6 August this year in Egypt, the launch of the “New Suez Canal”, a hydraulic structure in the form of a channel of length 72 km, laid parallel to the old channel, was widely celebrated.
The opening ceremony was accompanied by airshows and fireworks; delegations from the country's 121, including 29 state leaders, attended the event as guests. In the course of her, President of the Republic Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, dressed in the uniform of Field Marshal, personally led the new yacht Al-Mahrus, which in 1869 for the first time passed through the Suez Canal at its launch, in a new direction.
City streets were decorated with flags and holiday posters with slogans of support to the government. Statues were erected at the entrances to the canal, and the day of August 6 was declared a holiday on the occasion of the celebrations. The scale of the festivities was comparable with the discovery of the Aswan Dam in 1960.
CHANNEL STRATEGIC DESTINATION
The Suez Canal is the greatest engineering structure, 160 km long, which had a tremendous impact on the development of world trade and history African and Asian countries. Today it passes from 8 to 10% of world trade turnover, allowing ships and ships to avoid the longer route from Asia to Europe, bypassing Africa.
It was built in the XIX century at the expense of French investors and the Egyptian government by the hands of peasants, thousands of whom died during construction. A few years later, Cairo sold its share in the project to the British due to the inability to service external debt, and until 1956, the revenues from its operation belonged to Paris and London. The construction was managed through the corporation "Suez Canal Company".
The century before last, the French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, being impressed by the journey through the Suez Canal, proposed to erect a monument in Egypt for the builders. It was assumed that a giant statue of an Egyptian woman dressed in national peasant clothes with a raised torch in her hand would be installed at the entrance to the canal, and her name would be “Egypt carrying light to Asia”. As you know, history has disposed differently and the practical embodiment of the project of this sculptor - the Statue of Liberty - is today a symbol of another country.
However, apart from the transport and economic importance, the Suez Canal is a symbol of independence, not only for Egypt, but to some extent for many Arab and African countries. It was his nationalization in 1956 that inspired the Arab states to fight for liberation from the colonialists from the countries of the Old World.
26 July, 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who has embarked on an anti-imperial policy, spoke at a rally in Alexandria. His speech was broadcast to the entire Arab world, and he said several code phrases according to which groups organized in advance took control of all the premises of the Anglo-French Suez Canal Company, located in different cities of Egypt. At the end of the speech, Nasser said that the channel was nationalized on behalf of the Egyptian people.
Despite the legal validity, it looked then a very audacious step towards Great Britain and France, which no one had decided on until that moment.
Enraged by such actions, London and Paris, in agreement with Israel, immediately decided to use military force against Egypt, using Cairo’s inability to ensure the safety of the hydraulic structure as a formal pretext. In early November, Egyptian cities were bombed, and English and French airborne assault forces dropped in Port Said and Port Fuade on November 5. Later, these actions were called Tripartite aggression.
The Egyptian army could not alone confront the aggressors. Nasser's initiative seemed doomed. However, the decisive role was played by the USSR, which threatened to send volunteers from among Soviet citizens to help Cairo and even bring down the missiles on the states that invaded Egypt.
Today, many historians believe that in those days the Soviet Union was bluffing and was hardly ready to start a war over Suez. But then there was no one willing to check it in practice and the former colonialists were forced to leave Egyptian territory, and Nasser became a symbol of patriotism and the brightest personality of the Arab world of that time.
Egypt was followed by Algeria, Libya, Syria, Iraq and other Arab countries that took a similar course.
CAIRO LESSON IMPLEMENTED
Years have passed since then, Cairo’s relations with London and Paris have been restored, but the unequivocal positive assessment is given to the events of 1956 and the assistance provided by the USSR in the Arab world. Therefore, the history of the Suez Canal is not as far from Russia as it may seem at first glance.
Having bitter experience, the Egyptian leadership in the construction of a new facility attracted investments only from Egyptian companies and citizens by selling bonds, emphasizing that "the new channel will belong only to Egyptians."
The government claims that the capacity will reduce the passage through the channel from 18.00 to 23.00, and the waiting time for vessels to turn their turn from 11.00 to 15.00. At the same time, the number of passing ships can increase from 49 to 97 per day.
Further infrastructure construction is planned around the canal, including tunnels for cars, shipyards and car assembly shops.
