Egypt's Suez Canal won't fall into foreign hands, says official

The Egyptians are concerned about the safety of the Suez Canal (pictured), one of the country's main sources of public income. (File photo: AFP)

The Suez Canal will not fall into non-Egyptian hands, the head of the waterway's management has confirmed, amid worries of foreign involvement in an associated development project.

“I assure the Egyptian people that the Suez Canal will not be touched, sold or managed, except by the Egyptians”, Admiral Mohab Mameesh, managing director of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), told Al Arabiya.

Fears of losing the canal to foreign investors were behind recent protests, in which the Egyptian government faced criticism over plans to to develop a logistical zone alongside the canal.

Areas of proposed development include East Port Said, northwest of the Suez Gulf, the Ain Sokhna Port region, and the Technology Valley in Ismailia, reported Daily News Egypt.

Some fear that foreign financial assistance could see the Egyptians lose control of the canal. But the Muslim Brotherhood leadership currently ruling Egypt strongly denied such accusations, reported the Egypt Independent.

Protesters consisting of workers at Port Said’s SCA and members of the province’s syndicate of engineers stormed a conference in Port Said on Thursday to protest against the development project, Egyptian journalist Mohamed al-Halawany told Al Arabiya English last week.

Mameesh confirmed that the authority had its own regulations, and that its role in the Suez Canal Corridor development project – which he called a purely governmental one — is to attract large numbers of ships to use the waterway.

The Corridor development project was intended to boost economic development in the North African country. But a lack of clarity and trust between authorities and the people are affecting the public’s perception of the project, Hesham Noman, chairman of the Port Said Movement in the Suez Canal Authority, told Al Arabiya English last Friday.

“The demonstrators don’t reject the project. They’re worried about the ambiguity that surrounds it,” he added.

The advisory team of the Corridor project recently submitted their resignation, reported the Daily News Egypt.

Headed by the former prime minister Essam Sharaf, the team – which consisted of nine advisors – explained reasons behind the resignations in a statement quoted by the Daily News Egypt.

The resignations were due to a “contradicting project that the government is currently implementing to that of the team’s,” reported the paper.

“We found out that the government had proposed a legislative framework for the project that was improper for its execution, which will drive investors away from the area,” Ali Bassiouni, a former advisory team member, told the Daily News Egypt.

It was said that the Suez Canal Corridor development project will generate $100 million in revenue, a figure Mameesh believes is not far-fetched, speaking in a personal capacity.

“We need to do the right calculations, or else we’ll be dreaming too big,” he said.

Some allege that, before the revolution, the Suez Canal’s revenues went directly to former president Hosni Mubarak. Mameesh refuted such allegations, telling Al Arabiya that all the revenues were immediately delivered to the Central Bank, with a central accounting office in the authority monitoring the figures.

A controversy erupted in 2011 when an Iranian ship, loaded with arms, passed through the Suez Canal to get to Syria. Mameesh commented on the incident saying that it was not breaking any agreements or laws and had all the needed approvals.

During Egypt's post-revolution transitional period, the authority stopped two Iranian ships from passing because they did not have an approval to go through the canal, Mameesh said. A Tanzanian ship was suspected of carrying arms, but it was probed and did not have a single bullet on board, he added.

Mameesh explained that according to international law no ship can be stopped from passing through, if the source and destination of the arms it carried were known, and if the cargo on the ship matched the paper description.

However, he informed Al Arabiya that since claiming office as chairman and managing director of SCA, he had not witnessed arms shipments going to Syria.

The Authority generates around 32bn pounds annually to the state treasury, Mameesh said.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:40 - GMT 06:40