At the very heart of Egypt’s maritime history is the River Nile, which for thousands of years has provided a link between towns, cities and villages throughout the country as well as vital communications and trading links with countries in the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.
From the Nile, Egyptian mariners sailed into the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and called at major cultural and trading centres in Syria, Palestine, Cyprus, Crete, Greece and Libya. The earliest depictions of seagoing ships are dated to 2,500 B.C. with evidence that regular journeys were made to and from Syria as early as 3,500 B.C.
As it was not possible to navigate directly from the Egyptian Nile to the Red Sea, some means of overland transportation were required, mostly through deserts in Lower Egypt. To complete the journey across the deserts, ships were dismantled for transportation by donkeys and then reassembled on the Red Sea coast before continuing their journey along the Red Sea. These early intermodal transport links helped to blend Egyptian civilisation into a cultural mixture of Middle Eastern and African influences and build a flourishing trade.
To bridge the gap between the Nile and the Red Sea, Pharaohs from ancient times tried to build a canal that would open up trade both to the north and south. With mixed success, the Nile was connected to the inland Bitter Lakes, but the constant silting of the canal meant that the final elusive link to the Red Sea was not viable.
The idea of a canal that could connect the River Nile with the Mediterranean and the Red Sea dates back 2,500 years. A series of small canals were built connecting the Nile River and the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and were in use as early as 2,000 B.C. The canals were suitable only for small vessels due to the limited draught and constant silting from the sand in the adjoining deserts.
The first person to come up with the idea of connecting the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, via the Nile and its branches, was the Egyptian Pharaoh Senusret III of the Twelfth Dynasty.
His idea was to promote trade and facilitate communication between the East and the West as the ships came from the Mediterranean, sailed through the Nile until Zagazig and then to the Red Sea via the Bitter Lakes that were connected to it at the time. Today, remnants of the old canal can be found in Geneva, a place near the city of Suez.
‘Pharaoh Senusret III ruled from 1878-1839 B.C. and was the fifth King of the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. His reign is often considered the height of the Middle Kingdom which was the Golden Age in Egypt’s history in so far as art, literature, architecture, science, and other cultural aspects reached an unprecedented level of refinement, the economy flourished, and military and trade expeditions filled the nation’s treasury. His achievements also include creating the template for the modern-day Suez Canal.’
For more than 1,100 years the canal concept lay dormant until the 1850s, when seeing an opportunity for Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, Governor of Egypt Khedive Said Pasha commissioned French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps to create a company to construct the canal. The Suez Canal Company was given a 99-year lease over the waterway and the surrounding area. The commission’s final report was completed in 1856; two years later, the Suez Canal Company was formally established.
On 25 April 1859, the construction of the Suez Canal began and commenced operation on 17 November 1869. It took 10 years and an estimated 1.5 million people worked on the project. Most of the development work was carried out by hand as there was very little mechanised digging or construction equipment so the costs of building the canal was relatively high, totalled US$100 million, more than double the original estimate.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SUEZ CANAL
Despite being built more than 150 years ago; the Suez Canal maintains its strategic importance to international shipping. Egypt was the first country to dig a canal across its land with a view to activate world trade.
The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway running north to south across the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt to connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. The canal separates the African continent from Asia, and it provides the shortest maritime route between Europe and the lands lying around the Indian and western Pacific Oceans. It is one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes.
Stretching 192 kilometres the canal links Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt southward to the city of Suez (located on the northern shores of the Gulf of Suez). The canal separates the bulk of Egypt from the Sinai Peninsula.
Owned and operated by the Suez Canal Authority, the waterway is open to ships of all countries and has set a new record for the highest number of ships transiting in a day. On 29th September 2021, a total of 87 vessels made transit through this strategic canal, leaving behind the previous high of 75 that was achieved on 6th February 2019.
Today the Suez Canal is still a vital trade link, essential for east-west trade saving billions in shipping fuel costs and emissions. The alternative route around the continent of Africa via the Cape can add 3,000 miles and weeks to the journey from the Indian Ocean to the North Atlantic.
Egypt has all the essential elements to develop its sustainable energy sector. A large landbank, sunshine and high wind speeds, making it a prime location for renewable energy projects.
The government of Egypt has a strategic plan to build its sustainable energy mix to both meet increased demand, and move to a more environmentally sustainable and diverse electricity sector.
The 2035 Integrated Sustainable Energy Strategy, which builds on previous strategies, emphasises the importance of renewable energy.
Egypt intends to increase the supply of electricity generated from renewable sources to 20 percent by 2022 and 42 percent by 2035, with wind providing 14 percent, hydro power 2 percent, photovoltaic 22 percent, and concentrating solar power 3 percent by 2035.
Reflecting Egypt’s leading role as an advocate to mitigate climate change, the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November this year. COP27 will provide a good platform and an opportunity to build on commitments made during last year’s conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
In a statement confirming Egypt as the host of COP27, the organisers said the country will make the conference ‘a radical turning point in international climate efforts in co-ordination with all parties, for the benefit of Africa and the entire world.’
Today, Egypt is building world-class container terminals and logistics facilities, including those operated by Hutchison Ports and continues to be a vital trading and shipping centre for the Middle East and Africa (MEA).