From an economic point of view, revenue from the Suez Canal is expected to increase 2,5 times by 2023, which is more than 13 billion dollars a year instead of 5,4 billion today - along with tourism it is the main source of foreign currency in the country.
The cost of construction was 8,2 billion dollars, and the duration - only one year. Although initially it was planned that this period will take three years.
In addition, the new channel and further work on its arrangement should provide work for about a million people, which is very important in the current economic conditions.
However, opinions on the economic benefits of the project are divided. In particular, many experts and analysts expressed doubts about the economic efficiency declared by the authorities due to objective reasons - world trade is not growing at such a rapid pace, and the volume of traffic to Europe has recently decreased altogether due to the economic crisis. Therefore, projected revenue may not be achieved.
Has caused criticism and haste in the construction of buildings, which, according to some Egyptian experts, was expensive and unjustified. Some shortcomings and omissions of an engineering nature made during construction were also pointed out.
It is too early to make objective predictions about purely economic efficiency now, but the project cannot be considered only from the point of view of short-term gain, because its influence may remain more significant for many years.
In addition, the Suez Canal is the most important construction from a military and political point of view: the ships of the European Navy, as well as the US Navy, are moving from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean through the shortest route. .
COMPETITORS DON'T DREAM
However, the Suez Canal has competitors.
First of all, it is a route around Africa, through the Cape of Good Hope, and through the Panama Canal. In general, they are more expensive and time consuming, but under certain circumstances they are able to take away a large and large part of the logistics market from Egypt.
But that's not all. In 2014, Israel and China signed an agreement to build a high-speed railway from Eilat (port on the Red Sea) to Haifa and Ashdod - cities located on the Mediterranean coast. This will be the new capacity for the transport of goods in this direction. Of course, this railway is not able to completely replace the Suez Canal, but it will be able to compete for profit.
A similar project was launched jointly by Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. It involves the construction of a railway from the Jordanian port of Aqaba on the Red Sea to the north, and then to the Mediterranean Sea on the territory of Syria. Money for the project was found, but at the present time the prospects for its implementation are vague because of the war in Syria.
Also, a significant part of world cargo turnover from the Suez Canal is potentially capable of taking on the Northern Sea Route along the Russian Arctic coast from the Bering Strait to European ports. Attention to it, as well as to the entire Arctic, has increased in recent years. This direction may be of interest primarily to Russia, but its development requires investment and contributing objective factors in the form of global warming.
Therefore, from the point of view of obtaining competitive advantages in the form of reducing time intervals, improving infrastructure conditions and, as a result, maintaining a position in the global shipping and cargo market, the project implemented by Cairo is very important. And not only for him, but also for Europe, as well as a number of Arab and African countries, reducing their logistics costs.
And Egypt, represented by the general regime and the army, strengthens this cooperation with foreign partners and positions itself as a reliable gatekeeper from Europe to Asia and Africa.
By the way, the completion of construction in such a short period of time would have been impossible without the involvement of army units, which took over much of the engineering work.
However, this is only the beginning of the role of the army in ensuring the operation of this major route, because Cairo must not only own the Suez Canal, but also be able to protect the entire route from Asia to Europe, which is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of today's threats and contradictions.
It is enough to look at the map once to understand that the sea route from Asia to Europe runs through the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb and then through the Red Sea. The value of this corridor is no less than the Suez Canal itself. In the event of a complication of the situation and difficulty in the movement of vessels along this route, the Suez Canal loses its meaning. In other words, only the one who controls the Red Sea will control the gate from Asia to Europe.
CONTROL OVER SPRAYS
In the past year, the area of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait has become one of the tense and hot spots of the globe, which is caused primarily by the intervention of the Arab coalition, consisting of the states of the Persian Gulf and Egypt, in the internal Yemen conflict. The fighting is ongoing, the intensity of the bombing is not reduced, the number of dead is growing, and regularly arriving news reports do not inspire optimism in ending the conflict.
The naval component of this conflict is not paid much attention from the media, although from an economic and political point of view, the consequences may be no less serious. And one of the most significant players here are the Egyptian Navy.
For the first time, the resumption of the naval presence of Cairo off the coast of Yemen was announced in February of this year, more than a month before the start of the military operation “Resolute Storm”.
