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Friday, August 14, 2015

Egypt rejoices opening of new Suez Canal

Egypt is a transcontinental country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia, via a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula.

“Egypt Rejoices” the television networks and newspapers declared, announcing “Egypt’s gift to the world.” Businesses were closed, the streets of Cairo were empty, and the airwaves were full of patriotic songs and music videos — all featuring adoring images of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi interspersed with footage of cargo sailing toward the sea.With a pageant of soaring jets and singing schoolgirls that lasted hours, Mr.Sisi on 6th August 2015,  inaugurated what he called “the new Suez Canal” and portrayed it as the cornerstone of his plans for an economic turnaround.

From the construction perspective, it is great -  In just one year, a third of the time engineers wanted, Egypt has shifted enough sand to allow more and bigger ships to pass more swiftly through a crucial artery of global trade. As a political stunt it is big, too. Since coming to power in July 2013 President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has offered an unspoken bargain: in exchange for shrinking political freedoms he would bring stability and progress.  The Govt declared a holiday for the lavish opening on August 6th of the New Suez Canal, as it dubs its project; to bolster pride in the achievement.

The Suez Canal, is an artificial sea-level waterway running north to south across the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt to connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. The canal separates the African continent from Asia, and it provides the shortest maritime route between Europe and the lands lying around the Indian and western Pacific oceans. It is one of the world's most heavily used shipping lanes. Tolls paid by the vessels represent an important source of income for the Egyptian government.The  artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt was opened in Nov 1869.

The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) has announced the opening of the New Suez Canal on 6th August 2015 by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.  It opens a major expansion of the Suez Canal, which deepens the main waterway and provides ships with a 35km (22 mile) channel parallel to it. At the inauguration ceremony in the town of Ismailia, the president appeared in military uniform and sunglasses aboard the El-Mahrousa–(the yacht that was the first vessel to pass through the canal when it was built in 1869) as helicopters and fighter jets flew by.

With this expansion, Egypt's government hopes the revenues will revive the economy - but analysts have questioned the projections.They point out that the volume of world trade has not been growing at the pace needed to deliver the sums Egypt hopes to collect.Egyptians commenting to the international press and on Twitter appear divided over the project, with many asking if the $8.2bn (£5.3bn) spent on the expansion could have been better deployed on improving infrastructure and public services.Ahmed Kamaly, an economist with the American University in Cairo, told Reuters news agency that the Egyptian projections were "wishful thinking".

The 72 km of new channel and by passes could have 97 ships a day by 2023. Security was tightened for the inauguration ceremony amid fears of attack by militants allied to Islamic State.The original canal currently handles 7% of global sea-borne trade. The waterway connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, providing the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe.  The expansion reportedly cost $8.5

Some marine biologists, however, aren’t applauding the expansion. They note the Egyptian government pushed ahead with the project despite the lack of a thorough environmental risk assessment, writes - http://news.sciencemag.org.  The increased ship traffic and 35 kilometers of new, deeper channels could make it easier for invasive species to move between the two water bodies, a group of 18 scientists warned last year in the journal Biological Invasions.Already, researchers estimate that some half of the 700 nonindigenous organisms found in the Mediterranean Sea got there via the canal. Some have created extensive problems. Less desirable goldband goatfish have replaced economically valuable native red mullet, for example, while invasive jellyfish have clogged water intake pipes.

“I am not aware of any marine biologist who thinks opening the canal without implementing [measures to prevent the spread of invasive species] is a good idea,” Yoni Belmaker, an ecologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel, tells ScienceInsider. For example, scientists say engineers could have created one kind of barrier by creating areas with very salty water, which is inhospitable to many species.

One clear plus for the debt-strapped Egyptian government is that the project is domestically financed: thousands of Egyptians last year snapped up nearly $9 billion in special investment certificates paying 12% interest. The downside for punters is that they are in local currency, in a country where inflation is currently running at over 10%. But there may be another long-term plus. Egypt’s government plans to turn the whole canal zone into a giant logistical, ship-servicing and manufacturing hub. If that ambition comes true, Egypt will stand hugely benefitted.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

14th Aug 2015.

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