Construction began yesterday on a $4 billion plan to double the capacity of the Suez Canal within a year. The New York Times reports:
At a lavish groundbreaking ceremony that included a military air show and the symbolic detonation of demolition explosives, Mr. Sisi’s government announced an ambitious plan to build a new waterway that would expand the capacity of the existing canal while creating jobs and revenue for the government.
Mr. Sisi set an equally ambitious timeline for the project, which would involve the digging or dredging of approximately 45 miles of earth and wetlands, saying the new waterway would open next year.
“We are racing time, because we are very late,” he said. […]
With the government’s other sources of revenue, including tourism, drying up after years of political turmoil, plans for the canal, along with other state-led projects to stimulate the economy, have taken precedence, analysts said.
The planned expansion, called the Suez Canal Axis, will double the capacity of the canal while shortening the time it takes to travel through it. The government also hopes that long-term, the increased shipping capacity will give rise to an innovation hub akin to Hong Kong.Egypt’s struggling economy could certainly use the upward momentum. Nor are the political benefits lost on President al-Sisi, who timed the lavish ceremony to coincide with the 58th anniversary of Nasser’s seizure of the canal from the British.But the project actually appears to be an adaptation of a canal expansion mooted under the previous Muslim Brotherhood regime, as al-Sisi admitted in remarks that have received more play in the Arabic press than the English. Furthermore, plans appear to be fairly vague for a venture that’s due to be completed within a year, according to the NYT:
The current project was initially estimated to take three to five years. But during his inauguration speech El-Sissi told the head of the Army Engineering Corps, Gen. Emad el-Alfi: “You are mandated, in front of me and the Egyptians, to end this project next year… How? I don’t know.”
“I don’t know” might not be a stunning rallying cry, but if al-Sisi can deliver, this is a smart move, no matter who thought of it first. While there is a lot in al-Sisi’s record to which friends of human rights can and should object, Egypt and the world will be better off if he succeeds.