The British fleet is going to regain control of the Suez Canal. 1956 Photo of the Year
February 9 in the Red Sea launched joint exercises of the Navy of Egypt and Saudi Arabia "Mardjan 15", which lasted several days. According to the Egyptian Ministry of Defense, during the maneuvers, issues of interaction between the fleet commanders of the two states were worked out in order to ensure the safety of navigation, combat smugglers and pirates, conduct special operations to free ships from terrorists, and combat submarines. And if the first points seem logical in the light of the general situation in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, where Somalia with its famous pirates is on one side, and Yemen is embraced by the civil war on the other, the last point about fighting submarines looked a bit strange. Especially given the fact that of all the Arab countries they are in service only in Egypt and Algeria.
Back in December, 2014 of the year, information appeared that the Housewash rebels, capturing the port cities of Hodeidah and Midi in the Red Sea, began to receive large quantities of weapons and other assistance by sea from their main ally, Tehran. There was no evidence of this, but before the Arab monarchies there was a threat of an increased Iranian presence in the strategically important region of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait: if Tehran did not hurry to openly intervene in the Yemeni conflict, then send its ships and, therefore, take control of such an important logistic the corridor could.
It was impossible for Riyadh to accept this. There is an elementary competition for future deliveries of goods, primarily oil products, to Europe: in the conditions of lifting the sanctions on the Islamic Republic, Tehran will try to take a share of the European market, including at the expense of the countries of the Persian Gulf, therefore the ability to ensure reliable deliveries by sea acquires paramount value.
Later, in April 2015, after the start of the bombing of Yemen, Tehran did send two units of its naval forces, including the frigate Alborz, to the coast of Yemen, in order to “protect against possible pirates”, as stated in the official statement.
By the way, the Iranian Navy, most of which are obsolete units, is still quite serious by regional standards - they include five frigates, a number of rocket boats and corvettes, three diesel-electric submarines of the 877 project, purchased from Russia . For a possible opposition to the latter, the mentioned exercises “Mardjan-15” were conducted.
What was going to oppose Tehran Riyadh? Despite the fact that the combat structure of the Royal Navy as a whole is more modern, the main area of their concentration has always been in the Persian Gulf - on the so-called East navy. In the Red Sea, there is only one Naval Base in Jeddah, and the number of units of military equipment in this area is limited. The Western fleet of Saudi Arabia was not able to withstand the Iranian Navy alone.
Hope for the United States in Riyadh is also very unsteady. Although the Pentagon sent 12 ships, including the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, to the Yemeni shores area with the outbreak of hostilities, the United States refused to take part in the hostilities. And against the background of the warming of relations between Washington and Tehran, the White House could well shut its eyes to the strengthening of Iran in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.
In this situation, Egypt became the main salvation for the kingdom.
On the one hand, the Egyptian Navy has traditionally been considered the weakest type of the country's armed forces, and the main focus in strengthening the fleet has always been on the Mediterranean basin.
On the other hand, the Egyptian fleet is the most numerous and powerful among all the Arab countries. According to Al-Arabia, as of 2014, Cairo had a naval unit, including auxiliary fleet, at 221. For comparison: a similar indicator of the Saudi Arabian Navy, which is considered the second country in military power in the Arab world, is only 23 units.
It was Egypt that assumed the main role in providing security along the Yemeni shores. As part of participation in Operation Resolute Storm, Cairo sent four units from the naval forces, including two frigates, to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait area in late March to patrol and prevent unwanted incidents. On August 1, the Egyptian Ministry of Defense announced a decision to extend participation in the Yemeni operation over the next six months. At the same time, the main goal of Cairo is not at all the war in Yemen to a victorious end, but to ensure the safety of navigation in the strategically important strait, as expressed by President al-Sisi.
A naval presence here is a must. It is clear that neither the Khousits, nor the opposing forces are able to completely block the strait and stop shipping. However, even a single attack on a civilian ship or its seizure will have a strong psychological consequence: many logistics companies will immediately choose not to save on their security and will go on their way to bypass Africa through the Cape of Good Hope, which will entail an increase in shipments more than 3 times as well as the loss of one of the main types of income for Egypt.
Obviously, the need for this presence will continue for more than one year, since the prospects for conflict are very vague. In addition, the Khousits in Yemen are opposed not by the forces of good, but by the principle of “all who can,” including Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula and other terrorist structures. If they win, the security situation is unlikely to improve.
