The Suez Canal has always been a symbol of Egyptian national pride and prosperity. Built 146 years ago, the Suez Canal is a crucial artery of world trade and remains one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes, earning the country billions. In 1956, President Gamal Abdel Nasser popularized the canal as a symbol of nationalist resistance after taking it from British control. This week the canal should once again electrify the Egyptian public as it is set to open a major expansion two years ahead of schedule. Officials at the Cairo airport have been building excitement for the much needed $8 billon expansion by stamping visitors’ passports with a special stamp counting down the days until the inauguration, reading “Egypt’s gift to the World.”
The expansion adds a new 45-mile shipping lane along part of the vital shipping channel and aims to develop the zone around it into an industrial and commercial hub. The addition includes 22 miles of new channels cut through the desert and a further 23 miles where existing bodies of water were dredged to make way for larger ships. With the completion of the project, the upgraded canal is expected to expedite traffic along the waterway that links the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. According to official estimates, the canal projects to more than double its revenues from $5.3 billion at the end of 2015 to $13.2 billion in 2023.
Egypt began initial trial runs of the new Suez Canal on Saturday, July 25 with three container ships successfully traversing the channel. The trial runs demonstrated the new channel’s potential capacity and that the canal can accommodate a number of different sizes of ships. The first ship in the trial was a US container with a payload of 133,000 tons, coming from Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah and heading to Egypt’s Port Said. The second ship, loaded with 95,000 tons of cargo, was coming from Singapore and heading to the US. The third — a Bahraini ship with a cargo of 77,000 tons — departed from Jeddah and is heading to Italy.
The Egyptian government hired six international firms to dig new sections of canal and dredge the existing waterways. This huge undertaking included companies based in the US, Belgium, and the Netherlands working day and night on six separate sections of the project to finish it in a third of the originally estimated time. To avoid any burden on the state budget, Egypt is funding the opening ceremony through public donations and contributions from the dredging companies responsible for digging the new channel.