The Suez Canal on the anniversary of its opening… Achievements despite the Corona pandemic and future threats

Cairo – Despite the passage of 152 years since its inauguration on these days in 1869, the Suez Canal maintains its strategic importance as one of the most important navigational crossings in the world, as it links the East and West, and is a major artery for the Egyptian economy.

The Egyptian government is trying to confront the potential risks of establishing alternative shipping channels in the east and north by developing and expanding the canal and transforming it into a comprehensive economic zone.

According to the website of the Suez Canal Authority, the true history of the canal begins from the first concession and the subsequent firmans, passing through the first blow of the ax in the excavation work, to the end of the excavation work in August 1869, with the participation of 20,000 Egyptian workers in harsh humanitarian conditions.

In a legendary ceremony held on November 17, 1869, Khedive Ismail inaugurated the canal in the presence of 6,000 guests, led by Empress Eugenie, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III of France, in addition to the Emperor of Austria, the King of Hungary, the Crown Prince of Prussia, the brother of the King of the Netherlands and the British ambassador to Astana, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, among others. One of the most prominent political figures in Egypt and the world.

channel close

With the growth of global trade, the Suez Canal has become the center of international attention, which has exposed it to several crises.

On July 26, 1956, President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced his historic decision to nationalize the Suez Canal, igniting what is known as the Suez Crisis, which led to a tripartite aggression launched by Israel, France and England, and the closure of the navigational course of the canal during the war, and the aggression ended with the withdrawal of the aggressor forces and the survival of the canal under sovereignty Egyptian.

The canal was closed again after the setback of June 1967 during the era of Abdel Nasser, until it was reopened in June 1975, when President Anwar Sadat spoke, describing the Suez Canal as “a link between continents and civilizations, through which the Egyptians crossed with the souls of their martyrs to spread peace and security on its banks.” To be a source of peace and an artery for prosperity and cooperation among human beings.

new expansion

The expansion of the Suez Canal, or what the Egyptian media describes as the “new Suez Canal”, was the first project presented by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to the Egyptian people, and it was inaugurated in August 2015 in a grand ceremony, some said that it was a reminder of the opening ceremony of the canal during the Khedive era Ismael.

The new expansion was criticized by opponents because of its economic feasibility, as well as Sisi’s insistence on reducing the drilling time, which required him to spend large financial liquidity that the country needed, in addition to the lack of a significant impact of this expansion.

On the other hand, the website of the State Information Service (governmental) says that the new expansion made the canal “not just a crossing that shortens the distances between east and west, but an integrated global logistics center, which contributes to transforming the economic zone of the Suez Canal into a global trade zone, and aims to provide additional income for the canal.” From the revenues of transit ships, especially giant ships, as well as the establishment of giant projects on both sides of the canal and the establishment of new urban communities.

Some believe that the ambitions of transforming the canal into a comprehensive economic zone and not just a waterway have not been achieved so far, despite the success in building the new Suez Canal branch and the new projects to develop the canal course.

Most of the development projects focus on widening and deepening the canal’s course. Last May, Sisi approved a project to develop the navigational course of the canal in the Lesser Bitter Lakes, aiming to double the area from 122 km to 132 km with a length of 10 km, in addition to the new branch, reaching a length of about 82 km. The project also aims to expand and deepen the southern area of ​​the Suez Canal, starting from the 132 kilometer to the 162 kilometer.

Success despite the pandemic crisis

Last August, the media center of the Council of Ministers spoke of what he described as the success of the canal, despite the Corona crisis that ravaged the global trade movement, explaining that 12% of the global trade volume passes through the Suez Canal.

The report indicated that the canal’s capacity increased to 97 ships per day, compared to 77 ships per day before the opening of the new canal, in addition to allowing ships to pass with a draft of 66 feet in both directions.

The report said that the channel recorded the highest annual revenue in its history in 2020-2021 at $5.84 billion, compared to $5.72 billion in 2019-2020.

Despite the decrease in the global trade movement due to the Corona pandemic, the channel announced the visit of transit fees for all ships this month by 6% during 2022, with the implementation of the scheduled increase starting from next February, with the exception of cruise ships and liquefied natural gas tankers from these the increase.

potential risks

During the crisis of the stuck ship “Ever Given”, which blocked the navigational course of the canal in late March, talk returned about the risks that the canal may face and the alternative projects that other countries are planning to compete with the Suez Canal.

Some cargo ships are heading to the Cape of Good Hope route, which revolves around the continent of Africa, due to the decline in oil prices and the movement of global trade, with the aim of reducing the material cost instead of paying the fees for crossing the canal, despite the length of the journey.

The most prominent threats to the Suez Canal come from the Israeli project to dig a canal parallel to the Suez Canal to connect the ports of Eilat and Ashkelon. This project has been closed for many years due to lack of funding, but normalization between Israel and the UAE may bring it back to life, according to observers.

In the last quarter of 2020, the UAE and Israel signed an agreement aimed at transporting Gulf oil to Europe via a pipeline linking the port of Eilat on the Red Sea and the port of Ashkelon on the Mediterranean, most of which now passes through the Suez Canal.

The North Sea may also carry a similar threat, as the Russian energy company plans to project a canal in the North Sea, allowing ships to reach Russian ports in less than 15 days, and Russia plans to use the new sea corridor to export oil and gas to foreign markets, which could pose a major threat to the canal. Suez.

China also plans to find an alternative route for its ships that is entirely in international waters, extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through the Arctic Ocean, passing close to the North Pole.

This choice remains thorny because of the ships’ need for heavy icebreakers, which makes it unsuitable for commercial maritime traffic at present, but it may hold a good future due to climatic changes and technological development in the icebreaker industry.

The Suez Canal is out of competition

On the other hand, economist Mustafa Abdel Salam believes that the Cape of Good Hope road is the biggest threat to the Suez Canal, while the rest of the other projects may face great difficulties related to the nature of the terrain such as rocks, as is the case with the Israeli project, and ice for the Russian project, in addition to that such These projects require billions of dollars to complete, which many countries may not be able to achieve.

And Abdel Salam confirms – in a previous interview with Al Jazeera Net – that he is still convinced that the Suez Canal is still, and will remain in the coming years, the most important shipping lane in the world.

This is confirmed by the head of the Suez Canal, Lieutenant-General Osama Rabie, denying that it is in real danger, and stressing that the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline does not represent a threat to the canal and in its entirety represents only 7% of the value of what passes through the Suez Canal, if we assume that all Gulf oil passes through This line, just as Ashkelon overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, is forced to reload oil onto tankers, which increases the distance, cost and time.

Rabie added in previous television statements that the “new Suez Canal” made the canal completely far from any competition, as it provided a safety factor greater than similar projects in the north, where it required the presence of an icebreaker in front of transiting ships. As for the Suez Canal, “you give a good price, Good service, fast and safe,” he said.

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