28 January 2020 10:00 PM

Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Suez Canal Opening

Sunday، 15 December 2019 - 03:14 PM

    Egypt celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Suez Canal inauguration for international navigation (1869-2019). The Suez Canal is important because it is the shortest way that links between the east and the west. In addition, the development projects in the Suez Canal Zone had promoted confidence in the Canal as the world’s best navigational passage.   

The History of Connecting the Red Sea with the Mediterranean

Indirect Connection   

   The idea of linking the Red and Mediterranean seas via Suez Canal dates back to 40 centuries ago. Historical studies have mentioned this idea started from the Pharaohs era to the Islamic one until it was dug as it is now.

  The first canal was dug in the Pharaohs Senusret III reign (1849-1887 BC) to connect the Mediterranean in the North to the Red Sea in the South via the Nile River and its branches.

  The Canal was neglected at many times, so it was filled with mud and reopened for navigation by Seti I   (1310 BC), then by Necho II (610 BC) and the Persian King Darius the Great (522 BC) as well as Ptolemy II (285 BC) and the Roman emperor Trajan (117 AD) and Amr ibn al-As (650 AD), who restored the navigation in the Canal after the Islamic Conquest of Egypt.

  Under the rule of Necho II, a canal between the Belozy Branch of the Nile and the northern end of the Bitter Lakes, which falls between the two seas, was built. About 100,000 people died during the digging of the Canal. However, over many years, the Canal maintenance was neglected, but it was re-established.  

    Under the rule of the Persian King, Darius the Great (486-522), the Canal was  dug again, after it was neglected, where it can be seen now over the Tumailat Valley. According to Herodotus, this Canal was wide enough to allow a ship to pass by another ship with their both paddles straight up. The trip throughout the Canal takes 4 days. Darius has commemorated the anniversary of completing this Canal by placing a series of granite signs along the Nile banks.

   The Canal was extended to the Red Sea during the era of Ptolemy II (246-285 BC) and was neglected in the earlier Roman’s era, but it was rebuilt in Trajan’s era (117-98 AD).

   Amr ibn al-As rebuilt the Canal after the Islamic Conquest of Egypt and linked the Nile to the Red Sea to establish a new line for supplies from Cairo. It was used to shipping grains to the Arabian Peninsula and transporting the pilgrims to the Holy Lands. The Canal was then closed in (767 AD) by the Abbasi Caliph Al-Mansour to cut the supplies from the rebels in Delta and starving revolutionaries in El- Madina El Monawara, Saudi Arabia.

Direct Connection

  The Suez Canal is considered the first canal to link directly the Mediterranean with the Red Sea in the modern age.

  The first efforts to establish the modern canal were exerted by Napoleon Bonaparte Campaign against Egypt. This project started in 1799 by Charles Loper, but misscalculations estimated that the difference between the level of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea is very large. (It was estimated that the Red Sea was higher at about 10 meters than the Mediterranean), so the work in the Canal had immediately stopped.

   In 1833, a group of French scientists known as San Simon came to Cairo and was interested in the Suez Canal project despite problems; such as the difference between the two seas level. Unfortunately, the ruler, Mohammed Ali, didn’t pay attention to the project. In 1835, plague killed a large number of them, so most of the engineers returned to France and left behind many of those who were enthusiastic about the Canal including Ferdinand De Lesseps, who became later the Deputy of the French Consul in Alexandria.

In Paris, the Saint-Simoniens established an association in 1846 to study the possibility of digging the Suez Canal again. In 1847, Bourdaloue asserted that there was no real difference in the level between the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, and it was Linant de Bellefonds who drew up the technical report. Unfortunately, there was a considerable British opposition to this project, and Muhammad Ali, who was ill at that time, was less enthusiastic.

In 1854, the French diplomat, engineer Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps succeeded in drumming up the interest of the Egyptian Viceroy Saeed Pasha in the project.

In 1858, La Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez (the International Suez Canal Company) was established and obtained the concession to dig and operate a canal for 99 years, after which the ownership would return to the Egyptian government. The company was established as a private Egyptian one, most of its shares were owned by Egyptian and French investors. In 1875, the British government purchased the shares of its Egyptian counterpart.

The pilot study indicated that a total of 2,613 million cubic feet of dust have to be removed; including 600 million on land and 2,013 million dredged from water. The total original cost estimate was 200 million francs.

Initially, when the company ran into financing problems, Saeed Pasha purchased 44% of the company to keep it operational. However, the British and the Turks were concerned with this project and managed to suspend the work even for a short time, until Napoleon III intervened and began digging the canal on April 25, 1859. Since then until 1862, the first part of the canal was completed; however, as Ismail took power, succeeding Saeed Pasha, the work suspended again. After Ferdinand de Lesseps appealed to Napoleon III, an international committee was formed in March 1864. The committee resolved the problems and within three years the canal was completed. On November 17, 1869, the Mediterranean waters flowed to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal was opened for international navigation.

In 1875, due to the foreign debts, the British government purchased the shares of the Egyptian investors; namely those owned by Saeed Pasha, for about 400,000 sterling. However, France continued to have the lion’s share. Under the terms of the international agreement signed in 1888 (the Constantinople Agreement), the canal was opened to vessels of all countries without discrimination, in peace and war. Nevertheless, Britain considered the canal is vital to maintain its naval power and colonial interests.

Therefore, the provisions of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 allowed Britain to maintain a defensive force along the Suez Canal Zone. Nonetheless, the Egyptian nationalists demanded repeatedly the evacuation of Britain from the zone. In 1954, the two countries signed a seven-year agreement that superseded the 1936 Treaty and provided for the gradual withdrawal of all British troops from the zone.

