CityPress - - Business - PHOTO: DEWALD VAN RENS­BURG

The 150-year-old Suez Canal is the ma­jor pas­sage­way for trade be­tween Asia and Europe, serv­ing as the al­ter­na­tive to cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing Africa.

The ex­pan­sion in­volved a new par­al­lel wa­ter­way of 35km, as well as the widen­ing of another 35km of the al­most 200km-long canal.

De­spite the ex­tremely well-funded hype, this is hardly the first time the canal has been en­larged to keep up with the in­creas­ing size of oil tankers and con­tainer ships.

Seven ma­jor en­large­ments of the canal have taken place since the 1950s.

The ma­jor prob­lem with the canal is still that its nar­row­est parts can only ac­com­mo­date traf­fic in one di­rec­tion at a time, mean­ing con­voys of ships take turns pass­ing north, then south.

Af­ter the new ex­pan­sion, most of the canal is bidi­rec­tional. This re­duces the time ad­van­tage over the longer route around Africa and be­comes a ma­jor has­sle for ships that miss their con­voy.

One of the fre­quently re­peated jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for the pro­ject is that the planned in­dus­trial zones on its banks will draw hun­dreds of thou­sands of Egyp­tians away from the over­crowded cap­i­tal, Cairo, and also that it serves as a lat­ter-day moat, pro­tect­ing most of Egypt from the restive east, in­clud­ing the Si­nai Penin­sula, where an in­sur­gency has been brew­ing.

The Suez Canal is an in­te­gral part of the na­tional mythol­ogy be­cause of its role in Egypt’s ma­jor post-colo­nial con­flict with Bri­tain when it na­tion­alised the canal in 1956.

The new Egyp­tian Con­sti­tu­tion drawn up last year even has a clause specif­i­cally com­mit­ting the state to “pro­tect­ing, de­vel­op­ing and main­tain­ing the Suez Canal as an in­ter­na­tional wa­ter­way that it owns”.

Van Rens­burg was a guest of the Suez Canal Au­thor­ity, a state-owned en­ter­prise.

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