co. New York.) "And the waters shall fail from the sea and the river shall be wasted and dry up; and the reeds and the flags shall wither. And the rivers shall become foul and the streams of Egypt shall dwindle and dry up; and the flags shall wither. The paper reeds by the brooks, by the mouth of the brooks and everything sown by the brooks shall wither and be driven away, and be no more. The fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish. Moreover, they that work in fine flax, and they that weave networks shall be confounded. And her foundations shall be broken; and all that make sluices, grieved in soul."


First, we must freely admit that Isaiah describes in unmistakable terms what could be expected to follow construction of a dam capable of cutting off the waters of the Nile. Second, we ought to see if anything like this has ever been known in Egypt's history prior to this decade, and if not, is it the case now? Fortunately Egypt has always been a nation that kept records. If these questions can be answered in the affirmative, we should check and see if Isaiah does in fact speak of a dam, especially the High Aswan Dam.

It is easy to see that the present Dam could cut off the waters of the Nile. It does it now. Only those amounts necessary for the operation of its Turbines and some irrigation are permitted to go through. Untold acres of papyrus and other vegetation are withered. The 4,000 mile long river breaks into a delta of seven streams at its mouth, so that to say "the streams of Egypt shall dwindle" is very apt. The verse says that the water shall be wasted. The world's press is quoting observers when it reports, "The Water is seeping away through porous limestone... The hope that fine particles of clay sediment would settle in the pores and close them have not been fulfilled." "The water is seeping away into who knows what distant bit of desert." "The silt-free water has also carried off part of the river bed's surface. This scouring process is undermining three old barrier-dams and 550 bridges built since 1952. To slow the current and so prevent their collapse, the Ministry of the High Dam has announced a plan to build 10 barrier-dams between the Aswan and the sea at a cost of $250 million, about a fifth of the cost of the dam itself."

Verse 6 says, "The rivers shall become foul." Egypt has never been free of blood fluke disease, Bilharzia, in all its history. The parasite's eggs have been found in mummies as old as the Pharaohs. But now, without the surge of the flood waters to clean out the thousands of sluice ponds, the warm sluggish pools harbour millions of snails, hosts of the foul disease. A healthy human only has to set foot in such infected waters to pick up Bilharzia. One out of every two Egyptians is affected. The World Health Organization believes that the cost to Egypt is over $500 million a year and rising. It fears that extending the irrigation will add another 2,500,000 victims. In addition, the stagnant pools invite mosquitoes. Malaria is a continuing and worsening scourge. But there are advantages. It helped Russia decide to take home thousands of her 'Technicians'. They were getting sick and being affected by other intestinal diseases besides Bilharzia.

Verse 8 speaks of the misery and poverty of the fishermen which would follow the drying up of the Nile. Isaiah indicates that both net fishermen and anglers would suffer. Clair Sterling writes, "The aquatic food chain has been broken in the Mediterranean along a continental shelf 12 miles wide and 600 miles long. The lack of Nile sediment has reduced plankton and organic carbons to a third of what they were, either killing the sardines, mackerel and crustaceans in the area or driving them away. As a result 30,000 fishermen have lost their livelihood. The 18,000 tons of sardines they used to bring in each year, a fifth of the national fish dish, have disappeared. Some 19,000 residents used to farm the fish in ponds created by bars built up by the silt. This worsens the unemployment problem and offsets the gains made by the extra irrigated land."


Now we must check on verse 10. The King James Version reads: "And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof, all that make sluices and ponds for fish." There is quite a different translation in the Jewish version by A. Harkavy: "And her foundations shall be broken; all that make sluices, grieved in soul." First, we must look at that word 'sluices'. The Hebrew word startles us, so we look again and find it is in the SINGULAR number, 'sluice' not 'sluices'. Then we wonder if a mere sluice could accomplish all that ruin. So we look up modern Hebrew dictionaries and discover that 'seker' is in fact the ordinary word for 'Dam'. Never in Egypt's previous history has such a dam been thrown across the Nile till the British Engineer Sir William Wilcox did it in 1890. Then in 1913, under Sir Murdoch McDonald, it was raised by the British. Russia has built on those British foundations which is why it is called 'The High Dam'.

We venture the opinion that the translators are mistaken when they render the plural 'adonim' by the singular 'lord' and the singular word 'seker' by the plural word 'sluices'. One thing is clear, the Dam stands as a monument to Isaiah's accuracy "as the Spirit gave him utterance". The Holy Scriptures produced by the Jewish Publication Society of America emphasize "all that make dams shall be grieved in soul." And "the purposes" have been broken. Much less water, much less power. More land but much less fishing. Many more people, but a vast number, perhaps more than half, sick. The Dam cracked so that German engineers have been brought in to help. Harkavy's words "foundations broken" are justified. All this is surely grief of soul.

What Isaiah said is now a fact of life -- and death -- to Egypt's millions.

We must conclude with the hope that Isaiah offers, vv20 to 25. "For they (Egypt) shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them. And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day ... and they shall return even to the Lord and he shall be entreated of them and shall heal them . In that day shall Israel be a third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the land; whom the Lord of Hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel, mine inheritance."