Sisi calls for unity against terrorism at Egypt’s ‘New Suez Canal’ launch
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Inaugurating a major extension of the Suez Canal Thursday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for unity in the fight against terrorism amid a recent surge in terrorist attacks across the country.
The former armed forces chief, who led a military takeover two years ago but ran for president as a civilian last year, told a ceremony attended by leaders of France, Russia, Arab and African states that Egypt would defeat terrorism.
The $8 billion New Suez Canal project was completed in just one year instead of three on Sisi’s orders, but economists and shipping analysts question whether there is sufficient traffic and east-west trade to meet its ambitious revenue targets.
“Work did not take place in normal circumstances, and these circumstances still exist and we are fighting them and we will defeat them,” Sisi said after signing an order allowing ships to cross the new stretch of waterway.
“Egypt during this year stood against the most dangerous terrorist threat that would burn the world if it could.”
The canal expansion is the centrepiece of a grand agenda by Sisi to cement his tenure as the man who brought stability and prosperity to Egypt after he ousted elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 following mass protests.
The spectacular inauguration was also intended to bolster his international standing in the presence of French President François Hollande, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, King Abdullah of Jordan, the emir of Kuwait and the king of Bahrain. US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo on August 2 for a strategic dialogue with Egypt, but no top-level representative of the Obama administration attended the ceremony.
Egypt’s allies are keen to burnish its image in a region beset by turmoil. Cairo too faces an increasingly brazen two-year-old insurgency based across the Suez Canal in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of police and soldiers.
Although the Egyptian affiliate of the militant Islamic State (IS) group last month managed to fire a rocket at an Egyptian navy vessel in the Mediterranean – near the coast of Israel and the Gaza Strip – Egyptian authorities insist the safety of ships through the strategic canal has never been under threat.
Earlier Sisi, in full military regalia, sailed up the canal, flanked by a young boy in military fatigues waving the Egyptian flag, aboard the yacht El-Mahrousa, the first ship to pass through the Suez Canal when it was opened in November 1869.
Newly delivered French Rafale fighters and US F-16 warplanes staged a fly-past, while helicopters flew overhead and naval vessels escorted the yacht in the televised ceremony.
A new era?
Egypt had been reeling from years of turmoil since the Arab Spring uprising that deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and many of the country’s nearly 90 million population have suffered from a slower economy, a fall in tourism and high inflation.
The government believes the New Suez Canal and an industrial zone to be developed around it will seal Egypt’s deliverance from economic purgatory - to the skepticism of some.
The project involved extending a waterway parallel to part of the 19th century canal connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, as well as deepening and widening the old channel - the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.
It has been billed as a national accomplishment on par with former president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalisation of the original Suez Canal in 1956 and building of the Aswan Dam.
In Cairo’s Tahrir Square a crowd of about 300 gathered in the square honking horns with the colour of the Egyptian flag.
“This isn’t just for me, it’s for my children and grandchildren. This is for the whole world,” said 50-year-old Gamal Amin.
But not everyone was enthralled. “There isn’t anything new to be celebrating. There are more important things for Egyptian people that this money could have been used for,” said Mahmoud, 24, walking past Tahrir.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)