File photo: Egyptian air force planes parade during the inauguration ceremony of the new Suez Canal in Ismailia, Aug. 6, 2015. Image Credit: AP

Al Sissi inaugurates new canal

Egypt staged a show of international support on Thursday as it inaugurated a major extension of the Suez Canal which President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi hopes will power an economic turnaround in the Arab world’s most populous country.

The former armed forces chief, who led a military takeover two years ago but ran for president as a civilian last year, told a ceremony attended by leaders of  France, Russia, Arab and African states that Egypt would defeat terrorism.

The $8-billion New Suez Canal project was completed in just one year instead of three on Al Sissi’s orders.

“Work did not take place in normal circumstances, and these circumstances still exist and we are fighting them and we will defeat them,” Al Sissi said after signing an order allowing ships to cross the new stretch of waterway.

“Egypt during this year stood against the most dangerous terrorist threat that would burn the world if it could.”

The spectacular inauguration was also intended to bolster his international standing in the presence of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, French President Francois Hollande, Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, King Abdullah of Jordan, the emir of Kuwait and the king of Bahrain.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo on Aug. 2 for a strategic dialogue with Egypt, but no top-level representative of the Obama administration attended the ceremony.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi stands in boat on the Suez Canal as he attends the celebration of an extension of the Suez Canal. Reuters

UAE congratulates Egypt

The UAE delegation accompanying Shaikh Mohammad includes Lt. General Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister, Dr. Sultan Ahmad Al Jaber, Minister of State, and other senior officials.

In a number of tweets, Shaikh Mohammad congratulated the people of Egypt, saying: "I was honoured to join the people of Egypt in their historic celebrations in opening the new Suez Canal. Today, Egypt welcomed the world and the world rejoiced with Egypt."

He added: "Just as Egypt had opened to the world via its first Suez Canal new and vast commercial and trade horizons, today, through its second canal, it has opened to its people and the region a new hope and a promising future."

In another tweet, the Dubai ruler said: "The accomplishment of the Suez Canal in this very quick pace proves to the world that the Egyptian people do not know the impossible and they do not recognise despair. Congratulations to the Egyptian people."

Dr. Al Jaber, who is also the head of the UAE-Egypt Liaison Office, congratulated Egypt’s government and people on the completion of the new Suez Canal.

“We would like to congratulate the leadership, government and people of Egypt for this monumental achievement that has brought into fruition the strategic vision of President of Egypt, Abdul Fattah Al Sissi. His unwavering insistence that this project is finalisd in one year, truly reflects the resilience of the Egyptian people,” he said in a statement.

Public holiday

The Suez Canal Authority expects a windfall of additional revenue -- $13.23 billion in annual revenue by 2023 from just over $5 billion in 2014, with the number of daily vessels rising from 49 to 97 over the same period.

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon praised the project as a "modern wonder".

Thursday was declared a public holiday. Cairo and other cities were decked out in bunting, with fairy lights hung from the Nile river bridges and banners proclaiming "From the mother of the world (Egypt) to the whole world".

Tents for the festivities in Esmailia were erected on the east bank of the Canal. A giant statue of a toiling canal worker with shovel in hand looks over the waterway.

A towering statue of the ancient Egyptian Pharaonic goddess Isis with wings splayed looks out over the new channel, behind it fly the flags of the world.

Nationalist songs by military brass blared.

Newly delivered French Rafale fighters and US F-16 warplanes staged a flypast, while helicopters flew overhead and naval vessels escorted the yacht in the televised ceremony.

The government believes the New Suez Canal and an industrial zone to be developed around it will seal Egypt's deliverance from economic distress.

The project involved extending a waterway parallel to part of the 19th century canal connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, as well as deepening and widening the old channel -- the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

Earlier Al Sissi, in full military regalia, sailed up the canal, flanked by a young boy in military fatigues waving the Egyptian flag, aboard the yacht Al Mahrousa, the first ship to pass through the Suez Canal when it was opened in November 1869.

The yacht was an ambivalent symbol, since King Farouk, the last monarch to rule Egypt, sailed into exile in Italy aboard it after being ousted by the military in 1952.

The new canal project involved extending a waterway parallel to part of the 19th century canal connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, as well as deepening and widening the old channel - the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

Egyptian military planes perform during a ceremony on August 6, 2015 to unveil the new Suez Canal, in the port city of Ismailiya. (AFP)


The project has been billed as a national accomplishment on par with President Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalisation of the original Suez Canal in 1956 and building of the Aswan Dam. State television broadcast shots of the new canal to the theme of the popular television series Game of Thrones.

In Cairo's Tahrir Square a crowd of about 300 gathered in the square honking horns with the colour of the Egyptian flag.

“This isn't just for me, it's for my children and grandchildren. This is for the whole world," said 50-year-old Gamal Amin.


Egypt kicks off ceremony inaugurating Suez canal extension

Egypt unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal that President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country's ailing economy after years of unrest.

Egyptians wave the national flag in front of a military vehicle to celebrate the Suez Canal opening in Tahrir square, Cairo.   AP

Al 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 and fixed wing aircraft flew over. Al Sissi, standing on the vessel’s upper deck, waved to well-wishers and folklore dance troupes performing on shore.

For Egypt rulers past and present, Suez a symbol of glory

An insecure Egyptian ruler, bullied as a child for his weight, was persuaded that a canal connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea would bring him glory - a monument rivalling those of his more illustrious predecessors.

Saeed Pasha, ruler of Egypt and Sudan from 1854 to 1863, never saw the completion of the canal, which opened six years after his death. He is remembered as the man who sold the rights to the waterway to the then-imperialist powers France and Britain.

