Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt launched a project on Tuesday which includes building a new Suez Canal waterway in a bid to increase revenues from the trade route—a vital source of foreign currency to the country whose economy has been rocked since the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The new 4-billion-US-dollar, 45-mile-long canal would run parallel to the current one, allowing ships to pass in the opposite direction, the head of Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority Mohab Mamish said during a ceremony to mark the start of the project.
The current canal allows for one-way traffic along its 120-mile-long tract most of the time, with two-way traffic restricted to less busier periods.
Mamish said the new thoroughfare would reduce maximum waiting hours for ships from 11 to three hours, and would allow 46 ships to cross the channel simultaneously.
The Suez Canal brings Egypt some 5 billion dollars in revenue yearly. An official at the Authority told Reuters the new canal would boost these revenues to 13.5 billion dollars by 2023.
The digging of the new canal is expected to be finished in three years, but Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi—who also attended the ceremony—wants it completed in one year.
Mamish also said the plan was part of a wider project to transform the Suez Canal region into a global logistics hub.
Commenting on the project, Ali Lotfy, a former prime minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The project to dig a new canal is part of a huge [wider] project to develop the [Suez] Canal, one which also includes building educational facilities, as well as a world-class healthcare facility and a world-class conference space.”
“For the first time since it was built 150 years ago, we [Egypt] will be able to fully make use of its ingenious location,” he added.
Lotfy also said: “These projects are required and needed, and the Egyptian people will be able to help in their funding.”
During the ceremony Mamish indicated that while the project would rely on funds provided from the country’s budget, it would also seek funding from the “Long Live Egypt” fund set up by Sisi for wealthy Egyptians.
He said the government would also be setting up a number of listed companies in which the public could buy shares as a way to involve the Egyptian people in the project’s funding.
Lotfy, who was also a finance minister under former president Anwar Sadat, believes the new project will help lift Egypt out of the economic troubles it has faced for the last three years. “We are in the midst of a giant national project which, though it may need time and funding [to be completed], will offer us huge returns, which will necessarily have a positive effect on economic growth in the country, perhaps solving in the long-run a large part of the unemployment problem, as well as helping increase exports alongside other elements which will be helpful to the economy,” he said.
Egypt’s economy has taken a battering since the January 25 revolution which ousted Mubarak in 2011. Once-lucrative sources of hard currency such as the tourism industry have dried up, and there has been an exodus of capital from the country due to the ongoing political instability.
On Tuesday, the EGX 30, the main benchmark index on the country’s stock exchange, passed the 9,000-point mark for the first time in six years as it rose 1.04 percent to 9010.31 points.
The 145-year-old Suez Canal runs north–south from the city of Port Said to the Gulf of Suez opening onto the Red Sea. It is the quickest trade route between Europe and Asia, and one of the most important to global trade. Before its completion in 1869, ships would have to circumvent the often dangerous Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of the African continent.