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.


Protest coverage: Iraqi channel faces month-long ban

Updated 47 min 51 sec ago

Protest coverage: Iraqi channel faces month-long ban

  • Its Baghdad office was raided in the first week of rallies and on Jan. 10

BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities have ordered the closure for a month of Al-Dijla television, which has aired intensive coverage of anti-government protests in recent months, media and police sources said on Tuesday.

“Interior Ministry forces fully shut down Al-Dijla’s offices in Baghdad last night and respectfully asked the staff to leave,” a source from the broadcaster said.

An Interior Ministry official confirmed that security forces had stormed the offices in the Jadiriyah neighborhood of east Baghdad late on Monday.

At least 80 employees work at the Baghdad bureau and another 50 work at the station’s headquarters in Amman, from where it broadcasts.

The Al-Dijla employee, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the main office had been ordered by Jordanian authorities to stop broadcasting for a month.

FASTFACT

Al-Dijlah has provided daily coverage of the anti-government protests sweeping Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south since Oct. 1, despite pressure on its staff.

“The Iraqi government requested from Jordan that it halt the station’s broadcasting for a month based on an Iraqi complaint,” the source said.

Starting on Monday, the frequency on which Al-Dijla typically broadcasts has showed a still image of its logo.

Al-Dijla has provided daily coverage of the anti-government protests sweeping Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south since Oct. 1, despite pressure on its staff.

Its Baghdad office was raided in the first week of rallies and on Jan. 10, one of its correspondents and his cameraman were gunned down in the southern city of Basra.

Before he was killed, correspondent Ahmad Abdessamad, 37, said he had been threatened by Iraqi armed groups because he criticized powerful neighbour Iran in his coverage.

On Jan. 20, Al-Dijla’s leading anchorman Nabil Jassem got into an on-air dispute with the prime minister’s spokesman for military issues, Abdelkarim Khalaf.

Khalaf refused to respond to a question from Jassem about the number of casualties in protest-related violence, and the two accused each other of being disrespectful before Khalaf walked off the set.

In reaction to the shutdown, Al-Dijla administrative head Jamal Al-Karbuli tweeted: “Al-Dijla pays the price for truth.”

Haidar Al-Maytham, a member of the Iraqi National Syndicate for Journalists, said on Tuesday that authorities had taken issue with Al-Dijla’s “politics.”

“There are political disagreements and differences of opinion between the channel’s administration and Iraqi officials, which led to the decision (to shut it down),” Maytham said.

Major powers and advocacy groups have called on Iraq to do more to ensure media freedom and protect journalists covering the protests