Two years of Egypt’s $8.2 billion ‘gift to the world’

A photo taken with a smartphone on March 26, 2015 shows an Egyptian navy FFG-7 frigate passing through the Suez Canal, by the Egyptian city of Ismailia, 100 kilometers northeast of Cairo, on it's way to the Red Sea. (AFP)
Updated 08 August 2017

Two years of Egypt’s $8.2 billion ‘gift to the world’

CAIRO: Two years after Egypt launched its “gift to the world,” opinion is divided on the $8.2 billion New Suez Canal.
Enthusiasts say the project has already injected nearly $3 billion into the economy. Critics say any genuine economic boost is much farther down the line. Others say the real benefit is not financial at all, but political, emotional and psychological.
What is not in doubt is that the Suez Canal is the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia and one of the Egyptian government’s main sources of foreign currency, and that the expansion is an astonishing feat of engineering achieved at eye-watering speed.
On Aug. 5, 2014, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi declared that Egypt would add a second 35 km shipping lane to the 164 km canal, as well as deepening and expanding a 37 km section of the existing waterway. This would allow ships to pass in both directions at the same time, and increase the capacity from 49 to 97 ships a day. And it would be completed, the president said, in one year.
On Aug. 6, 2015, true to his word, El-Sisi inaugurated the new branch of the canal with a glittering celebration, welcoming international leaders aboard a yacht while helicopters and fighter jets flew overhead.
There are also plans to develop the surrounding area into an industrial and commercial hub with new ports and shipping services.
The expansion was financed entirely by Egyptians, who bought investment certificates to pay for it. At the time of the launch, banners calling the project “Egypt’s gift to the world” filled the streets and songs cheering for Egypt were all over the radio.
On the anniversary, canal authority spokesman Tarek Hassanein said the Egyptian people were the true owners of the project. “Egyptian hands impressed the whole world in one year,” he said.
What, however, is the bottom line? The canal authority says the waterway’s revenue from January to July was $2.94 billion. According to Reuters, in July last year revenues stood at $429 million.
Pro-government Egyptian newspapers on Sunday were filled with reports on how the canal expansion was successful, and the “era of bearing fruit” had just begun.
“The New Suez Canal project has made many positive contributions to the Egyptian economy,” said Justin Dargin, a leading Middle East energy expert.
Other analysts believe optimism is premature. “It is hard to judge how much it has added to so far net of its costs,” said Paul Sullivan, a professor of economics at Georgetown University in Washington.
“Over time, in combination with the investments developing around it ... with such infrastructure investment Egypt has a real chance to turn a corner toward a better future.
“The benefits for a while will be more political and emotional, but over time the possible economic benefits could be very large.”
Saeed Sadek, a political sociology professor at Future University in Cairo, said: “The benefits of the project are both political and psychological. El-Sisi himself has said that he wanted with this project to unify Egypt and raise public morale.
“We understand that to see the revenues from this project and its effects on the national economy is something that will take years.
“Nevertheless, the Suez Canal will remain the most vital shipping route in the region.”


Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

Updated 33 min 2 sec ago

Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

  • Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting

AL-MUKALLA: As workers in Yemen’s major port Aden began preparing a coronavirus quarantine facility at Al-Sadaqa Hospital, rumors swirled around the city claiming that if patients were locked inside the hospital, the disease would quickly spread through neighboring areas. 

Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting. People living nearby besieged the hospital, while health workers inside staged a sit-in, refusing to work unless the Health Ministry canceled plans to build the isolation room.

“They threatened to kill me,” Dr. Wafaa Dahbali, Al-Sadaqa Hospital manager, told Arab News.

The hospital’s administration was forced to ask the Health Ministry to move the facility to another location, she said.

“Now we cannot even bring in basic protective items such as masks or gloves since workers will think we still plan to build the quarantine room,” she added.

Yemen, which is gripped by a civil war that has killed thousands of people since late 2014, has intensified efforts to counter coronavirus. But due to crumbling heath services, lack of awareness among people and the influx of hundreds of African migrants via the southern coastline, health officials fear the virus could spread undetected across the country.

Yemen’s Ministry of Health in Aden on Wednesday said that Yemen is free of the disease and all Yemenis returning from China had tested negative. Health Minister Nasir Baoum opened a quarantine center at Seiyun Airport in the southeastern province of Hadramout on Sunday, and said that he had ordered all sea, land and air entry points to ramp up detection measures.

Financial constraints

Health officials across Yemen told Arab News this week that health facilities are working at full capacity to cope with the influx of war casualties, and cases of seasonal diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and H1N1.

The appearance of coronavirus in Yemen would increase the burden on the country’s crumbling and cash-strapped health facilities, they said.

Ibn Sina Hospital in Al-Mukalla provides health services to patients from the three southern provinces of Hadramout, Shabwa and Mahra in addition to treating victims of the conflict in Abyan and Jawf. 

Recently the Health Ministry decided to build a quarantine center at the hospital. Lacking sufficient space, a three-room kitchen was turned into an isolation facility.

However, Dr. Alabed Bamousa, the hospital’s director, told Arab News that the facility could not afford to furnish the unit with medical equipment and staff lacked proper know-how.

“We have nothing at the moment. We asked the ministry for the names of health workers who would be trained by the World Health Organization on dealing with coronavirus patients,” Bamousa said.

He said that workers are not being encouraged to wear masks and gloves in order to avoid triggering panic. 

“My viewpoint is that we shut up till we are ready,” Bamousa said.

Health officials at Al-Mukalla, one of Yemen’s busiest ports, have asked sailors to complete declarations showing their movements before docking.

Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the Health Ministry’s Hadramout office, said that teams of six health workers in each district in the province are visiting Yemenis who have returned from China. 

In the streets, people say that they get information about the virus from social media rather than official channels or local media outlets.

Hassan, a shopkeeper, said that he learned about symptoms of coronavirus and protection measures from WhatsApp. 

“I know that the virus targets the lung and causes fever. We are advised to wash hands and wear marks,” he said.