Egypt is set to open the new Suez Canal on August 6, only one year after construction began on the project. Egypt hopes that the new canal will revitalize the country’s economy and bring the 150-year-old waterway into the 21st century.
A recent test run of the canal was completed on July 25, with numerous boats, including a fully loaded container ship, traveling through the canal that connects the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea.
The naval passage was originally opened on November 17, 1869, after ten years of construction. The canal allows ships to travel between Europe and South Asia or Eastern Africa without navigating around the entire African continent, cutting approximately 7,000 kilometers off of the sea voyage for trading ships between Europe and Southeast Asia.
Egyptian authorities have declared the passage safe for all types of maritime ships. The new 72 kilometer (45 mile) section of the canal, which will be called the Suez Canal Axis, was built by the Egyptian military and is supposed to reduce the travel time needed to cross the canal as well as boost revenues for Egypt.
“We declare that the new Suez Canal is safe for all kinds of vessels. We call on all the international maritime carriers to use the current and the new Suez canal. Your navigation is safe,” said Suez Canal Authority chief Mohab Mameesh during a news conference held in the canal city of Ismailiya in late July.
“By reducing the navigation time in the Suez Canal, your food, your medicine and your fuel will arrive faster. It will be Egypt’s gift to the world,” Mameesh said.
Work on the canal consisted of 37 kilometers of dry digging and 35 kilometers of broadening and expanding the existing waterway. It is expected to shave off 7 hours from the journey it takes to cross the canal, shortening the trip from 18 hours to 11 hours.
The project took place under very heavy security, as the Sinai peninsula, which borders the canal, has suffered from continuous attacks by Islamist insurgents which have killed hundreds of police officers and soldiers since 2013.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi set an ambitious target by launching the project and setting a completion date for one year. This is the first step in a broader plan to revolutionize the Egyptian trade economy.
According to Sisi’s plan, the canal will help develop the surrounding area into an industrial and commercial hub that will contain new ports, and will also be able to provide shipping services. The Suez Canal Axis is part of a national project that is aimed at kickstarting the economy, which has been struggling since the riots which brought about the eventual fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Sisi hopes that the canal will become a source of national pride and that it will create jobs to combat the double-digit unemployment rate from which Egypt currently suffers.
By selling shares to domestic investors, the government raised $9 billion for the project. The expanded canal is expected to more than double the expected annual revenues from $5.3 billion in 2015, to $13.2 billion in just eight years. It is already one of the world’s most heavily utilized shipping lanes and has been a key focus for international trade worldwide. Egyptian authorities hope that the industrial center as well as the shipping lines will eventually make up one-third of the Egyptian economy.