By Jean-Jacques Cornish
Since the dawn of history, Egyptians have been making huge political statements by building symbolic structures.
The giant pyramids of Giza and the royal temples of Luxor have drawn millions of international visitors over the years – not nearly enough of late for the Egyptians feeling the crippling effect of the tourist stay-away following the Arab Spring of 2011 and particularly since the coup of 2013 that they prefer to call a revolution.
The pharaohs structures were about power plain and simple.
The ages have not changed things much.
In 1961 President Gamal Abdul Nasser opened the 187-metre Cairo Tower. At the time, the lotus-shaped structure, built with a $6-million bribe from US President Rooseveld, was the highest building in Africa.
President Abdul Fatah El Sisi took his Russian counterpart atop when Vladimir Putin visited Egypt last January.
The Russian leader presented El Sisi with an AK47 illustrating that Moscow does not give much truck to international calls to freeze arms sales to the government of the general who ousted democratically elected Mohammed Moursi and won the presidency in a subsequent election.
El Sisi is making his mega infrastructural statement on Thursday
The Second Suez was built in the record time of one year.
The orginal Suez took ten years to dig out of the sand nearly 150 years ago.
Naser’s nationalising it, in retalliation for Britain and United States freezing promises to finance the Aswan High Dam was a causes belli for Britain and France.
Things are thankfully a great deal more peaceful now as the 72 kilometres of new waterway will allow the world’s largest container ships to navigate the canal in both directions.
Working around the clock, involved moving 200 million cubic metres of sand.
Egyptian military protection was essential because sometimes security forces were involved in clashes with terrorist only kilometres away.
Egypt’s income from the new canal will rise to $13 billion a year – up from the current $5,3 billion.
El Sisi’s faith in the project was vindicated by Egyptians digging into their savings to come up with $8,5 billion-worth of investment certificates in eight days.
They will get the money back with 12% interest in quarterly payments over the next four years.
Egypt’s official line is that this is more an African project than simply a national undertaking.
If it works – and uncertain global shipping operations will determine success or failure above any public leap of faith or politician’s rhetoric – El Sisi will justifiably claim full credit when he goes to the polls by the end of this year.