Aswan Dam The greatest and biggest engineering project of the 20th century
Nasser's national dream, and the story of the struggle of a people who faced the tyranny of colonialism to achieve its dream, echoing the tones of victory: "We said, we will build and we built the high dam."
Flooded lands, thirsty desert, and huge amounts of water that cannot be used, all problems that preoccupied the mind of the Egyptian government after the revolution of July 23, 1952, the decision of the late leader Gamal Abdel Nasser to establish a huge dam that seizes the flood of the Nile and stores its water, and generates electricity from it within the borders of the Egyptian state, to be under full Egyptian control.
Construction studies began on October 18, 1952, after the engineer, Adrian Daninos, the Egyptian-Greek origin engineer, proposed to the leadership of the 1952 revolution, a project to build a huge dam at Aswan; to seize the flood of the Nile, store its water and generate electricity from it, and in early 1954, two German companies offered a design for the project, and an international committee approved this design in December of the same year after reviewing it.
The late President Gamal Abdel Nasser sought to turn the idea of building the dam into a "national dream," worth recruiting all the energies and experience to put it into effect, a dream that is not intended to turn into an inconvenient nightmare, which the Egyptians hope to achieve to undermine the violence of those waters that flood their lands, harness them to generate electricity, expand the agricultural area, and use that lifeline to be a source of prosperity, not a source of misery, these dreams that caught the leader's hand, so that the search for sources to finance the construction of the dam begins. The High Dam was always on the top of his agenda with the late President and in his discussions and meetings with Arab and foreign officials.
The project was presented to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) for funding. The Bank issued a report, published in June 1955, in which it confirmed the integrity of the dam construction project. The report stated that eight million dollars had been approved for Egypt to carry out some preparatory work for the project, including the construction of railways and housing for workers on the site.
On December 16, 1955, Dr. Abdel-Moneim El-Qaysouni, the Egyptian Minister of Finance and Trade at the time, began a round of foreign visits, during which he conducted many negotiations, which resulted in an agreement - in principle - announced by the US State Department at the time, that the World Bank, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom, would finance the high dam project at a cost of $1.3 billion.
The United States announced that the dam will not be financed in a single installment, but in three stages. The first: the United States provides 56 million dollars, Britain provides 14 million dollars, and then in the second stage it provides loans worth 200 million dollars from the World Bank, in addition to 130 million dollars as a loan from the United States of America, and 80 million dollars as a loan from Britain, provided that these loans are repaid as annual installments with interest of 5% over 40 years.
The third American condition was that Egypt should bear in the third phase the rest of the amount in local currency, provided that two grants, the first, from the United States worth 20 million pounds, and the second from Britain worth 5.5 million pounds, were added at this stage.
The American-English offer to finance the construction of the dam was not as smooth as its announcement, but the two countries imposed more chains to restrict the implementation of the project. The first of the chains of restriction was Egypt's transfer of one-third of its national income for ten years to build the high dam, followed by another restrictions on imposing control on other economic projects, and then other chains by setting controls to limit the increase of inflation and governmental expenditure.
The first chains of restriction of Egyptian ambition were completed, and the following conditions began to coalesce, to restrict the Egyptian decision to grow and prosper, as America and Britain also stipulated the imposition of a control on the expenses of the Egyptian government, and on foreign agreements or foreign debts, and that Egypt does not accept other loans or conclude agreements in this regard except after the approval of the World Bank, and the last requirement was to retain the right to reconsider the financing policy towards the Egyptian project in cases of necessity.
The Anglo - American conditions did not provoke the anger of Nasser alone, but they did provoke the Egyptians, and reminded them of the surveillance method imposed by the United States and Britain on Egypt, during the era of Khedive Ismail, when the Suez Canal was established. Despite the anger, Nasser welcomed Eugene Black, President of the World Bank in Egypt.
After negotiations, Abdel Nasser agreed that the World Bank would have Reasonable Rights to inspect the measures that Egypt would take to reduce inflation, and an agreement was concluded, which was announced on February 8, 1956, according to which the Bank would provide a loan of $200 million, and its implementation depends on reaching another agreement with London and Washington about their conditions for providing assistance.
Five months after the announcement of the agreement, on the afternoon of July 19, 1956, the spokesman for the US State Department, Lincoln White, issued a statement announcing the withdrawal of the US offer to finance the high dam project, and the then US President, John Foster Dallas, informed the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Ahmed Hussein, during the broadcast of the statement, that the United States would not help build the high dam, and that his country decided to withdraw its offer because Egypt's economy would not be able to bear this project.
The US president also said that the US believes that whoever builds the high dam will win the hatred of the Egyptian people, because the burdens will be devastating and overwhelming, and that the Egyptian people cannot bear the burden of implementing this huge project.
A few days later, on the twenty-sixth day of the same month, the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced the nationalization of the international company of the Suez Canal, an Egyptian joint stock company, in response to the decision of the US withdrawal from financing the construction of the high dam, and with the continuous Western pressure, and the unfair conditions set by those countries to finance the construction of the dam, and with the continuation of the Egyptian rejection of foreign interventions in its internal matter, Egypt calmly continued its development plans, accepted the challenge, and continued its plans for construction, growth and development, relying on its resources, and on its international and regional position.
