Reporting by Mariam Adly, Sanaa’ Farouk, Ekhlas Atallah, Nader Shukry, Nasser Sobhy, Marvat Ayad
07 Aug 2015 9:12 pm
Egypt said this was her USD8 billion gift to the world, but some in the world said “who needs it?” Others said Egypt’s high aspirations of prosperity on the heels of the new Suez Canal were exaggerated, miscalculated, and no more than ‘wishful thinking’. Yet others insisted the mega project can achieve no economic gain; the gain was only political.
But Egyptians saw otherwise. They realised the remarks reflected an attitude of ‘sour grapes’ which would in no way belittle their achievement. Their view ran more in line with that of British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon who praised the new Suez Canal achievement as a “modern wonder”. The French weekly Paris Match ran the headline: “Egypt tames the waters: the new Suez Canal”.
The Suez Canal is the fastest link between Asia and Europe and accounts for around 8 per cent of global seaborne trade. Even though economic reports point to a slowdown in world shipping, which may place in doubt the more-than-double revenue expected from the Canal in less than 10 years, the new Suez Canal would still create income for Egypt’s treasury in other, more substantial ways. The Canal is, as President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi stressed, only one of a thousand steps. Its banks and vicinity should host projects that would create a world-class logistics, trade, and industrial hub.
Now that the new Canal is in operation, the New Suez Canal development project should start right away. Vice Admiral Mohab Mameesh, head of the Suez Canal Authority who was awarded the Seatrade Personality of the Year for 2014, said the project will begin with establishing six new ports and two industrial zones. “It’s like a beehive on these sites,” he said, alluding to the work going into preparation for the launch of construction.
Last Thursday held a surprise for the fishermen in Ismailiya. with President Sisi granting 12 fishermen fishing boats as gifts. This is only a start; more fishing boats will be granted to local fishermen in turn. The same day saw the opening of some 500 fish culture basins in the Canal.
Two welcome statues
As the new Suez Canal opened on Thursday 6 August 2015 for the third time in its history, this time as a mostly two-way 165km-long course joining the Mediterranean and Red Sea, vessels at sea or in ports the world over joined in an event of simultaneous horn blowing to greet the occasion. The move was unprecedented; the only action remotely similar would be the blowing of ship horns on New Year Eve to greet the New Year, but even this is not the same given that the New Year comes in at different hours around the world.
The day was honoured in Egypt by a national holiday. Public transportation was free of charge, and public gardens open to all.
The opening ceremony was aired live on TV, broadcast by Egyptian Television. According to Safaa’ Higazy, head of the TV news sector and member of the committee that planned and prepared for the new Suez Canal opening ceremony, more than 50 cameras and 10 TV outside broadcasting trucks were used to relay the event from land, sea, and air. Some 120 correspondents covered the ceremony.
Two statues greeted the guests to Ismailiya. One is Tareq al-Koumi’s Umm al-Dunia (Mother of the World) located in front of Ismailiya toll station on the Cairo Ismailiya road. The other, Hariss al-Tareekh (Guard of History), was sculpted by Saïd Badr and stands at the end of the Ismailiya ring road, overlooking the Canal. Both statues were unveiled a few days earlier by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab together with a number of State ministers and senior officials.
Little boy in military fatigues
The afternoon of Thursday 6 August saw Mahroussa, the royal-turned-republican yacht of Egypt that first sailed the Suez Canal in 1869, sail from Ismailiya south to the site of the opening ceremony on the east bank of the Canal. On board was President Sisi who, in his capacity as Supreme Commander of the Egyptian Armed Forces boarding a navy vessel, was in full military regalia. On board the yacht with him were members of families of a number of Egyptians who had lost their lives to terrorist attacks waged by Islamist militants. But the surprise was that the President had with him by a little boy in military fatigues waving the Egyptian flag, whom the President tenderly held to and conversed with a good part of the way. The nine-year-old was Omar Salah, a cancer patient under treatment at the 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital who had expressed a wish to meet President Sisi, saying he wished to be “like him”. The President read about him and invited him to don military fatigues and join him on board Mahroussa.
Rafale and F16 jets put on an airshow, drawing the Egyptian flag in the sky with plumes of coloured smoke, while the Egyptian navy’s new FREMM frigate, named Tahya Misr (“Long Live Egypt”) escorted Mahroussa.
