In studies on transboundary river management, it is often assumed that national water policies are made by ‘governments’ or ‘water ministries’ as unitary, rational decision-makers. This article analyzes actors, institutions, and decision-making processes in the Egyptian water sector and explores implications for the design and implementation of water policies. Rational choice is assumed to be only one possible pattern of water policy making, and is distinguished from other mechanisms driven by organizational routines or bargaining over stakeholders' interests. It is found that in Egypt, despite considerable planning capacities, many water policy outcomes are influenced by developments beyond the control of the water ministry. Water governance is also influenced by top-level strategic decision-making, conflicts of interest between sectors, enforcement priority given to policies that prioritize political stability and/or certain privileged interest groups, and intra-organizational resistance to institutional reform. Policies in the traditional core tasks of the water ministry, i.e. water supply and drainage provision, and important strategic decisions regarding water allocation priorities are mainly made in a ‘rational choice’ fashion by the respective authorities. Issues that have emerged more recently, such as water quality or demand management, are subject to interest bargaining between different stakeholder groups in both the planning and the implementation phases.

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