Opening Ceremony of Suez Canal 1869
The idea of connecting the Red and Mediterranean seas had haunted Egyptians for centuries. Remnants of an ancient west-east canal through the ancient cities of Bubastis, (Tel Basta), Pi Ramsis (Tel Al-Dabaa) and Pithom (Per Atum) were discovered during the French expedition of 1799.
Ismailia transit dock 1869-1885 photo by Arnoux; Ismailia view of roadstead on 19 june 1885 photo by Arnoux
According to an article published in Al-Ahram in 1894, celebrating the 25-year jubilee of the inauguration of Suez Canal:
“It’s been 25 years since the Red and Mediterranean seas got married, and this is their silver wedding jubilee. Lavishness aside, the story of the Suez Canal starts in 1830 when Ferdinand De Lesseps was assigned French deputy council in Egypt. He was 26. However 38 years later he led the inauguration of the Suez Canal when he was 64 years old."
Kantara km 44 Camel Ferry and ship in transit , photo by Arnox 1869-1885; Suez Canal terminal and camps photos by Arnoux 1869-1885
The article claims that when De Lesseps first set foot in Egypt he was confined to an obligatory quarantine and had to stay on his ship in Alexandria for 40 days.
Bridge of the Mecca Caravans by unknown photographer 1869- 1885; port Ibrahim Suez photo by Arnoux 1869-1885
During such this time he got hold of a study aiming to join both seas and since then it became his obsession. Often referred to as an impossibility due to the difference in sea levels, Deliseps did not take no for an answer. And 38 years later he was there to celebrate his dream come true.
Port Tawfik Quary and basin photo by Zangaki 1869-1885; Russian Vessela at dock 1869-1885 photo by Arnoux
Indeed it was a dream for Deliseps’s that Suez Canal Authority got the royalties of canal for 99 years. the canal gave an alternative route for ships to sail between Europe and Asia without having to go around Africa, reducing the distance by some 7,000 km.
Shallufa excavation on dry land to widen the canal , photo by Arnoux 1869-1885; Shallufa view of Canal undergoing work photo by Arnoux 1869-1885
Suez Gulf 1905, source Alexandria library
In June 1956, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser nationalised the canal and channeled the revenues to build the High Dam after he was denied funds from the World Bank. Nationalisation was a grand victory for Egyptians and a great disappointment to the western world. And the response was violent and quick. The Tripartite Aggression on Egypt by Israel, Britain and France was meant to regain control over the canal and topple Nasser.
Nasser's famous speech where he nationalized the Suez Canal
Egypt agreed to the stationing of a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) in Sinai to ensure the implementation of the 1949 Armistice Agreements.
On 5 June 1967, Israel declared war on Egypt. The 1967 Naksa (Set Back) also known as the Six Day War, allowed Israel to invade the Gaza Strip and Sinai, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
The Suez Canal was closed and under the authority of the Egyptian Armed Forces until president Anwar Sadat reopened it eight years later after Egypt regained Sinai in 1973. The re-opening of the Suez Canal was on 5 June, the same date it was closed on.
In August 2014, construction was launched to construct an extension for half of the route of the canal, costing $4bn, to increase its capacity. Egyptians were able to raise the targeted amount in six working days.
Compiled by Amira El-Noshokaty
-All Data Courtesy of Al-Ahram Organisation and Information Technology Centre (Microfilm)
-All 1950ies-1970ies) Photos courtesy of Al-Ahram digital archive
-All (1869-1900ies ) photos courtesy of Bibliotheca Alexandrina
*This article has first been published in Ahram Online on 5 November, 2011