suez canal crisis

Suez Canal

The Suez Canal is a canal in Egypt. Opened in 1869, it allows water transportation between Europe and Asia without circumnavigation of Africa or carrying goods overland between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

The canal is 192 km long. It is single lane with 4 passing places north and south of the Great Bitter Lake, and links the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Suez on the Red Sea.

The canal is owned and maintained by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) of the state of Egypt.

History

Two ancient west-east canals are documented as having facilitated travel from the Nile to the Red Sea. One smaller canal was constructed under the auspices of either Senusret III or Ramesses II. The other larger canal incorporated a portion of the first but was located farther south and was constructed under the reign of Necho II.

2nd millennium BC

Perhaps as early as the 12th Dynasty, Pharaoh Senusret III (1878 BC1839 BC) may have had a west-east river dug through the Wadi Tumilat, joining the River Nile with the Red Sea. This allowed direct trade with Punt, and, indirectly, linked the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. (In ancient times the Red Sea reached northward to the Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah.)

The reliefs of the Punt expedition under Hatshepsut depict seagoing vessels carrying the expeditionary force returning from Punt. This has given rise to the theory that, at the time, a navigable link existed between the Red Sea and the Nile.

Evidence indicates its existence by the 13th century BC during the time of Ramesses II.

This ancient west-east canal was discovered in the early 1860s, running through the ancient Egyptian cities of Pi-Ramesses, Bubastis and Pithom, during the construction of the Sweet Water Canal.

Repair by Necho, Darius I, and Ptolemy

The waterway fell into disrepair, and according to the Histories of the Greek historian Herodotus, about 600 BC, Necho II undertook re-excavation. Accounts are varied, however, as we are told that Necho endeavored to either deepen the older canal between Bubastis and Heroopolis and/or between the Heroopolite Gulf and the Red Sea. Regardless, Necho is reported as having never completed his project.

Herodotus was told that 120,000 men perished in this undertaking. According to Pliny the Elder, Necho's extension to the canal was approximately 57 English miles, equal to the total distance between Bubastis and the Great Bitter Lake, allowing for winding through valleys that it necessarily had to pass through. The length that Herodotus tells us, of over 1000 stadia (i.e., over 114 miles), must be understood to include the entire distance between the Nile and the Red Sea at that time.

With Necho's death, work was discontinued. Herodotus tells us that the reason the project was abandoned was because of a warning received from an oracle that the barbarians (i.e., the Persians) would benefit by its successful completion.

Necho's project was finally completed by Darius I of Persia, who conquered Egypt. We are told that by Darius's time a natural waterway passage which had existed between the Heroopolite Gulf and the Red Sea in the vicinity of the Egyptian town of Shaluf (alt. Chalouf or Shaloof), located just south of the Great Bitter Lake, had become so blocked with silt that Darius necessarily needed to clear it out so as to allow navigation once again.

According to Herodotus, Darius's canal was wide enough that two triremes could pass each other with oars extended, and required four days to traverse. Darius commemorated his achievement with a number of granite stelae that he set up on the Nile bank, including one near Kabret, from Suez. The Darius Inscriptions read:

Saith King Darius: I am a Persian. Setting out from Persia, I conquered Egypt. I ordered this canal dug from the river called the Nile that flows in Egypt, to the sea that begins in Persia. When the canal had been dug as I ordered, ships went from Egypt through this canal to Persia, even as I intended.

The canal left the Nile at Bubastis. An inscription on a pillar at Pithom records that in 270 or 269 BC it was again reopened, by Ptolemy II Philadelphus. In Arsinoe, Ptolemy constructed a navigable lock, with sluices, between the Heroopolite Gulf and the Red Sea which allowed the passage of vessels but prevented salt water from the Red Sea from mingling with the fresh water in the canal.

Receding Red Sea and dwindling Nile

It must be kept in mind that the Red Sea gradually receded over the centuries, its coastline slowly moving farther and farther southward away from Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake to its present coastline today. Coupled with persistent accumulations of Nile silt, maintenance and repair of Ptolemy's canal obviously became increasingly cumbersome over each passing century.

Only two hundred years after the construction of Ptolemy's canal, Cleopatra seems to have had no west-east waterway passage, because the Pelusiac branch of the Nile River, which had fed Ptolemy's west-east canal, had by that time dwindled, having choked up with silt.

Over the next 1000 years the Suez Canal was successively modified, destroyed and rebuilt, until finally it was put out of commission in the eighth century by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur.

Old Cairo to the Red Sea

By the eighth century, we are told, a navigable canal existed between Old Cairo and the Red Sea, but accounts vary as to who ordered its construction -- either 'Amr ibn al-'As, Omar the Great, or Trajan. This canal reportedly linked to the Nile River at Old Cairo and ended near modern Suez.

The Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur is said to have ordered this canal closed so as to prevent supplies from reaching Arabian detractors.

Repair by Tāriqu l-Ḥākim

Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah is claimed to have repaired the Old Cairo to Red Sea passageway, but only briefly, circa 1000 AD, as it soon \\"became choked with sand.\\" However, we are told that parts of this canal still continued to fill in during the Nile's annual inundations.

Mehemet Ali is said to have ordered this canal closed in 1811.

Napoleon discovers an ancient canal

Napoleon Bonaparte's interest in finding the remnants of an ancient waterway passage culminated in a cadre of archaeologists, scientists, cartographers and engineers scouring the area beginning in the latter months of 1798. Their findings, recorded in the Description de l'Égypte, include detailed maps that depict the discovery of an ancient canal extending northward from the Red Sea and then westward toward the Nile River.

Later, in the second half of the nineteenth century, French cartographers would again record the discovery of the remnants of yet another ancient north-south canal running past the east side of Lake Timsah and ending near the north end of the Great Bitter Lake. This second canal followed a course along the ancient shoreline of the Red Sea when the Red Sea once extended north to Lake Timsah.

Unknown however are exactly when these two ancient canals were constructed and by whom.

Napoleon had contemplated the construction of another, modern, north-south canal to join the Mediterranean and Red Sea. But his project was abandoned after the preliminary survey erroneously concluded that the Red Sea was 10 metres higher than the Mediterranean, making a locks-based canal too expensive and very long to construct. The Napoleonic survey commission's error came from fragmented readings mostly done during wartime, which resulted in imprecise calculations.

Though by this time unnavigable, the ancient route from Bubastis to the Red Sea still channeled water in spots as late as 1861 and as far east as Kassassin.

Re-construction by Suez Canal Company

In 1854 and 1856 Ferdinand de Lesseps obtained a concession from Said Pasha, the viceroy of Egypt, to create a company to construct a canal open to ships of all nations, according to plans created by Austrian engineer Alois Negrelli. The company was to operate the canal by leasing the relevant land, for 99 years from its opening. De Lesseps had used his friendly relationship with Said, which he had developed while he was a French diplomat during the 1830s. The Suez Canal Company (Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez) came into being on 15 December 1858.

The excavation took nearly 11 years using forced labour of Egyptian workers. Some sources estimate that over 30,000 people were forced to work on the canal.

The British recognized the canal as an important trade route and perceived the French project as a threat to their geopolitical and financial interests. The British Empire was the major global naval force and officially condemned the forced work and sent armed bedouins to start a revolt among workers. Involuntary labour on the project ceased, and the viceroy condemned the slavery, halting the project.

Angered by the British opportunism, de Lesseps sent a letter to the British government remarking on the British lack of remorse a few years earlier when forced workers died in similar conditions building the British railroad in Egypt.

Initially international opinion was skeptical and Suez Canal Company shares did not sell well overseas. Britain, the United States, Austria and Russia did not buy any shares. All French shares were quickly sold in France. A contemporary British skeptic claimed:

"One thing is sure... our local merchant community doesn't pay practical attention at all to this grand work, and it is legitimate to doubt that the canal's receipts... could ever be sufficient to recover its maintenance fee. It will never become a large ships accessible way in any case." (reported by German historian Uwe A. Oster)

The canal opened to shipping on 17 November 1869. Although numerous technical, political, and financial problems had been overcome, the final cost was more than double the original estimate.

The canal had an immediate and dramatic effect on world trade. Combined with the American transcontinental railroad completed six months earlier, it allowed the entire world to be circled in record time. It played an important role in increasing European penetration and colonization of Africa. External debts forced Said Pasha's successor, Isma'il Pasha, to sell his country's share in the canal for £4,000,000 to the United Kingdom in 1875, but France still remained the majority shareholder. Prime minister Benjamin Disraeli was accused by William Gladstone of undermining Britain's constitutional system, due to his lack of reference or consent from Parliament when purchasing the shares with funding from the Rothschilds.

The Convention of Constantinople in 1888 declared the canal a neutral zone under the protection of the British; British troops had moved in to protect it during a civil war in Egypt in 1882. They were later to defend the strategically important passage against a major Ottoman attack in 1915. Under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, the UK insisted on retaining control over the canal. In 1951 Egypt repudiated the treaty, and in 1954 the UK agreed to remove its troops, and withdrawal was completed in July 1956.

Suez Crisis

After the United Kingdom and the United States withdrew their pledge to support the construction of the Aswan Dam due to Egyptian overtures towards the Soviet Union, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the canal in 1956, intending to finance the dam project using revenue from the canal, while at the same time closing the Gulf of Aqaba to all Israeli shipping by closure of the Straits of Tiran. This provoked the Suez Crisis, in which the UK, France and Israel colluded to invade Egypt. The intention was for Israel to invade on the ground, and for the Anglo-French partnership to give air and other support, later to intervene to resolve the crisis and control the canal.