The canal remained under the control of the two powers until Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized it in 1956. Since then, it has been managed by the Suez Canal Authority.

The canal was closed to navigation twice in the contemporary period; the first closure was short, after the 1956 tripartite British-French-Israeli aggression against Egypt, primarily motivated by the nationalization of the canal waterway. The canal was reopened in 1957. The second closure occurred after the June 1967 war with Israel and continued until 1975, when Egypt and Israel signed the second disengagement accord.

After the July 1952 Revolution, President Gamal Abdel Nasser declared on July 26, 1956 the management of the canal 100% under the Egyptian administration. This enraged the major powers, which launched the tripartite aggression against Egypt on October 29, 1956 and resulted in the closure of the canal. It is reopened in March 1957.

New Suez Canal

On August 5, 2014, President El-Sisi launched digging of the new Suez Canal; signing the Digging Commencement Document so as to assimilate the expected growth in world trade through realizing the greatest percentage of duality in the Suez Canal to decrease the ships transit time and cutting the costs of the marine journey.

In addition to lessening periods of the ships stoppage in waiting areas of the waterway. This raises the rank of the Canal, and nips any thought for an alternative channel in the region in the bud.

New Suez Canal’s Objectives:

-                     Increase the assimilation capacity to allow transit of 97 ships per day by 2023 instead of 49 in 2014.

-                     Increase the Canal’s revenues to reach $ 13.2 billion by 2023 instead of 5.3 billion in 2014.

-                      Create one million job opportunities for the inhabitants of the Canal cities, Sinai and the neighboring governorates as well as new urban communities.

In general, the project aims to increase the hard currency in the Egyptian national income by realizing the greatest percentage of the Suez Canal duality and lessening the ships transit time concerning the north convoy to be 11 hours instead of 18; hence decreasing the waiting time of the transiting ships.

This will, in turn, be reflected positively on decreasing the costs of the marine journey for the ships owners and increasing the demand for using the Suez Canal; being the first choice for world navigational lines and increasing the rating of the Canal according to the world navigational society.

On August, 2015, the New Suez Canal was inaugurated.

Events of the Celebration

On Sunday 17/11/2019 Osama Rabie, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, and Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Anani witnessed the celebration held by the Authority at the New Marine, east of the Canal in Ismailya.

The celebration was attended by the ambassadors of France and Panama and ambassador Abdel Raouf El-Reedy, Honorary Chairman of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, as well as Prince Hussein Toson, in addition to a number of representatives of world navigation agencies, marine transport experts, members of Ferdinand de Lesseps Friends Association and a number of local and world media men.

In his word, Osama Rabie, welcomed the guests and congratulated President Abdel Fattah El- Sisi and the Egyptian people on this dear occasion that is printed in the souls of the Egyptians. He expressed his great happiness and pride of the role which the Canal has played since its establishment in 1869 till the present, highlighting what it has provided throughout its history for the benefit of the global trade movement, as well as the development of the marine transport industry.

He confirmed the fact that the Suez Canal gained the attention of the Egyptian state along its history through adopting a series of sustainable development projects, recently is the New Suez Canal, which succeeded to preserve the global ranking of the Canal, improve the level of navigation service provided for the transiting ships, cope with the requirements of development in the marine transport industry and face competition challenges.

He, then, displayed a group of statistics that confirms the importance of the Suez Canal in terms of the world trade movement highlighting that the navigation movement in the Suez Canal has witnessed since its inauguration till the present, transit of 1.3 million ships with a total tonage of 28.6 billion tons and revenues of about $135.9 billion.

As for the navigational statistics during the fiscal year 2018/2019, about 19,000 ships with 1.2 billion tons and revenues of $ 6 billion transited.

In his speech, Rabie stressed that the Suez Canal Authority is an integrated institution with an economic, developmental and pioneering societal role in the Canal region, and he clarified that the next stage aims to complete the development process and implement directives of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi by giving priority to upgrade the waterway by constructing garages and caissons,  in addition to updating the fleet of marine units, carrying out structural and administrative reforms for the subsidiaries companies, and working in parallel to raise rating of the arsenals.

He added that the development plan extends to modernization of the dredges fleet of the Authority, as it was previousely contracted to purchase two new dredges, scheduled to enter the service by 2020, pointing to the Authority’s interest in developing its system on all levels. This should be done through activating the digital transformation applications and circulating them in all steps with a focus on administration reform, performance development and empowerment of distinguished young energies.

He also emphasized that  the Authority is assuming its role in preserving the cultural and civilizational heritage of the old neighborhoods and the historical establishments of the French architectural style through the ongoing restoration and maintenance works, noting that work is currently underway to convert the Authority's first administrative building in Ismailia to an international museum that depicts the history of the Canal and includes historical articles dating back to the period of the establishment of the canal, announcing that the initial indicators of the restoration work of the museum estimates that the opening date will fall during the first half of next year, God willing; to be one of the most important tourist attractions, a destination for those interested in the history of the canal and one of the mechanisms of supporting tourism in the region.

The chairman of the Suez Canal Authority concluded by saying, "I  and all the Authority employees  pledge  to exert more effort not only to develop the Canal, but also develop its human and financial resources, preserve the status and position of the Canal and maximize the benefit of its assets and capabilities... so that the Canal, as always, would be the bridge of crossing towards victory, development and the future."

During the celebration, the audience listened to a presentation that narrated the history of the Canal and explained its importance to the global trade movement. The guests also watched a documentary film about the various stages, the Suez Canal went through since its establishment until now.

The Suez Canal Authority organized a cruise for the guests. This celebration was held east of the Suez Canal, then the Suez Canal Archeological Museum was inaugurated with senior officials of the Ministry of Antiquities attending.


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