Egypt opens New Suez Canal amid celebration
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and indeed all Egyptians made history yesterday by officially opening the 35 kilometre New Suez Canal which it termed “Egypt’s gift to the world,” in a grand ceremony that reportedly cost $30 million.
Al-Sisi, who declared the canal open, rode on the water channel onboard the 150 years old presidential yacht in his military uniform, though he is no longer a military officer. Analysts have said this may be intended to assure shipliners that the channel will be safe for business. The presidential yacht was the first ship to sail the old Suez Canal when it was launched in 1869.
Yesterday’s ceremony hosted dignitaries from around the world, from Africa, the Arab world and from Europe as well as Asia.
President Francois Hollande of France was the guest of honour. Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev was reportedly present. Others were Ethiopian Prime Minister, Angolan President, Lesotho’s Prime Minister, Niger’s President, President of DR Congo, Tanzanian Vice President and Deputy Chairman of the African Union Commission, Erastus Mwencha. China, Switzerland and North Korea were also among those represented.
The ceremony took place in the town of Ismailia with Al-Sisi aboard El-Mahrousa, the 150 year old presidential yacht which made history for the second time, having also been the first to sail the old Suez Canal back in 1869. Yesterday, several fighter jets and helicopters flew above the ceremony while naval vessels accompanied the presidential yacht.
The funds for the $8.5 billion project executed in a year, was raised through bonds in eight days by Egyptians themselves. The investment is expected to increase Egypt’s earnings from $5 billion to $13.2 billion yearly by 2023. It also stands to increase the hours from Europe to Asia from 18 to 11 hours with 97 ships expected to use the route daily.
About 250 million metric tonnes of sand were reportedly excavated to give way for the channel with 41,000 workers working 24 hours on the project. The old canal was also expanded to allow bigger vessels ply the route, bringing the total length of the project to 72 kilometres.
Prior to the launch, almost every street light pole in Cairo had the flag of Egypt hung on them. Public buildings were also flying the flag. Egypt airline fleets were as well, displaying the advertisement of ‘Egypt’s gift to the world’.
Yesterday was declared public holiday in Egypt to allow citizens celebrate the landmark achievement; and many of them defiled the almost 40 degree celcius hot sun to celebrate at the famous Tahir square.
Many analysts monitored in the media, are however, pessimistic about the economic projections attached to the realisation of the new canal, explaining that the world economy will have to increase by nine per cent for Egypt to realise its projections.
Ahmed Kamaly, an economist with the American University in Cairo, told Reuters news agency that the Egyptian projections were “wishful thinking.”
“There was no viability study done, or known of,” he was quoted as saying. He added that the immediate benefits from the expansion were more likely to be political than economic, uniting people “around a national project.”
This is besides the analysis that the expansion of the Panama Canal, due to be completed next year, will compete with Suez for traffic along the Asia-North America route.