With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal billed by its patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as a historic achievement needed to boost the country's ailing economy after years of unrest.
Sissi, wearing his ceremonious military uniform and trademark dark sunglasses, flew to the site aboard a military helicopter and immediately boarded a monarchy-era yacht that sailed to the venue of the ceremony.
The yacht was flanked by navy warships as helicopters, jet-fighters and military transport aircraft flew overhead. A visibly triumphant Sissi stood on the vessel’s upper deck, waving to well-wishers and folklore dance troupes performing on shore. At one point, a young boy in military uniform and holding an Egyptian red, black and white flag joined him on deck.
Later in the day, the president changed to a dark grey business suit and took his seat at the main stand for an elaborate ceremony in the canal city of Ismailia, attended by foreign dignitaries and organized amid tight security measures following a series of attacks by Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula and the capital, Cairo.
World leaders attended
French President Francois Hollande greets journalists upon his arrival to attend the inauguration ceremony of the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Egypt’s black, white and red flags now adorn streets across much of the nation, along with banners declaring support for Sissi and hailing his latest achievement. The government declared Thursday a national holiday, and banks and most businesses were closed.
The new Suez Canal extension involved digging and dredging along 72 kilometers (45 miles) of the 193-kilometer canal, making a parallel waterway at its middle that will facilitate two-way traffic. With a depth of 24 meters (79 feet), the canal now allows the simultaneous passage of ships with up to 66 ft. draught.
Counting the cost and value
But the man-made waterway linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, which was inaugurated in 1869, has long been seen as a symbol of Egyptian national pride. And pro-government media have compared Sissi to former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose nationalization of the canal in 1956 is seen as a defiant break with the country’s colonial past.
“Egypt makes history,” read the banner headline of Thursday’s pro-government daily Al-Watan. The front page of another daily, Al-Maqal, said “Rejoice, it is worth it!”
Islamist execution threat
The 30-year-old Croatian father of two, Tomislav Salopek, was kidnapped on July 22. There have been conflicting reports on where he was snatched. An official at the French company he worked for in Egypt said he was taken from his car at 7 a.m. in an area west of Cairo while making his way to the city’s airport from a company site. Other reports spoke of him being snatched in the Cairo suburb of Maadi, a quiet and leafy neighborhood where many of the city’s Western community live. If confirmed, a broad daylight kidnapping of a foreigner in Maadi could cause panic among the security-conscious expatriate community.
Croatian state TV reported on Thursday afternoon that Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic left for Cairo together with Salopek’s wife, Natasa.
Egypt has seen a surge in attacks by Islamic militants since Mursi’s ouster, in both the restive north of the Sinai Peninsula and the mainland, focusing primarily on security forces.
Egyptian special forces soldiers stand guard during the opening ceremony of the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
However, Wednesday’s video was the first to be released by Islamic militants showing a kidnapped foreigner in Egypt, an ominous escalation as the country tries to rebuild its vital tourism industry. The professionally-made video resembled clips released by ISIS, indicating closer ties with its Egyptian branch.
The government says it has taken major steps to prevent anyone from disrupting Thursday’s ceremony, and pro-government media have portrayed the canal extension itself as a victory over extremism.
“Rejoice, for it is a victory over terror,” wrote Al-Maqal’s editor Ibrahim Issa. “Rejoice, for it is a tremendous win for a country suffering from the blows of terror.”