AFRICANGLOBE – Egypt plans to add an extra lane to the Suez canal, one of the world’s most important thoroughfares for trade, in an attempt to increase the number of ships using it each day.
The canal, which allows ships to travel from Europe to Asia without passing southern Africa, only provides for one-way traffic, with occasional room for ships to pass each other. A new 45-mile lane, plans for which were announced on Tuesday by Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, would allow ships to travel in both directions for just under half of the canal’s 101 miles.
“This giant project will be the creation of a new Suez canal parallel to the current channel,” said Mohab Mamish, the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, in a televised speech.
According to Egypt’s main state news website, Mamish hopes the new channel will be working within a year, but such a quick turnaround is by no means certain. It is also unclear to what extent the expansion would speed up the canal’s operations, said Angus Blair, a Cairo-based analyst who has followed the project’s development.
“They are only increasing capacity in a part of the canal, so the merits of it still have to be weighed up,” said Blair, the president of the Signet Institute, an economic and political thinktank. “They are essentially turning a motorway into a single carriageway halfway through.”
In a speech to the nation on Tuesday, Sisi said the project would receive no financing from abroad, and that he hoped its $4bn (£2.4bn) cost would instead be offset by independent contributions from individual Egyptians. “We want all Egyptians to hold shares in this project,” he said.
Once its cost had been recouped, it was hoped the project would provide lasting stability to Egypt’s ailing economy, Sisi said. Revenues from the Suez canal, which total about $5bn (£3bn) every year, are a crucial source of foreign currency for the Egyptian economy, which has been battered by three years of political instability that have ruined the country’s tourism industry and frightened away foreign investors.
The Suez canal is of great symbolic as well as economic importance to Egypt. Opened 145 years ago, it remained under colonial control until 1956, when Egypt’s then president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, wrested it into Egyptian ownership in an episode that remains a source of deep national pride.
By: Patrick Kingsley