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Egypt Prepares to Inaugurate Expanded Suez Canal

Egypt is set to inaugurate a new $8.5 billion extension to the Suez Canal. The project is meant to bolster the credibility of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and, many hope, boost the country’s economic recovery after years of turmoil. Photo: AP.
Project cost $8.5 billion, stirred patriotic fervor

CAIRO—The government has promoted it as the “rebirth of Egypt.” The Egyptian public paid for it by gobbling up state-issued bonds. And a public lottery was held to determine which ordinary Egyptians would get a coveted ticket to attend its gala opening Thursday.

The object of the hoopla is an $8.5 billion expansion of the Suez Canal, a project that has stirred patriotic fervor in Egypt and salved a national psyche bruised by simmering political divisions and an increasingly sophisticated Islamist insurgency.

“The New Suez Canal represents an accomplishment by the people of Egypt who were able to self-finance this national project and proved their ability to deliver results through their diligence and hard work,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi said during a visit to the waterway last week.

The 120-mile canal is already the fastest route between Asia and Europe and accounts for 8% of the world’s sea trade, according to the Suez Canal Authority. The canal’s improvements, including the building of a 23-mile parallel channel, will allow two-way traffic for the first time and reduce waiting times by as much as eight hours for ships traversing the waterway.

BN-JS279_CANALj_P_20150804183657A cargo ship crosses through the New Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, last month. Photo: Reuters

Yet for Mr. Sisi, the vast undertaking represents not only a hope for more critically needed hard currency and economic revival. He also seeks to burnish Egypt’s—and his government’s—image.

To mark the inauguration, new passport stamps trumpet the project as “Egypt’s Gift to the World,” Cairo’s Tahrir Square has been festooned with strings of blue and white lights and Thursday has been declared a national holiday.

Since leading a military coup in July 2013 against President Mohammed Morsi, a top official in the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Sisi has overseen a crackdown targeting Mr. Morsi’s supporters and other government critics and opponents.

His government has criminalized street protests, sentenced hundreds to death in mass trials and, according to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, imprisoned some 40,000 political opponents and their supporters.



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