To stop the war from spreading and to save the British from what he thought was a disastrous action, Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, proposed the creation of the very first United Nations peacekeeping force to ensure access to the canal for all and an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. On 4 November 1956, a majority of nations at the United Nations voted for Pearson's peacekeeping resolution, which mandated the UN peacekeepers to stay in the Sinai Peninsula unless both Egypt and Israel agreed to their withdrawal. The US backed this proposal by putting financial pressure on the British government, which then agreed to withdraw its troops. Pearson was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

As a result of damage and ships intentionally sunk under orders from Nasser the canal was closed until April 1957, when it was cleared with UN assistance. A UN force (UNEF) was established to maintain the neutrality of the canal and the Sinai Peninsula.

Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973

In May 1967 President Nasser ordered the UN peacekeeping forces out of the Sinai Peninsula, including the Suez Canal area. Despite Israeli objections in the United Nations, the peacekeepers were withdrawn and the Egyptian army took up positions on the Israeli border, closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. The canal itself had been closed to Israeli shipping since 1949, except for a short period in 1951-1952.

These actions were key factors in the Israeli decision to launch a pre-emptive attack on Egypt in June 1967, and to capture the Sinai Peninsula to the Suez Canal. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, also called the Six Day War, the canal was closed by an Egyptian blockade until 5 June, 1975. As a result, fourteen cargo ships known as "The Yellow Fleet" remained trapped in the canal for over eight years. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, the canal was the scene of a major crossing by the Egyptian army into Israeli-occupied Sinai. Much wreckage from this conflict remains visible along the canal's edges.

The UNEF mandate expired in 1979. Despite the efforts of the US, Israel, Egypt, and others to obtain an extension of the UN role in observing the peace between Israel and Egypt, as called for under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979, the mandate could not be extended because of the veto by the USSR in the security council, at the request of Syria. Accordingly, negotiations for a new observer force in the Sinai produced the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), stationed in Sinai in 1981 in coordination with a phased Israeli withdrawal. It is there under agreements between the US, Israel, Egypt, and other nations. (Multinational Force and Observers).

Capacity

The canal allows passage of ships up to 150,000 tons displacement. It permits ships up to 16 m (53 ft) draft to pass, and improvements are planned to increase this to 22 m (72 ft) by 2010, allowing passage of fully-laden supertankers.

Some supertankers are too large. Others can offload part of their cargo onto a canal-owned boat and reload at the other end of the canal.

See also Suezmax.

Alternatives

The main alternative is travelling around Cape Agulhas. This is the route for ships which are too large, and was the route in the past before the canal was constructed, and when the canal was closed.

Also, before the canal's opening in 1869, goods were sometimes offloaded from ships and carried overland between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Operation

The canal has no locks due to the flat terrain, and the minor sea level difference between each end is inconsequential.

There is one shipping lane with several passing areas. On a typical day, three convoys transit the canal, two southbound and one northbound. The first southbound convoy enters the canal in the early morning hours and proceeds to the Great Bitter Lake, where the ships anchor out of the fairway, awaiting passage of the northbound convoy. The northbound convoy passes the second southbound convoy, which moors in a bypass near El Qantara. The passage takes between 11 and 16 hours at a speed of around . The low speed helps prevent erosion of the canal banks by ships' wakes.

By 1955 approximately two-thirds of Europe's oil passed through the canal. About 7.5% of world sea trade is carried via the canal today. Receipts from the canal July 2005 to May 2006 totaled $3.246 billion. In 2007, 18,193 vessels passed through the canal. Average per-ship cost is roughly $150,000.00

On 30 December, 2007 it was announced that Egypt will increase Suez Canal transit fees by an average of 7.1% in 2008.

Connections between the shores

From north to south connections are:

A railway on the west bank runs parallel to the canal for its entire length.

Environmental impact

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 created the first salt-water passage between the Mediterranean and Red seas. The Red Sea is about 1.2 m higher than the eastern Mediterranean , so the canal serves as a tidal strait that pours Red Sea water into the Mediterranean. The Bitter Lakes, which are hypersaline natural lakes that form part of the canal, blocked the migration of Red Sea species into the Mediterranean for many decades, but as the salinity of the lakes gradually equalised with that of the Red Sea, the barrier to migration was removed, and plants and animals from the Red Sea have begun to colonise the eastern Mediterranean. The Red Sea is generally saltier and more nutrient-poor than the Atlantic, the direction of flow is generally from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, so the Red Sea species have advantages over Atlantic species in the salty and nutrient-poor eastern Mediterranean. Accordingly, most Red Sea species invade the Mediterranean biota, and only few do the opposite. This migratory phenomenon is called Lessepsian migration (after Ferdinand de Lesseps) or Erythrean invasion. The construction of the Aswan High Dam across the River Nile in the 1960s reduced the inflow of freshwater and nutrient-rich silt from the Nile into the eastern Mediterranean, making conditions there even more like the Red Sea, worsening the impact of the invasive species.

