Monday, January 11, 2010

History: Memories of the Aswan High Dam

Al-Masry Al-Youm (Zeinab Abul-Magd)

The story of the High Dam was a tale of a nation, hikayit sha‘b, as Abdel Halim Hafiz chanted in an iconic song from the Nasserist period.

This nation lived under the yoke of British colonialism for over 70 years. After gaining independence, Egypt's revolutionary president, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, approached the World Bank to finance the construction of a dam on the Nile, a vital step towards economic development. The World Bank refused. In an audacious challenge to old and new imperialism, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 to acquire funding for the project. The struggling nation heroically endured subsequent military assaults and a trade embargo. The dam was eventually built.

“We said we would build and here we have built the high dam. Oh colonialism, we have built it with our hands, the high dam. With our money, with the hands of our workers,” Abdel Halim’s chorus enthusiastically repeated. Like this, the socialist dream began, only to fall apart, leaving behind memories of a vanished era.

The story of the High Dam at Aswan is indeed the tale of this nation. The stages of its history chronicle critical transformations in Egyptian history at large. During the last half century, the dam moved from being a celebrated monument to Egyptian independence to a forgotten barrage deep in the country's south. It was a state-engineered tool of anti-imperialist propaganda, whose splendor faded away with the downfall and fundamental reversion of the anti-imperial project.

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