In this situation, Egypt is becoming one of the main guarantors of stability and continuity of cargo transportation from Asia to Europe and back. This is generally in the interest of Europeans, some African and Asian countries.
But that's not all.
The Suez Canal itself also needs military protection.
The main threat to him is the internal enemy in the face of the opposition represented by the movement "Muslim Brotherhood" and affiliated Islamist groups, which today are in conflict with the military government.
Established in 1928 by the school teacher Hassan Al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood organization found support among millions of Egyptians, including through the idea of fighting the British. But starting from the 1950s, when the “Free Officers” led by Gamal Nasser took power in Egypt, these two political forces - the military and the “Muslim Brotherhood” - became the main opponents in the domestic political arena. The main reason - the struggle for power.
The Islamist opposition in Egypt has always been heterogeneous, and, of course, not all of their supporters (in the 2012 party elections, their representatives scored more than 40% of the vote) support the ideas of warfare and terror. However, the killings of military personnel, terrorist attacks, including against foreign tourists, attempted coup d'états are all an integral part of the history of the activities of the most radical Islamist groups in Egypt. In 1981, one of them, called “Al-Jihad”, managed to reach even the country's president, Anwar Sadat, by organizing a successful assassination attempt on his life during a military parade.
The situation became much more complicated after 2013, when the military command, led by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, ousted President Muhammad Mursi, who represented the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, from power. And the Islamists did not accept the loss of power.
Now, in conditions of intense confrontation between the authorities and the opposition, which is becoming increasingly fierce, the likelihood of attempts to sabotage the functioning of the Suez Canal in order to shake the positions of the authorities by the Islamic opposition is very high.
The Muslim Brotherhood has already launched a widespread propaganda campaign on the Internet aimed at discrediting the project in the eyes of the Egyptians. In particular, the emphasis is placed on the fact that the idea of the project’s implementation does not belong to Al-Sisi’s government, but to the former President Mohammed Mursi. There are accusations against the government and the excessive cost of the project, unjustified waste of money, instead of spending it on the construction of schools, hospitals and other needs of the Egyptian people. At the same time, analysts have noted a high level of propaganda work, which is not surprising - over the decades of confrontation with the authorities, the Muslim Brotherhood has gained tremendous experience in subversive and propaganda work.
But that’s where their attempts to sabotage the Suez Canal’s operation may not end. The likelihood of armed attacks on passing vessels, including foreign ones, remains high. As in the case of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, the psychological effect of one such attack can be decisive, forcing the court to use other routes. This was the case during the 1956 Tripartite Aggression, when movement along the Suez Canal was difficult. At the same time, for the first time, the route of ships around Africa became more active, becoming the main alternative to Egypt.
On July 16, an unprecedented event occurred in the history inside the Egyptian confrontation — an armed Islamist attack attacked a naval boat, causing it to catch fire and received significant damage. Fortunately, the victims were avoided, but if the terrorists were able to attack even a military boat at sea, then what should they bombard a freighter going along the canal?
Therefore, recently, the Egyptian authorities have taken maximum measures to enhance security on the canal and related infrastructure, in which army units play a key role.
By the way, in the 1956 year, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was actively supported by the British in order to incite Egyptian authorities, was the only organization in the Arab world that opposed the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Broadcasting from Cyprus with the help of a specially created radio station, activists of the movement accused Nasser of trying to "plunge the country into chaos" and opposed the nationalization of the channel.
However, in spite of everything, they believe in the ability of the Egyptian army to confront terrorist threats both in the Arab world and in the West. Success will largely depend on cooperation with foreign partners.
In this connection, military-technical cooperation with Russia plays a major role, in which Egypt received in August of this year. rocket boat project 1241 "Lightning". According to the Egyptian generals, the presence of these boats can be an important advantage in the war against terrorism, which the country is leading. And this is a common goal for all civilized states, and Russia is demonstrating a strict adherence to this principle.
In addition to military-technical cooperation, Cairo intends to expand cooperation with Russia in other areas, including the development of infrastructure projects around the Suez Canal.
Russia as a strong and reliable partner today has every chance to expand its positions in Egypt and the entire Middle East. Especially since they remember us there and wait.