If you read about the Suez Canal, you will know about the old attempts, which some succeeded and others came to failure, to connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea or the Nile River and the Red Sea… you will also find detailed information about the idea of establishing a water canal between the two seas since the time of Muhammed Ali Pasha until the idea was put into action as was later done by Ferdinand de Lesseps.
You will also read about the techniques, facilitations, workforce, technical supervision, legal framework, conventions, shares and their exchange… then you will know about the debts incurred on Egypt and the role of shares in alleviating such effect…etc.
So if you want to write about the Suez Canal, you will always have to refer to the academic material… as we were taught by our teachers that if you want to write about a certain subject that has historical or political aspects; meaning academic in general… then you will have to analyze the title and put a research plan upon which you can collect the academic material needed from sources and references… as source is different to reference.
If you want to add something new… then you have to look for other sources no one reached before… like a folded document in one of the documentation houses or a testimony written by someone in his diaries that was not published before… or another testimony for a source who is still alive but kept silent for some reason… or any other of the sources known explicitly in research disciplines.
However, there is another aspect in the subject concerning the Suez Canal I believe we still need to detect, search and document… it’s what was hinted at by folklore in the lyrics of national songs that shined in the time of Suez Canal nationalization and the Suez Crisis or the Tripartite Aggression on Egypt in 1956.
I here mean the challenges faced by the Egyptian people along with its Arab nation and how they responded to those challenges… it was true what the British philosopher and historian Arnold J. Toynbee wrote about the theory of challenge and response and that Egypt is a unique model in such respect.
Now, I will go to the main point and say that president Sisi has declared the challenge of digging a new Suez Canal that will represent a giant project opening new scopes of development in the canal area and its surroundings; meaning the outskirts of Delta and Sinai… and that this project will be the first in a series of mega development projects coming in the future.
There have been calls for the Egyptian capitalism to take part and contribute to building the country in this critical era of our present time… but such mean capitalism abstained.
Then the Egyptian people responded immediately to the call when they deposited their small savings in the banks, collecting about 65 billion Egyptian pounds – which is the expected cost of the project – in only one week… despite all the warnings issued by terrorist muslim brotherhood and their likes, part of the Egyptian Capitalism and some figures supposed to belong to other political ideologies to terrify the people that their money is going to the nowhere, the response was positive indeed…
If we went back in time to an earlier era; that was the re-opening of the old Suez Canal after it was closed from the years 1967 to 1975 due to the war and defeat of 1967, we will discover another challenge that proved the Egyptian people and state have an unbreakable will capable of responding back to challenges… as the canal was filled with sunk and run-aground ships in addition to the remnants of war like explosive mines and torpedoes…etc… not to the mention the damage afflicted with its infrastructure in the waterway and guidance and rescue equipments due to the war that lasted for years... however, the canal’s waterway was cleaned and re-operated effectively in a very short time.
Going further back in time from the re-opening phase to the phase of Attrition war and crossing the canal in 1973 war, we will find another legend of the Egyptians that proved their ability to respond to challenges… as the enemy erected a massive sand wall with military fortifications going deep inside… coming out of that sand wall were hundreds of pipes connected to Napalm – a flammable crude oil – reservoirs capable of burning any human or annihilating any machine activity over the canal …
However, our army resisted alongside the residents of the canal cities and villages… those who set off the liberation battle that started immediately after 1967 defeat when they responded and reacted back in the battles of Shedwan, al-Gazira al-Khadra, Ras el-A’sh and Portfouad… when our troops started crossing the canal during the War of Attrition, they started by individuals… then a group… then groups… until the number of the troops which crossed the canal and executed operations behind enemy lines reached the number of a battalion… that was before Nasser’s death in 1970.
And so we can say that the canal along with its cities, villages and residents have been always an essential factor in our response to the 1967 defeat… afterwards, we started building a wall of rockets alongside the western coast of the Suez Canal and executing the camouflage plan where the canal played an amazing role since its waters and sand were part of that plan… as the soldiers were asked to go swimming, have fun and sit on the sand sucking sugar-cane reeds and playing with the ball to give the impression that the army is relaxed and there is no hope it’s going to fight a war.
Again we go deeper back in time to the nationalization and the Tripartite Aggression in 1956… and how the name of the canal in the speeches of leader Nasser was inspiring to our national will… until our present time; meaning after 60 years, we still feel proud when we hear his voice declaring: “a decree from the president of the republic… article no. 1: the company of the Suez Canal shall be nationalized as an Egyptian joint stock company”… then we hear the triumphant shouts of the masses… while there were others waiting for the launch signal to move and control the company’s headquarter… then came the crisis of the foreign guides when they refused to operate the canal except for the noble Greek guides.
Diving deeper and deeper in the past, we arrive at the time when the canal was first dug… despite the oppression, injustice and misery suffered by our grandfathers whom some of them were kidnapped and most of them were forced to work in digging the canal… the Egyptians’ will to work and exert effort in the most difficult times and most harsh circumstances was evident.
And so we see that the history of the Suez Canal is a perfect example how the Egyptian people are willing to respond to challenges and exert all efforts to conquer them.
It’s our right and next generations’ right to know about our history as written in history records and narrated by our ancestors.
This article was published in Al Ahram newspaper on August 5, 2015.
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