The Egyptian government is working with the private ports sector to implement a comprehensive plan to upgrade its ports at the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea with the goal of becoming a logistics centre in the MEA and promoting its presence on the international trade map, according to Xinhua.
‘The plan aims to boost the competitiveness of Egypt’s ports, create added value, lure investments, and activate the flow of importation and exportation,’ said Mona Sobhy, Professor of Economic Geography and Transportation with the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, told Xinhua.
Egypt has many well-established ports in the Mediterranean Sea, including Alexandria, Daqahilia, Damietta, Arish, Said, and East Port Said. The port of Jarjoub is also scheduled to open soon, according to Professor Sobhy.
The plan, expected to be completed in 2024, covers 58 projects for upgrading Egyptian ports with an estimated cost of US$4 billion.
The development work includes building berths, trading yards, new wharves, commercial and logistical areas, dredging shipping lanes and port docks, and linking them to the railways and electric train network, as well as providing all ship services.
Egypt has started to develop Ain Sokhna, one of the targeted ports at the Red Sea, with an investment of $US1.27 billion, to shift it into a central port at the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Two ports at al-Arish and al-Tour have also been reopened.
Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has ordered a study to assess the building of the al-Max port on the Mediterranean Sea.
‘Egypt is also working on the digital transformation of the operation of ports, linking seaports, dry and internal ports, consumption centres and manufacturing areas through road and rail networks, which would facilitate the movement of transport and distribution of exports and imports,’ Sobhy said.
‘Egypt plans to link the ports and industrial areas in the Sinai Peninsula with the north-western Gulf of Suez and provide logistic services for ships inside the ports such as Ain Sokhna and East Port Said, with an aim to create added value.’
‘The development of those ports would attract more investments to Egypt and transform the country into a logistical and commercial centre in the Middle East and Africa,’ she added.
Waleed Gaballah, Professor of Financial and Economic Jurisdictions at Cairo University, told Xinhua that the development plan will turn Egypt into an important part of the global supply chain.
Egypt has established multi-purpose stations in some ports and linked them together, such as linking the port of Ain Sokhna with the port of El Alamein by an electric railway, he said.
Hutchison Ports has been operating in Egypt since 2005, responsible for the construction, operation and management of two terminals at Alexandria Port and El Dekheila Port. Both ports are in Free Zone areas with highway connections to the capital of Egypt, Cairo.
Alexandria port is situated on the north coast of Egypt approximately 220 kilometres from Cairo and is the principal port of Egypt. The port of El Dekheila is situated seven kilometres west of Alexandria and is considered an extension of Alexandria port. Both ports handle approximately 60 percent of Egypt’s foreign trade according to Alexandria Port Authority and well-positioned to capture cargo from the hinterland.
In 2020, the group signed a long-term agreement with the Egyptian Navy to develop and operate a new terminal in Abu Qir, the construction of the new terminal is moving ahead on a greenfield site. The new terminal is designed to handle a capacity of 2 million TEU upon completion and a total quay length of 1,200 metres with a draft of 18 metres capable of handling mega vessels of the future. The project includes provision for a 60-hectare container terminal yard, and an additional 100 hectares of land exclusively reserved for future expansion.
Hutchison Ports’ Abu Qir will be connected to a new six-lane highway, with a direct link to the city of Alexandria some 20 kilometres away. The highway is part of the national road network providing access to the capital city of Cairo and other major cities across the country. The Port of Abu Qir provides strong trade lane connections to Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
The World Bank in its latest economic update has highlighted Egypt’s economic resilience to COVID-19. Macroeconomic reforms have helped stabilise the economy, allowing the country to enter the COVID-19 crisis with improved fiscal accounts and a relatively ample level of foreign reserves.
Energy sector reforms helped boost both the electricity supply and gas exports, opened up the energy market for private activity, and incentivised investments in renewables.
Egypt’s export-oriented sectors were contracting since the beginning of the crisis (tourism, manufacturing, extractives, and Suez Canal) and started rebounding during 2021.
Minister of Trade and Industry, Nevine Gamea, announced that Egyptian non-oil exports amounted to US$32.128 billion for the first time in 2021, compared to $25.427 billion in 2020, a difference of $6.701 billion – a significant increase of 26 percent.
The geographical distribution of Egyptian exports during 2021 included the European Union at $9.153 billion, compared to $5.881 billion during the year 2020 – an increase of 56 percent. While exports to the US reached $2.446 billion compared to $1.618 billion, an increase of 51 percent.
Other markets were $9.128 billion compared to $6.978 billion during 2020, an increase of 31 percent, and the African continent (without Arab countries) stood at $1.853 billion, up from $1.445 billion in 2020, an increase of 28 percent. (source: egyptindependent.com)
The country’s strong economic rebound and long-term development of its seaports will lead to an increase in Egypt’s competitiveness in the maritime transport sector, this will support Egypt’s Vision 2030 to transform the country into a global hub for energy, trade, and logistics.
Enhancing competitiveness in its port sector will enable Egypt to attract shipping lines and attract more foreign investment in local transport and logistics projects.