A history of the Suez Canal and how it impacts you

Nii Ntreh Mar 27, 2021 at 12:00pm

March 27, 2021 at 12:00 pm | History, Opinions & Features

Nii Ntreh

Nii Ntreh | Associate Editor

March 27, 2021 at 12:00 pm | History, Opinions & Features

The Suez Canal was completed over 10 years under French colonial supervision, Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Suez Canal Authority has said a number of boats are working around the clock to free the Ever Given vessel that has been logged into the grounds guiding the waterway therefore passage of other ships from the Mediterranean side as well the opposite, difficult.

It has been a few days since the ship, owned by Shoei Kisen Kaisha, a Japanese ship owner and lease company, sailed aground in one of the busiest waterways in the world. The owners of the vessels have since apologized but that has not stopped people all over the world wondering how it happened.

It has been reported that the Ever Given was led astray by high winds and a dust storm on that fateful day. But authorities have promised further investigations, especially after the 1,300ft long container-carrying ship has been freed. It is not known when this dislodgement will be completed although some media outlets have reported expert opinions saying it may take weeks.

As things stand no ship is going this way or that through the canal. Ships carrying every material good and commodity are piling up on both sides of the waterway. It is almost certain the traffic will grow in the coming days.

A history of the Suez Canal

The revered archaeologist and Egyptologist James Henry Breasted in the popularly acclaimed Ancient Records of Egypt (1906) notes that there have been many attempts at constructing canals near the Isthmus of Suez, at least 2000 years Before Common Era. What has been called the Canal of the Pharaohs joined the Nile to the Red Sea. It is thought to have begun in about 1897 BCE through the initiative of Senusret III of the Twelfth Dynasty.

The Canal of the Pharaohs is now referred to as the Ancient Suez Canal, the precursor to what we know today. All of the Mediterranean peoples from the Greeks to the Romans and from the Phoenicians to the Assyrians knew about the Egyptian canal. The philosopher Aristotle even referred to the canal in his treatise, Meteorology.

Egypt underwent various leaderships and so did the character and plans for the canal. For millennia, the waterway was enlarged using the technology of the day to allow for ship passages, for purposes of war and trade. What is called the Ancient Suez Canal was closed by the beginning of the 8th century to disallow Arabians who wanted to wage war on Egypt via the channel. Ancient Egypt was at the time under the Abbasid Caliphate.

There is a claim that Al-Hakim Allah, a Fatimid caliph, tried to reopen this waterway in about the year 1000. This is not thoroughly substantiated but we do know that in the 1600s, the Ottoman Empire tried to do this as well. The intention was to open a shortcut between Constantinople, the seat of the empire, and the pilgrimage sites as well as the Indian Ocean.

However, it was not until Napoleon Bonaparte, then leader of the French campaign in Egypt and Syria at the beginning of the 18th century, that an expansive and detailed plan was put together by archaeologists, geologists and engineers, This plan was going to help France dodge the hostilities up north on their way to Asia if the waterway can be freed.

The project was abandoned because it was thought too expensive, apart from the fact that the team of experts had miscalculated the degree of the work need. Nonetheless, Napoleon’s vision was what informed the beginning of the construction of the modern Suez Canal as we know it, in 1859. It was completed in 1869 under French supervision and control.

In truth, the canal was built with a majority of French capital at stake although the Ottoman Pasha dynasty represented Egyptian interests. In 1875, Isma’il Pasha sold Egypt’s stake to the United Kingdom. The revolutionary Egyptian leader, Abdel Gamel Nasser, annexed ownership of the canal for Egypt in 1956 after he had overthrown the monarchy in 1952.

This nationalization of the canal was what prompted the infamous Suez Crisis. Egypt was then forced to make compensation to the French and British interests, which they did by the middle of the 1960s.

The Suez Canal and You

Over 10% of global trade passes through the Suez Canal. It is unimaginable that you have not been impacted by the general goods and commodities that sail through the canal. American and Russian oil, Chinese technology, Japanese cars, East African raw materials and Indian foods all pass through the Suez canal.

Pliable trade routes make globalization possible and wider. One change in one corner of the world has the potential of affecting us all. According to maritime journal Lloyd, every day, $9 billion worth of essentials sails through the canal on more than 50 ships. Global oil prices have jacked up by 6% since the Ever Given blocked the waterway.

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