Egypt is just a few days away from inaugurating the “New Suez Canal,” with hopes the project will boost the economy and increase the number of ships using it every day.
A ceremony will be held on August 6 to inaugurate the first section of the new canal project. The first trial run of the new waterway took place last week, when several container ships passed through the new route amid tight security.
Here’s everything you need to know about the project:
What is it?
A new lane was created to run alongside part of the existing Suez Canal, one of the world’s most important trade routes, as as part of Egypt's “New Suez Canal” project.
The army began construction on the new lane less than a year ago. The new route runs part of the way along the existing canal connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
The new route involved 37 kilometers of dry digging and 35 kilometers of expansion and deepening of the existing canal.
The brings the overall length of the project to 72km.
Infographic: What you need to know about the 'New Suez Canal'
(Design by Farwa Rizwan/ Al Arabiya News)
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi launched the project in August 2014 with hopes it would boost Egypt's ailing economy, which has been suffering of years of political turmoil.
The new expansion is part of an ambitious plan to develop the surrounding area into an industrial and commercial hub that would include the construction of ports and provide shipping services.
The project is expected to double the revenues of its strategic canal over the next decade and create more job opportunities.
Security personnel cross through the New Suez Canal, Ismailia, Egypt, July 29, 2015. (Reuters)
Why is it significant?
The original Suez Canal - a vital source of the Egypt economy - allows vessels to travel from Europe to Asia through the Sinai Peninsula. The 163-kilometer-long waterway provides a one-way traffic.
The new branch will facilitate traffic in two directions and can accommodate larger vessels. It also aims to reduce the waiting period for transiting ships.
Dredge work is carried out at the New Suez Canal, Ismailia, Egypt, July 29, 2015. (Reuters)
Sisi demanded the construction of the new waterway to be completed in one year.
Touted as a “national project,” the costs were entirely covered by Egyptians. Authorities managed to raise $9 billion by selling shares in the project to domestic investors. Bank accounts were also set up to collect donations from Egyptians.
On Wednesday Egypt announced it had completed the “New Suez Canal” project and that a lavish event, to be attended by Sisi, would be held next week to commemorate its opening.
“We declare that the new Suez Canal is safe for all kinds of vessels,” Suez Canal Authority chief Mohab Mameesh told a news conference in the canal city of Ismailiya.
“We call on all the international maritime carriers to use the current and the new Suez Canal. Your navigation is safe.”
Most Egyptians hail the project and hope it would salvage the country out of its economic troubles.
A picture taken on July 29, 2015 shows boats crossing the new waterway at the new Suez Canal in the Egyptian port city of Ismailia, east of Cairo. (AFP)
(This article contains information from Reuters, AFP and local Egyptian press)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) talks to Mohab Mameesh, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, (Photo: REUTERS/The Egyptian Presidency/Handout)
Ismailia, Egypt, AP
Thursday, 6 August 2015
With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal billed by its patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as a historic achievement needed to boost the country's ailing economy after years of unrest.
Sissi, wearing his ceremonious military uniform and trademark dark sunglasses, flew to the site aboard a military helicopter and immediately boarded a monarchy-era yacht that sailed to the venue of the ceremony.
The yacht was flanked by navy warships as helicopters, jet-fighters and military transport aircraft flew overhead. A visibly triumphant Sissi stood on the vessel’s upper deck, waving to well-wishers and folklore dance troupes performing on shore. At one point, a young boy in military uniform and holding an Egyptian red, black and white flag joined him on deck.
Later in the day, the president changed to a dark grey business suit and took his seat at the main stand for an elaborate ceremony in the canal city of Ismailia, attended by foreign dignitaries and organized amid tight security measures following a series of attacks by Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula and the capital, Cairo.
World leaders attended
Among those at the ceremony were French President Francois Hollande, King Abdullah of Jordan and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Kuwait’s Emir Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also attended.
The unveiling of the $8.5 billion extension has been trumpeted as a historic achievement by pro-government media and has revived the nationalistic personality cult built around the 60-year-old Sissi, who as army chief led the overthrow of an Islamist president in 2013 and was elected to office last year.
