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The Story of the Suez Canal

The Suez Canal stretches 167 kms across the Egyptian desert, linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea and allowing ships to access India and the Far East without sailing all the way around Africa. By cutting the distance from Europe to the Far East by a third, and to India by half, the Suez Canal could be called the world's most important sea traffic route. It is also the source of long-standing political controversy.

The idea of a canal linking the Mediterranean to the Red Sea is not a new one. Pharaohs, Persians and Romans all worked on constructing a smaller canal - one linking the Gulf of Suez (which is connected to the Red Sea) to the Nile, which pours into the Mediterranean. Over the years, this smaller canal fell into disrepair, and was finally abandoned once a trade route around Africa was established.

In the early 19th century, Napoleon revived the idea of a shorter trade route to India via a canal through the Suez. From 1859 to 1867, Egyptians worked on the construction of the Canal in conditions described by historians as slave labor.

The canal officially opened in 1869 and Verdi's famous opera "Aida" was commissioned for the opening ceremony. By international convention, the canal was open for ships of all nations. In 1956, Egyptian president Nasser, claimed the canal for Egypt. He did this in response to the British, French, and American refusal for a loan aimed at building the Aswan High Dam. The revenue from the Canal, he argued, would help finance the High Dam project. The announcement triggered a swift reaction by Great Britain, France, and Israel, who all invaded Egypt less than two months later. Their action was condemned by the international community, and the canal reopened in 1957. The second closure occurred after the June 1967 War with Israel and lasted until 1975, when Egypt and Israel signed the peace treaty.

Today, approximately 100 ships cross the canal daily, and, with the threat of war long gone, the cities and beaches along the Canal serve as summer resorts for tourists.


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