Sissi un­veils ‘new Suez Canal’ in lav­ish cer­e­mony

The China Post - - WORLD BUSINESS - BY HAITHAM EL- TABEI

Pres­i­dent Ab­del- Fat­tah elSissi un­veiled an ex­panded Suez Canal Thurs­day in a lav­ish cer­e­mony, with the first ships pass­ing through the wa­ter­way in what Egypt hopes will boost its econ­omy and global stand­ing.

El-Sissi, dressed in a cer­e­mo­nial mil­i­tary uni­form, ar­rived aboard a his­toric yacht at the head of a naval flotilla as fighter planes and he­li­copters flew over­head.

The for­mer army chief, who later changed into a busi­ness suit, for­mally opened the US$9 bil­lion (7.9 bil­lion euro) wa­ter­way to the cheers of hun­dreds of guests, in­clud­ing for­eign dig­ni­taries.

“Egyp­tians ex­erted mas­sive ef­forts to of­fer to the world a gift for the sake of hu­man­ity ... in very dif­fi­cult eco­nomic and se­cu­rity con­di­tions,” said el-Sissi in a speech, as the first cargo ships passed through.

He pledged to de­feat mil­i­tancy, which has be­dev­illed the coun­try since he over­threw his Is­lamist pre­de­ces­sor, Mo­hammed Morsi, in 2013.

Se­cu­rity was tight, with the Is­lamic State group’s threat to ex­e­cute a Croa­t­ian kid­napped near Cairo threat­en­ing to over­shadow the cel­e­bra­tions, show­cased by author­i­ties as proof the coun­try is safe.

The event in the port city of Is­mailiya at­tended by heads of state, in­clud­ing French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, comes two years af­ter Morsi’s over­throw.

The ouster un­leashed a deadly crack­down on Is­lamists, and a ji­hadist in­sur­gency has since killed hun­dreds of sol­diers east of the Suez Canal.

IS’s Egyp­tian af­fil­i­ate re­leased a video Wed­nes­day threat­en­ing to ex­e­cute hostage Tomis­lav Salopek, a worker with French geo­science com­pany CGG, within 48 hours un­less Egypt frees jailed Mus­lim women.

El-Sissi said “ter­ror­ist groups are try­ing to harm Egypt and Egyp­tians ... Egypt’s fight against ter­ror­ism is on­go­ing.”

Am­bi­tious Tar­get

El-Sissi opened the cer­e­mony by lead­ing the flotilla aboard a re­fur­bished yacht once owned by the for­mer royal fam­ily, which car­ried French Em­press Eu­ge­nie de Mon­tijo at the canal’s 1869 in­au­gu­ra­tion.

El-Sissi, elected last year on a prom­ise to strengthen se­cu­rity and re­vive a di­lap­i­dated econ­omy, broke ground on the canal pro­ject last Au­gust.

Ini­tial es­ti­mates sug­gested the new route would take up to three years to build, but el-Sissi set an am­bi­tious tar­get of 12 months.

It has been touted as a land­mark achieve­ment, ri­val­ing the dig­ging of the orig­i­nal 192-kilo­me­ter ( 119- mile) canal, which opened in 1869 af­ter al­most a decade of work.

The new sec­tion, funded en­tirely by Egyp­tian in­vestors, runs part of the way along­side the ex­ist­ing canal con­nect­ing the Red Sea and the Mediter­ranean.

It in­volved 37 kilo­me­ters of dry dig­ging, cre­at­ing what is ef­fec­tively a “sec­ond lane,” and widen­ing and deep­en­ing another 35 kilo­me­ters of the ex­ist­ing canal.

It will cut the wait­ing pe­riod for ves­sels from 18 hours to 11.

By 2023, the num­ber of ships us­ing the canal will in­crease to 97 per day from 49 now, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment pro­jec­tions.

Of­fi­cials hope the new wa­ter­way will more than dou­ble Suez earn­ings from US$5.3 bil­lion ex­pected at the end of 2015 to US$13.2 bil­lion in 2023.

An­a­lysts were skep­ti­cal over the tar­gets.

“The first pri­or­ity for ship own- ers and traders is to cut costs, not speed. The trend in re­cent years has been for ships to travel at lower-than-nor­mal speeds just to ... save on their fuel bills,” said Ralph Leszczyn­ski, re­search head at Ital­ian ship­bro­kers Banchero Costa.

Lav­ish Cer­e­mony

Thurs­day’s guests in­cluded Pales­tinian pres­i­dent Mah­mud Ab­bas, King Ab­dul­lah II of Jor­dan, Ye­men’s ex­iled Pres­i­dent Abedrabbo Man­sour Hadi and Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ah­mad al-Sabah.

Newly ac­quired French Rafale war­planes par­tic­i­pated in the fly­past.

Ban­ners read­ing “New Suez Canal: Egypt’s Gift to the World” and “The Egyp­tian Mir­a­cle,” as well as hun­dreds of na­tional flags, graced the streets of Cairo and Is­mailiya.

Dozens of buses fer­ried in­vi­tees to the site of the cer­e­mony as se­cu­rity forces de­ployed in Is­mailiya.

Wav­ing Egypt’s red, white and

al- black flag, a crowd gath­ered at Cairo’s Tahrir Square — epi­cen­ter of protests that ousted both Morsi and his pre­de­ces­sor Hosni Mubarak.

“On June 30 (2013) we changed the course of history; to­day we are chang­ing the ge­og­ra­phy of the world,” said ju­bi­lant tour op­er­a­tor Ibrahim el-Khatab, re­fer­ring to the day when mil­lions protested against Morsi.

The wa­ter­way is a corner­stone for el-Sissi to boost his regime’s le­git­i­macy af­ter a deadly crack- down on dis­sent.

“The abil­ity to ac­com­plish such an eco­nomic pro­ject is part of ce­ment­ing this le­git­i­macy,” said Amr Adly, of the Carnegie Mid­dle East Cen­ter.

Mil­i­tants have killed hun­dreds of po­lice­men and sol­diers, mostly in the Si­nai Penin­sula that lies be­tween Is­rael, the Gaza Strip and the Suez Canal.

The wa­ter­way is part of a com­pre­hen­sive pro­ject to de­velop the area ad­ja­cent to the canal into an in­dus­trial hub.

AP

(Above) Egyp­tian air force planes pa­rade dur­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony of the new sec­tion of the Suez Canal in Is­mailia, Egypt, Thurs­day, Aug. 6. (Right) A man car­ries a mem­ber of the Egyp­tian armed forces on his shoul­ders as they join oth­ers to celebrate the new Suez Canal open­ing, while gath­er­ing around Tahrir Square in down­town Cairo, Thurs­day.

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