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December 24, 2014

Touring the New Suez Canal made me proud

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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I made a point to tour the construction site of the New Suez Canal during my recent visit to my birth country. I am glad I did.

I started the two-hour trip from Cairo to Ismailia on the shores of the Suez Canal at 5 am to beat the large crowd of daily visitors, including thousands of university students and school children. I was accompanied by a young engineer, a graduate student of mine, and his father.

At the other end we met with a friend who acted as a facilitator and a tour guide. He is a manager of a successful exporting company of local fruits and vegetables to Europe.

I was proud to witness a history in the making, a mega project to serve international trade designed and executed by my countrymen.

The NSC construction site does not have the dramatic effect of Egyptian workers digging by hand the original canal in 1869 when thousands died in the process. But still the site has the same sense of excitement, a mix of history and geography and a beautiful picture of a national dream come true despite the sand and the dirt that fill up the air.

The construction work on the NSC began on the 6th of August 2014. The new canal is 35 kilometer long, 340 meters wide and 24 meters deep. It runs parallel to the original 164 km long canal, which joins the Mediterranean See to the Red Sea, almost in its mid section.

There are four channels constructed to connect the new and old waterways. Around the NSC there are future residential and tourist complexes, marinas and fish farms and free-trade zones.

Dredging is done at both ends of the NSC at the same time, to finish it in only one year, carried out by experienced teams of workers, technicians and engineers. All are Egyptians. The work is done by a total of 54 Egyptian companies and coordinated by two military battalions from the army's engineering division.

The dredging cost at about 10 billion dollars is totally financed by Egyptians through government issued Guaranteed Investment Certificates. Egyptians covered the total $10 billion dollars worth of GICs only in 8 days. I am the proud owner of a few of them.

The NSC will allow ships to sail in both directions at the same time decreasing waiting hours from 11 to 3 hours doubling the capacity of the Suez Canal from 49 to 97 ships a day.

After the completion of the NSC, the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority said that the revenue from the Suez Canal is expected to increase from 5 to 12.5 billion dollars annually.

Major General Engineer Kamel Al-Waziri, chief of staff of the Armed Forces’ Engineering Division, which supervises the NSC project said that digging the parallel NSC and enlarging the existing one are the most important part of an overall development project, which also includes the development of port facilities at Port Said and Sokhna, at both ends of the canal, the building of a new port in Arish in Sinai, an industrial zone at Kantara east of the NSC, a technology park and four tunnels under the two canals, two scheduled to open by the end of 2015.

According to Al-Waziri, work on three tunnels south of Port Said, and another three north of Ismailia connecting the Nile Delta with Sinai, will begin immediately.

The NSC is only one of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi plan to revive the Egyptian economy providing millions of new jobs.

The follow-up development projects around the NSC are to be opened to foreign companies. Egypt has planned a major international investment conference in the Sinai city of Sharm Al Sheikh to be held in March, to present to international investors many opportunities.

“Egypt plays a leading role in regional security and we are keen to support it in the challenges it faces,” commented an UAE’s government official.

Canadian military attaché Todd Brathe said the NSC would also be central to securing maritime navigation. “We are keen to see how the government, the military and security forces are tackling this aspect.”

During a state visit to Russia, President Sisi said that he had agreed with his Russian counterpart to establish a Russian industrial zone around the NSC. He will soon fly to China for the same purpose.

I feel strongly that 2015 will be a better year for Egypt than the last four.

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