Contemporary Egyptian regulation of the Nile is a direct outgrowth of the traditions of British imperialism. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the British extended their military and political occupation of Egypt to the physical regulation of the river, in order to enact a concrete imperial priority: growing cotton. One way the occupiers implemented this policy objective was through the design and construction of the Aswan Dam (1898 – 1902) by British engineers and British engineering firms. The engineers followed nineteenth-century hydraulic engineering principles, which stressed the implementation of universalist mathematical theories over local technologies. In the process of creating the Aswan Dam, these engineers redefined the Nile, not as a river with natural flow and rhythms, but as a resource to be tapped and parsed. Although the dam was the source of considerable contemporary discussion, that debate focused on structural aspects rather than environmental and social repercussions.

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