Invasive species originated from the Red Sea and introduced into the Mediterranean by the construction of the canal have become a major component of the Mediterranean ecosystem, and have serious impacts on the Mediterranean ecology, endangering many local and endemic Mediterranean species. Currently about 300 species from the Red Sea have been identified in the Mediterranean Sea, and there are probably others yet unidentified. The Egyptian government's intent to enlarge the canal have raised concerns from marine biologists, fearing that this will worsen the invasion of Red Sea species in the Mediterranean. .

Construction of the Suez Canal was preceded by cutting a small fresh-water canal from the Nile delta along Wadi Tumilat to the future canal, with a southern branch to Suez and a northern branch to Port Said. Completed in 1863, these brought fresh water to a previously arid area, initially for canal construction, and subsequently facilitating growth of agriculture and settlements along the canal.

Timeline

  • Circa 1799 — Napoleon I of France conquered Egypt and ordered a feasibility analysis. This reported a supposed 10 metre difference in sea levels and a high cost, so the project was set on standby.
  • Circa 1840 — A second survey found the first one incorrect. A direct link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea would be possible and not be as expensive as expected.
  • Circa 1854 — The French consul in Cairo, Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps, created the "Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez".
  • 25 Apr 1859 — The French were allowed to begin canal construction (Said Pacha acquired 22% of the Suez Canal Company, the remainder controlled by French private holders).
  • 16 Nov 1869 — The Suez Canal opened; operated and owned by Suez Canal Company.
  • 25 Nov 1875 — Britain became a minority share holder in the Suez Company, acquiring 44% of the Suez Canal Company. The remainder were controlled by French syndicates.
  • 25 Aug 1882 — Britain took control of the canal.
  • 2 Mar 1888 — The Convention of Constantinople guaranteed right of passage of all ships through the Suez Canal during war and peace.
  • 14 Nov 1936 — Suez Canal Zone established, under British control.
  • 13 Jun 1956 — Suez Canal Zone restored to Egypt.
  • 26 Jul 1956 — Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal.
  • 5 Nov 1956 to 22 Dec 1956 — French, British, and Israeli forces occupied the Suez Canal Zone.
  • 22 Dec 1956 — Restored to Egypt.
  • 5 June 1967 to 10 June 1967 — Canal closed and blockaded by Egypt, against Israel, sparking the Six-Day War.
  • 5 June 1975 — Suez Canal reopened.

Presidents of the Suez Canal Company (1855-1956)

Before nationalisation:

Chairmen of the Suez Canal Authority (1956-Present)

Since nationalisation:

British Vice-Consuls of Port Suez (1922-1941)

British Consuls of Port Suez (1941-1956)

Governors of the Suez Canal Zone

Supreme Allied Commander

During the Suez Crisis:

Popular culture

The canal is the man-made object that can be seen from furthest out in space (not the Great Wall of China as has been previously thought). It is the only man made object seen in the famous Blue Marble photograph of Earth.

Suez, a film made in 1938, starred Tyrone Power as de Lesseps and Loretta Young as a love interest. An epic, it is very loosely based on history.

The Suez Canal appears in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, where it marks the end of T. E. Lawrence's march across the Sinai Peninsula to report to his superiors in Cairo.

The Suez Canal is also a playable map in the game Battlefield 2142.

The Suez crisis is mentioned in the 1989 hit song, "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel

See also

References

Sources

  • Britannica (2007) "Suez Canal", in: The new encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., 28, Chicago, Ill. ; London : Encyclopaedia Britannica, ISBN 1-59339-292-3
  • Galil, B.S. and Zenetos, A. (2002). "A sea change: exotics in the eastern Mediterranean Sea", in: Leppäkoski, E., Gollasch, S. and Olenin, S. (eds), Invasive aquatic species of Europe : distribution, impacts, and management, Dordrecht ; Boston : Kluwer Academic, ISBN 1-4020-0837-6 , p. 325–336
  • Garrison, Ervan G. (1999) A history of engineering and technology : artful methods, 2nd ed., Boca Raton, Fla. ; London : CRC Press, ISBN 0-84939-810-X
  • Oster, Uwe (2006) Le fabuleux destin des inventions : le canal de Suez, TV documentary produced by ZDF and directed by Axel Engstfeld (Germany)
  • Sanford, Eva Matthews (1938) The Mediterranean world in ancient times, Ronald series in history, New York : The Ronald Press Company, 618 p.

External links

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