Egypt went towards the eastern camp, and on December 27, 1958, it signed an agreement with the Soviet Union; to lend it 400 million rubles; to implement the first phase of the dam, and a year after the signing of the agreement, Egypt signed in December 1959, an agreement to distribute the water of the dam reservoir between Egypt and Sudan.
In the morning of January 9, 1960, President Gamal Abdel Nasser laid the cornerstone of the high dam project by starting work on it and starting the implementation of the first phase of the construction of the dam to a level of 130 meters, and digging a forward diversion channel for the dam with a length of 1950 meters to change the riverbed of the Nile River, and digging six main tunnels with a length of 282 meters and a diameter of 15 meters for one tunnel and lining them with reinforced concrete, and casting the foundations of the power station.
Thousands of people did not sleep on the night of the inauguration; To celebrate the great end of the first phase of the construction of the high dam, hundreds of engineers and workers began to dig six deep holes similar to the tunnels in the mountain near a mountainous area called the Khawr Condi and fill them with about nine tons of dynamite before blowing up the giant mountain, unlike many who work in the square of the ceremony site and arranging the places allocated to various foreign delegations in the large pavilion that was established in the region, as well as the places of the popular bodies that represent all the governorates of Egypt.
The streets from the city of Aswan to the venue, which are more than eight kilometres long all night, were filled with tens of thousands of people who raised flags and chanted chants.
At 1:40 p.m. on May 15, 1964, the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, together with Nikita Khrushchev, President of the Soviet Union, Abdullah Al Salal, President of the State of Yemen, Iraqi President Abdel Salam Aref, King Mohammed V of Morocco, and Sudanese President Ibrahim Abboud, pressed the button to blow up the sand dam, in order to mark the opening of the dam, and the start of the excavators, poles, and huge lorries that came from the Soviet Union in transporting the wrecked mountain, which will later become the front channel to which the water of the Nile River will be diverted after the closure of the river with the high dam, and the end of the first phase of the construction of the high dam. Prior to the bombing, President Gamal Abdel Nasser placed a wooden box in the cornerstone, which contained an honorable Quran, the list of the Dam Building Authority, and the Arab newspapers issued on the same day, in addition to Egyptian currencies that were in Abdel Nasser's pocket, which consisted of 39 pounds and 43 piasters, and a Moroccan and Syrian currency that was placed by His Majesty King Mohammed V and President Shoukry Al-Quwatli.
On August 27, 1960, Egypt signed the second agreement with the Soviet Union to lend it an additional 500 million rubles to finance the second phase of the high dam, including continuing to build the body to its end, ending the power plant, installing and operating the turbines, and establishing transformer stations and electricity transmission lines. The first electricity generation spark, which lit up some Egyptian villages in October 1967, began to store water in the dam lake, which should have been called after an eternal name, a name that carries Western pressure, and the path of the struggle to achieve the national dream took a path, so that the lake carried the name Nasser. Nasser Lake embraced the first water drops coming from the sources of the Nile in 1968, and in mid-July 1970, the project was completed; to be officially opened in mid-January 1971, and to broadcast the Egyptian television on its screen, the Egyptian delight in the official opening of the high dam, which cost 400 million pounds at the time.
The high dam is a cumulative dam with a length of 3830 meters at the summit, including 520 meters between the two banks of the Nile. The rest extends in the form of wings on both sides of the river. The height of the dam is 111 meters above the level of the bottom of the Nile and its width at the summit is 40 meters. The power plant is located on the eastern bank of the Nile, intercepting the channel of diversion from which water flows to the turbines through six tunnels equipped with water control gates in addition to grass barriers.
Aswan Dam role
• The high dam protected Egypt from the disasters of drought and famine as a result of successive low-income floods in the period from 1979 to 1987, when nearly 70 billion cubic meters of stock were withdrawn from the high dam lake to compensate for the annual shortfall in the natural revenue of the Nile River.
• The high dam protected Egypt from the dangers of the high floods that occurred in the period from 1998 to 2002. Had it not been for the existence of the high dam for the destruction of ploughs and offspring, the state would have incurred huge expenses in resisting these floods and eliminating their devastating effects.
• Land reclamation and agricultural expansion.
• Converting basin irrigation to sustainable irrigation and increasing agricultural production.
• Expanding of rice cultivation.
• Generating electricity used in the management of factories and lighting cities and villages.
• Ensuring the full and regular operation of Aswan Tank Station by providing a fixed level throughout the year.
• Increasing fish stocks through the High Dam Lake.
• Improving river navigation throughout the year.
The high dam in the far south stands witness to the epic struggle written by the men's arms, its stones and rocks recount historic moments in the life of the Egyptian people and their sacrifices and determination, to tell the epic building that Egypt witnessed during the construction of the high dam. After it was a dream, it became a reality. It wasn't just a fantasy, it was a hope to build Egypt.
For more photos click here
The book «Years and Days with Abdul Nasser» by Samia Sharaf, Secretary of President Abdul Nasser Information and former Minister of Presidential Affairs.
The memoirs of Eng. Hilmi Al-Said, former Minister of High Dam and Electricity.
Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation website.