The Suez Canal has been operating since 1869, basically making it possible to get from Europe to Asia by sea, without looping around Africa. (Heather Murdock/VOA)
The Suez Canal has been operating since 1869, basically making it possible to get from Europe to Asia by sea, without looping around Africa. (Heather Murdock/VOA)

ISMAILIA, EGYPT - When Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announces the “new” Suez Canal is open for business on August 6, according to officials, ships at sea around the world will blast their horns in celebration.

The expansion will more than double the canal’s income over the next 10 years by making the trip faster and cheaper for shippers, said Suez Canal Authority head Admiral Mohab Mohamed Hussien Mameesh.

“Food will arrive faster. Medicine will arrive faster. Petroleum products will arrive faster,” he said. “Egypt is serving the whole the world by speeding up this naval passage.”

The project was scheduled to take a year. A year ago, analysts balked at the possibility that it could be finished so fast. The actual work is scheduled to be finished in one month, with a few weeks for testing before a grand opening gala event.

However, some analysts are skeptical about the level of income the canal will generate. The canal’s future success will depend largely on the global shipping industry, which Egypt cannot control, said Naval History Professor Andrew Lambert, of King's College in London.

Even if it is successful, he added, he does not think it will be enough to improve the lives of average Egyptians, who are suffering rising poverty and prices, as the economy tries to recover from the financial and political turmoil between 2011 and 2013.

“That is a high-risk strategy,” he said. “Egypt is a large, complex country with a very big population. It is highly unlikely it is going to be able to live off the kinds of incomes it will get, even from two canals.”

A high cost of governance and foreign debts make Egypt a particularly expensive country to run, he said. In a speech marking his first a full year in office last week, Sissi said Egypt would need "no less than 200-300 billion dollars" to rebuild its economy.

Increased revenue expected

The Suez Canal is a major shipping route connecting Europe and Asia that brought in $5.5 billion last year. Less than a decade from now, the canal is expected to bring in $13 billion a year. The project, according to authorities, is one of many fast-tracked to boost foreign investment and generate income.

The "new canal" is an expansion of the current canal that will allow ships to pass by each other, like a two-lane highway, as opposed to a single lane. Upon completion, more ships will fit inside the canal at the same time, reducing the wait time for some ships from 22 hours to 11 hours.

“Ships manufactured today are enormous,” said Mameesh. “Consequently, our current capacity is just eight ships per day. If there are nine ships, one has to wait outside the canal.”

From a boat meandering by construction sights on the “new” canal Sunday, giant waterspouts are seen slowly raising the level of the waterway.

The boat was provided by the Suez Canal Authority to promote the project and reporters snap pictures while workers drop hints about who may attend the opening bash. Kings and presidents are expected for certain, along hundreds of celebrities. 

At a presentation earlier in the day, Mameesh promised that it wouldn’t only be famous people at the gala, and an assortment of citizens would be invited.

About $9 billion of the funding for the project came from Egyptian people purchasing investments. “The people are the ones that dug this canal,” he said.

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