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An Egyptian cyber attack on Ethiopia by hackers is the latest strike over the Grand Dam

Zecharias Zelalem

In an extension of a bilateral dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over the $4.8 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being built on the Nile River, Egyptian hackers launched a cyber attack on a number of Ethiopian government websites over the course of the past week.

The two countries have been at loggerheads with each other for years over Ethiopia’s construction of the massive hydroelectric dam on the Nile—Egypt’s sole water source for irrigation farming and in general for its 100 million-strong population. But as the source of 85% of the Nile’s waters, Ethiopia maintains that the Chinese-backed dam is crucial for attaining developmental goals and combating poverty. Under construction since 2011, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) continues to be a source of growing tension between the two states.

The animosity has seen Ethiopia enter the crosshairs of Egyptian hackers numerous times in recent years. The hackers, who claimed to belong to the “Cyber_Horus Group,” left messages on the homepage of a Ethiopian regional police force training center, threatening war over the Nile and a “Pharaonic curse,” upon Ethiopians. Most of the hacked websites seen by Quartz Africa included the message from a Pharaonic painting: “If the river’s level drops, let all the Pharaoh’s soldiers hurry and return only after the liberation of the Nile, restricting its flow.”

Similar messages with the group’s logo and Egyptian pharaoh motifs were left on about a dozen other government webpages. Messages celebrating Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi were also visible. There is no known link between the hackers and the Egyptian government.

In a statement, Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency (INSA) claimed on Monday it was able to thwart a massive cyber attack by “cyber criminals” targeting Ethiopia’s political and economic infrastructure. Despite the taunting messages and images from the hackers being removed, most of the targeted websites remained offline as of Saturday morning (Jun. 27).

Egypt has a history of threatening military action against states that contemplate building dams on the Nile River. In 1979, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat stated that “the only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.”

Observers believe a war over the Nile is unlikely, but worsening ties over Ethiopia’s intention to start storing the Nile’s water in the dam’s reservoir next month saw Egypt call for UN intervention this week.

On the brink of a diplomatic fallout, talks were held by video conference on Friday (Jun. 26) between the leaders of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, mediated by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa on behalf of the African Union. According to reports, Ethiopia has agreed with the other nations to hold off from filling the dam for another two weeks. The cyber attacks by hackers in Egypt appear to have had little or no effect on the time sensitive, tense negotiations.

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