Suez Canal is ‘lifeline’ for Egypt a century and half on

Container ships account for more than half of Suez Canal’s total traffic nowadays, with some of them being among the largest in the world reaching a capacity of up to 23,000 TEUs. (AFP)
Updated 11 November 2019

Suez Canal is ‘lifeline’ for Egypt a century and half on

  • The canal, which links the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, was opened to navigation in 1869 and was expanded in 2015 to accommodate larger ships
  • Giant oil tankers carrying more than 200,000 tons can now transit through the canal as well

ISMAILIA, Egypt: One hundred and fifty years after the Suez Canal opened, the international waterway is hugely significant to the economy of modern-day Egypt, which nationalized it in 1956.
The canal, which links the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, was opened to navigation in 1869 and was expanded in 2015 to accommodate larger ships.
Dug in the 19th century using “rudimentary tools,” the canal has today become “a lifeline for Egypt and countries around the world,” Admiral Osama Rabie, head of the Suez Canal Authority, said in a rare interview.
“We give credit to Ferdinand de Lesseps for putting forward the idea,” he said, referring to the French diplomat who masterminded the waterway dug over a decade between 1859 to 1869.
But he insisted it was thanks to the “genius” of the Egyptian people that the project really came to life.
“It was a miracle by all accounts to excavate a 164-kilometer-long canal in 10 years with rudimentary tools,” he said.
“A quarter of Egyptians took part in the excavations, that was about a million citizens out of the population of 4.5 million people at that time.”
“Between 100,000 to 120,000 died,” Rabie added, highlighting that many succumbed to disease. Experts however dispute those figures saying the fatalities were poorly documented.
In 2015, Egyptians threw their support behind President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s project to expand the canal, “purchasing 64 billion Egyptian pounds ($3.8 million) of investment certificates within eight days.”
Thanks to that project, transit time has now been cut from 22 to 11 hours, and the number of vessels crossing daily has increased from an average of 40-45 to 60-65 giant tankers, he said.
Nowadays, container ships account for more than half of the canal’s total traffic, with some of them being among the largest in the world reaching a capacity of up to 23,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit).
Giant oil tankers carrying more than 200,000 tons can now transit through the canal as well.
Authorities have also sought to develop the Sinai Peninsula, which lies on the eastern edge of the canal.
“We have also dug six tunnels under the Suez Canal to facilitate movement crossing to and from the Sinai,” Rabie said.
“Before we used to talk about developing the Sinai Peninsula without any serious decisions having been taken. Now access is easy for people and investors.”
Egypt is also developing a free-zone trade hub spanning 461 square kilometers (178 square miles) known as “the Suez Canal Economic Zone.”
“Many projects exist along the banks,” said Rabie, citing ship supply zones, pharmaceutical factories and car assembly plants.
He maintained also that the canal “is perfectly secured” under the command of the Egyptian armed forces.
Ongoing fighting between the Egyptian army against the Islamist insurgents in North Sinai “has not affected” the canal or trade, he stressed.


Coronavirus cases soar as Israel prepares tighter measures

Updated 23 September 2020

Coronavirus cases soar as Israel prepares tighter measures

  • Israel, a country of some 9 million people, now has one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus on a per capita basis
  • The government reopened the economy too quickly, and a new outbreak has quickly spread throughout the summer

JERUSALEM: Israel on Wednesday reported a new record level of daily cases of the coronavirus, shortly before government officials were to meet to discuss tightening a new nationwide lockdown.
The Health Ministry reported 6,861 new cases on Wednesday as a raging outbreak showed no signs of slowing. Israel, a country of some 9 million people, now has one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus on a per capita basis, and health officials say hospitals are quickly approaching capacity.
The government last week imposed a nationwide lockdown that closed schools, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants. The coronavirus Cabinet was to meet later in the day to discuss further tightening the restrictions.
Ahead of the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in light of the rapid spread of the virus, he would seek a “a broad general closure and significant tightening of restrictions immediately,” including the closure of large parts of the economy, his office said.
Israel won international praise for its handling of the outbreak last spring, moving quickly to seal its borders and impose a lockdown that appeared to contain the virus. But the government reopened the economy too quickly, and a new outbreak has quickly spread throughout the summer. The economy, meanwhile, has not recovered from a serious downturn caused by the first lockdown, and the new lockdown has led to a new wave of layoffs.
A new poll released Wednesday by the Israel Democracy Institute, a respected think tank, found that only 27% of Israelis trust Netanyahu to lead the country’s effort against COVID-19. That compares with 57.5% who trusted him in early April. The survey interviewed 754 adults and had a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.
The Health Ministry has instructed hospitals to delay non-essential surgeries and to open additional coronavirus wards as the number of serious cases continues to rise.
Beyond further limiting economic activity, officials have been discussing shuttering synagogues and clamping down on protests — both of which risk sparking a public backlash.
The limits would come at a time when Israeli Jews are celebrating the High Holidays and when weekly demonstrations have been held against Netanyahu and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The ongoing protests have bitterly divided the country, with religious leaders saying their public is being unfairly targeted by restrictions on public prayer while Netanyahu’s opponents continue to hold large public demonstration. Demonstrators say Netanyahu’s supporters are using the outbreak as an excuse to muzzle their democratic right to protest.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said restrictions would have to be tightened in the near future.
“Educational institutions will be closed, the economy will be limited to essential work, synagogues will have no indoor prayers, with arrangements for outdoor prayer, and demonstrations will be allowed without protesters traveling between cities,” he told Channel 12 TV. “Everyone will demonstrate where he wants, will pray where he wants and will stay at home. That is what is required now.”