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canale suez

As he crossed on the ‘El-Mahrousa ” yacht the corridor of water that separates Africa from Asia, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi must have really felt a Pharaoh. An absolute sovereign, almost a divinity, capable of connecting the east to the west and of expanding the commercial routes. The new segment of the Suez Canal is the great work with which the current president of Egypt, after having won against Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brothers, is trying to legitimate himself in the eyes of his fellow citizens in a moment that is difficult for the country. Religious tensions have generated political instability and terrorist attacks, also in Cairo, are almost part of the routine. It is not a chance that, on the day of the inauguration of the work, al-Sisi recalled the many difficulties they have faced during its construction. “The Canal was built in abnormal circumstances – he has explained – both from an economic point of view and from that of safety”. During this year, in fact, “Egypt has fought against the most dangerous terrorist ideology that would have burnt down the world if it had the possibility to do so”, Besides, it has attempted to “strike the country and make it derail from its path of prosperity and stability”.

A prosperity that the President hopes to reach also due to the income that the new Canal will bring. The transit of 97 ships per day, compared to the 47 that were able to transit before August 6 last year, should produce an income of $13 billion by 2023, when the infrastructure will be completed (at the moment, only a part of it has been open). With its implementation, al Sisi wants to appear in the eyes of his people as the new Gamal Abd el-Nasser, the predecessor who, in 1956 challenged Britain and France by nationalizing the Company of the Suez Canal. The policy chosen by the current Egyptian head of State seems therefore to consist in catching consensus through the recovery of the nationalist spirit and in presenting his candidature at the forthcoming elections with the certainty of winning them. And the great work, finished three years in advance, goes in this direction.

Yet it has dark sides as well. The isthmus was funded almost entirely by the citizens, by issuing bonds that enjoyed great popularity considering that 12% of interests were guaranteed to them, while the State’s economic commitment has been very low. It is easy to imagine what could happen from a social point of view if those money lent by Egyptians should not be returned on the agreed terms and what the economic impact of this recasting of the debt could have on the already drained national economic resources. Not to mention that the Egyptians are beginning to have doubts about al Sisi’s promises. The president had ensured the recruitment of 1 million workers in the building sites for enlargement of the Canal, but this project has had no significant employment impacts, considering that the level of young men in difficulty continues to stay above the threshold of the alarm.

Besides, we have to evaluate what the environmental impact of the new infrastructure will be. In his eagerness to win, al Sisi has ignored the concerns expressed by the scientists, especially as far as the possible threats to biodiversity in the Mediterranean are concerned. In a letter-appeal towards the head of the Egyptian State, 500 experts have suggested an assessment of the consequences of creating a direct passage between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. But no one listened to them. The European Union, on behalf of which the commissioner Karmenu Vella has spoken, claims to be aware of the dangers posed by the arrival of “alien and invasive” species. During a series of meetings “we have explained our concerns to the Egyptian authorities,” has confirmed Enrico Brivio, Vella’s spokesman, according to whom “the European Commission will keep asking the Egyptian authorities to submit the results”. Particularly worrying is Rhopilema nomadic, a medusa that can reach half a meter in length and 50 kg of weight. After having provoked enormous damage to Israeli tourism, it has reached also Tunisia and Malta, and could arrive also in Italy. Left aside all other tropical living beings that could destabilize a secular aquatic ecosystem. The work was carried out without observing the minimum environmental procedures or carrying out feasibility investigations. Egyptian authorities have moved forwards as bulldozers. Even when it came to expropriating lands and leveling to the ground houses that created problems to the building sited and to the excavations. All this to give the Pharaoh his artificial Nile.

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