Once the yacht reached her destination, President Sisi disembarked and changed into civilian clothes to welcome the dignitaries who had come to join in the celebration.
Thirty marquees had been set up on the banks of the Suez Canal at Ismailiya to seat the guests.
Among the guests who hailed form 70 countries was France’s President François Hollande, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinott, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Swiss Vice President Johann Schneider-Ammann, China’s Minister of Culture, Luo Shugang, Speaker of North Korea’s parliament, Kim Yong Nam, and a delegation from the US Congress. From the Arab World there were King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain, Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah of Kuwait, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Dubai’s ruler Emirati Prime Minister and Vice President, Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and Minister of Defence Mohamed Bin Salman Al-Saud, Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, King Abdullah of Jordan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Speaker of the Lebanese parliament Nabih Berri, Lebanese Prime Minister Tamam Sallam, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, and Qatar’s Minister of Transportation Jassim Saif Al-Sulaiti. In attendance from Africa were Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Angola’s President José Eduardo dos Santos, Lesotho’s Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila, Tanzania’s Vice President Mohamed Gharib Bilal, and deputy chairman of the African Union’s Commission, Erastus Mwencha.
Among the Egyptian guests were the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, and the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II. Also in attendance were Mrs Sisi, Entissar Amer al-Sisi; and the wife of the former President Anwar al-Sadat, Jehan al-Sadat.
The challenge, the promise, the gift
The ceremony started with the Egyptian national anthem, after which a documentary on the work that went into digging and deepening the new Suez Canal was screened. Its theme: “The challenge, the promise, the gift”.
Vice Admiral Mameesh then gave the opening address. He spoke in detail of the work reminding the President that, one year ago, he had stood before the President to speak of the work ahead which was to take three years to execute. The President had smilingly said back then, “No, one year!” to which Mameesh had said: “Consider it done!” On Thursday, Vice Admiral Mameesh proudly said it has been done.
President Sisi then signed the official document declaring the new Suez Canal was open to navigation, and announced the opening. He took the podium and started his speech. In his customary soft-spoken manner, he departed from the written text and improvised, explaining that he preferred to talk “heart to heart” to his Egyptian countrymen.
He began by thanking “the martyrs who sacrificed themselves for Egypt and her stability…the army, police and civilians”, all those who participated in the new Suez Canal project including the engineering division of the Armed Forces, and the Suez Canal Authority.
He said the new Suez Canal carried the added value of having been executed not only in record time but also under the harsh conditions of the terrorist war that Egyptians had, and still have to, fight. “History will record that Egypt stood in the face of the most dangerous, terroristic ideology. We will go on confronting it and will defeat it by standing as one, united bloc,” the President said, gesturing to Sheikh Tayyeb and Pope Tawadros who sat side-by-side among the audience.
“All people are able to dream,” President Sisi said, “but only free people are able to fulfill the dreams.”
Towards the end of the speech, the first commercial ship to cross the new canal passed by, sounding its horn.
The speech was followed by a charming children’s choir performance which closed the ceremony. President Sisi and his guests then boarded Mahroussa to navigate the new waterway.
The evening saw the President and Egypt’s guests grace the theatre erected by the Egyptian Armed Forces on 2500 square metres of land west of the Suez Canal close to Ismailiya, and set up by the Cairo Opera House. The theatre was designed in the form of a Pharaonic crown topped with the key of life.
Some 1000 musicians, singers, dancers, administrators, and workers, led by Ines Abdel-Dayem, director of the Cairo Opera House were on hand to give some spectacular performances.
For 40 minutes, the renowned Egyptian pianist Omar Khairat played with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, the Cairo Opera Orchestra, the Acapella Choir, the Cairo Opera Choir, and the Children’s Choir.
It was then time for Aida’s Triumphal March to crown the show. The main roles were sung by the stars of the Cairo Opera Group; Soprano Iman Mustafa as Aida and the Italian tenor Antonio Ceriano as Radames, together with the bass baritone Reda al-Wakil, the mezzo soprano Jolie Faizy and others.
The evening ended in an air of exhilaration with, fittingly, a stunning fireworks display.
7 August 2015
Watani International has reported extensively on the Suez Canal and the new Suez Canal projects:
Watani International, 13 April 2014
Watani International, 31 August 2014
Watani International, 31 August 2014
Watani International, 2 November 2014
Watani International, 15 February 2015
Watani International, 31 May 2015
Watani International, 2 August 2015