French President Francois Hollande (Photo: AP)
Egypt’s black, white and red flags now adorn streets across much of the nation, along with banners declaring support for Sissi and hailing his latest achievement. The government declared Thursday a national holiday, and banks and most businesses were closed.
The new Suez Canal extension involved digging and dredging along 72 kilometers (45 miles) of the 193-kilometer canal, making a parallel waterway at its middle that will facilitate two-way traffic. With a depth of 24 meters (79 feet), the canal now allows the simultaneous passage of ships with up to 66 ft. draught.
Counting the cost and value
The project was initially estimated to take three years, but Sissi ordered it completed in one.
The government says the project, funded entirely by Egyptian investors, will more than double the canal’s annual revenue to $13.2 billion by 2023, injecting much-needed foreign currency into an economy that has struggled to recover from the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak and the years of turmoil that followed.
Economists and shippers have questioned the value of the project, saying the increased traffic and revenues the government is hoping for would require major growth in global trade, which at this point seems unlikely.
A general view of the Suez Canal from Al Salam "Peace" bridge (Photo: Reuters)
But the man-made waterway linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, which was inaugurated in 1869, has long been seen as a symbol of Egyptian national pride. And pro-government media have compared Sissi to former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose nationalization of the canal in 1956 is seen as a defiant break with the country’s colonial past.
“Egypt makes history,” read the banner headline of Thursday’s pro-government daily Al-Watan. The front page of another daily, Al-Maqal, said “Rejoice, it is worth it!”
Islamist execution threat
But Thursday’s ceremony was partially overshadowed by an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate’s threat to kill a Croatian hostage kidnapped in Cairo last month - a grim reminder of the threat posed by Islamic militants to Egypt’s stability.
The affiliate, calling itself the Sinai Province of the Islamic State, released a video Wednesday threatening to kill the Croatian in 48 hours if Egyptian authorities do not release “Muslim women” held in prison, a reference to female Islamists detained in the government's broad crackdown on former President Mohammed Mursi’s supporters.
Croatian hostage 30-year-old Tomislav Salopek who has been captured by Islamic militants (Photo: AP)
The 30-year-old Croatian father of two, Tomislav Salopek, was kidnapped on July 22. There have been conflicting reports on where he was snatched. An official at the French company he worked for in Egypt said he was taken from his car at 7 a.m. in an area west of Cairo while making his way to the city’s airport from a company site. Other reports spoke of him being snatched in the Cairo suburb of Maadi, a quiet and leafy neighborhood where many of the city’s Western community live. If confirmed, a broad daylight kidnapping of a foreigner in Maadi could cause panic among the security-conscious expatriate community.
Croatian state TV reported on Thursday afternoon that Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic left for Cairo together with Salopek’s wife, Natasa.
Egypt has seen a surge in attacks by Islamic militants since Mursi’s ouster, in both the restive north of the Sinai Peninsula and the mainland, focusing primarily on security forces.
The violence continued on Thursday, with militants shelling two homes near security checkpoints in northern Sinai, killing two people and wounding nine, according to Egyptian security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Also Thursday, a soldier standing guard at a military checkpoint in northern Sinai was killed by sniper fire, the officials said.
Militants have also targeted foreign interests, including the Italian Consulate in Cairo, which was hit with a car bomb last month. That came just days after another bomb killed Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat in an upscale Cairo neighborhood.
Egyptian special forces soldiers stand guard during the opening ceremony (Photo: AP)
However, Wednesday’s video was the first to be released by Islamic militants showing a kidnapped foreigner in Egypt, an ominous escalation as the country tries to rebuild its vital tourism industry. The professionally-made video resembled clips released by ISIS, indicating closer ties with its Egyptian branch.
The government says it has taken major steps to prevent anyone from disrupting Thursday’s ceremony, and pro-government media have portrayed the canal extension itself as a victory over extremism.
“Rejoice, for it is a victory over terror,” wrote Al-Maqal’s editor Ibrahim Issa. “Rejoice, for it is a tremendous win for a country suffering from the blows of terror.”