A canal from the Nile river to the Red Sea existed in the times of ancient Egypt, but was lost over the ages. The idea was revived by French Consul Ferdinand de Lesseps, who persuaded Said Pasha to grant him a concession for building a waterway.

Obese child

Saeed Pasha was an obese child to the severe dismay of his demanding father, the great Mohammad Ali Pasha, who subjected the boy to arduous exercises. He was befriended by de Lesseps and the consul reportedly sealed the bond with surreptitious plates of spaghetti, according to University of California-LA historian Afaf Lutfi Al Sayyid Marsot.

“Though Saeed did become famous it was more for his gullibility in signing an unfavourable concession” that saddled the country, then nominally under Ottoman control, with foreign debt, Marsot has written. The canal, completed by de Lesseps’s Suez Canal Company, opened on November 17, 1869. Thousands of Egyptian workers died digging it.

In 1882, partly worried that the nationalist rebel leader Colonel Ahmad Urabi would seize power, defaulting on the country’s debt and taking over the canal, Britain invaded. The British eventually withdrew from Egypt, leaving behind a pliant monarchy, but they continued to control the Suez Canal Company along with France, something that rankled another Egyptian colonel, Jamal Abdul Nasser.

Charismatic Nasser

Nasser was one of the leaders of a popular military coup that toppled the monarchy in 1952, and swiftly became president of the new republic. Like every great Egyptian leader, or at least every Egyptian leader who aspired to greatness, he forthwith decided on a monumental project, the Aswan Dam. But the pan-Arabist firebrand could get no foreign funding on his own terms. He increasingly rattled Britain, France and the Israeli regime with his support for Algerian rebels and his bellicosity towards the Israelis.

Suez canal revenues were meanwhile filling other countries’ coffers.

On July 26, 1956, the charismatic Nasser gave an address to the nation, railing against the United States, Britain and France and what he denounced as a plot to keep his country subjugated. Nasser recounted a meeting with the head of the World Bank, Eugene Black, to secure funding for the dam. “I started looking at Mr Black, as he sat before me on a chair, and I imagined that I was sitting in front of Ferdinand de Lesseps,” Nasser said. The name of the French consul was a codeword to troops to seize the canal.

British premier Anthony Eden and French counterpart Guy Mollet were predictably enraged and began contemplating military intervention. Together with Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion, Eden and Mollet gathered in a villa outside Paris and hatched a plan. Israel would invade Egypt, and France and Britain would drop troops in a show of intervening, conveniently seizing the Suez Canal in the process. The eeting was detailed in a study by Oxford University historian Avi Shlaim.

The operation began in October 1956, and went smoothly enough for the invaders until the United States, in part seeking to avoid a confrontation with the pro-Nasser Soviet Union, led global efforts that forced France, Britain and Israel to withdraw.

President to unveil 'new Suez Canal'

President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi on Thursday inaugurates a "new" Suez Canal in a lavish and heavily secured ceremony, as Egypt seeks to boost its economy and international standing.

The event in the port city of Ismailiya is due to be attended by several heads of state.

Al Sisi broke ground on the canal project last August after being elected president after he promised to strengthen security and revive a dilapidated economy.

Initial estimates suggested the new route would take up to three years to build, but Al Sisi set an ambitious target of 12 months to finish the project.

It has been touted as a landmark achievement, rivalling the digging of the original 192-kilometre canal, which opened in 1869 after almost a decade of work.

The new section, built at a cost of $9 billion and funded entirely by Egyptian investors, runs part of the way alongside the existing canal connecting the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.

"It's an achievement for the people who managed to fund it as a national project and accomplished it through perseverance and hard work," Al Sisi's office has said.

It involved 37 kilometres of dry digging, creating what is effectively a "second lane", and widening and deepening another 35 kilometres of the existing canal.

It will cut the waiting period for vessels from 18 hours to 11.

By 2023 the number of ships using the canal will increase to 97 per day from 49 now, the government hopes.

Facts about Egypt's 'new Suez canal'

The canal, opened in 1869 after almost a decade of work, has been a main revenue earner for Egypt and a 20th century symbol of independence.

The pan-Arabist president Jamal Abdul Nasser nationalised the canal in 1956, which was until then run by the British- and French-owned Suez Canal Company, sparking the Suez crisis in which Britain, France and Israel invaded parts of Egypt.

The waterway has continued to play a key role in global commerce and is an important route for oil traffic.

In 2013, 4.6 per cent of global oil and petroleum products passed through the Suez Canal or the SUMED pipeline that provides an alternative route from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, according to the US Energy Information Agency.

In 2007, traffic through the canal amounted to 7.5 per cent of global maritime trade, according to the World Shipping Council.

The 72-kilometre long expansion is projected to cut the waiting period for ships from 18 hours to 11 hours and allow two-way passage.

It was built in less than a year for about $9 billion, mostly financed by investment certificates sold to Egyptians.

The project consists of 37 kilometres of new, parallel waterway and 35 kilometres of deepening and widening of the existing canal.

A maximum 49 ships a day can pass through the canal at present. The Suez Canal Authority says the expansion could almost double the number by 2023.

The government hopes the project will more than double revenues from Suez Canal tolls, a key income generator for Egypt, from the $5.3 billion projected for 2015 to $13.2 billion in 2023.

Experts say it is not yet clear, however, what impact the improvements to the 192 kilometre waterway will have on world trade.

The UAE government on Tuesday handed over hundreds of successfully completed projects undertaken by the UAE in Egypt.

The projects in critical sectors-- such as health, education, transport and infrastructure -- are part of a massive UAE development assistance programme pledged a year ago.



A new canal and a new era for Egypt

Egypt’s official and private TV stations are featuring countdown clocks for the inauguration of a new waterway built alongside the historic Suez Canal, with the comment: “Egypt’s gift to the world”.