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  • In March 2021, fierce winds blew a container ship off course.

  • In most places, this would have caused a minor incident.

  • But in the Suez Canal, it was a global crisis.

  • This vessel wasn't just blocking other ships

  • It was obstructing the flow of international trade

  • through one of the world's most important waterways.

  • The site of the Suez Canal has been of interest to rulers of this region

  • as far back as the second millennium BCE.

  • To move goods between Asia and the Mediterranean basin,

  • traders had to traverse the narrow isthmus separating the Red Sea and the Nile,

  • journeying in camel-bound caravans through the unforgiving desert.

  • A maritime passage between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea

  • would bypass this trip altogether.

  • And throughout the 16th century,

  • multiple powers attempted to construct such a canal.

  • But their plans were obstructed by cost, political strife,

  • and the ever-shifting sands.

  • In 1798, interest in building a canal was rekindled,

  • this time attracting attention from across Europe.

  • Over the following decades, individuals from Austria, Italy, Britain, and France

  • pitched their plans to Egypt's rulers.

  • At the time, Egypt was a territory of the Ottoman Empire,

  • which was resistant to these proposals.

  • But Egypt's political and economic autonomy was gradually increasing,

  • and its government was eager to pursue the project.

  • When Sa'id Pasha came into power in 1854, he approved a plan

  • from the enterprising and manipulative French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps.

  • Signed in 1854 and 1856, a pair of concessions gave de Lesseps

  • authority to establish the Suez Canal Company

  • and finance it by selling shares tocapitalists of all nations.”

  • The contracts between Sa'id Pasha and the Canal Company

  • also promised a workforce of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian workers.

  • Beginning in 1862, about 20,000 laborers were forcibly recruited every month,

  • digging the canal in harsh desert conditions

  • without easy access to food or water.

  • Diseases like cholera ran rampant and workers toiled under the threat of whips.

  • The estimates of those who died during construction range into the thousands.

  • In 1864, the new Egyptian ruler, Isma'il Pasha,

  • put an end to the coerced Egyptian labor,

  • but he still pressed forward with construction.

  • Foreign workers from all over Europe and the Middle East

  • labored alongside dredgers and bucket excavators

  • to remove 74 million cubic meters of dirt.

  • This massive population of workers required infrastructure

  • to deliver drinking water and other supplies,

  • giving rise to a flourishing economy of restaurants, brothels, and smuggled goods.

  • Amidst the bustle were born three new cities with multi-ethnic populations:

  • Port Said on the northern Mediterranean shore,

  • Ismailia on the canal's middle tract,

  • and Port Tewfiq, at the southern edge of the canal.

  • The construction site bypassed the Nile and ran directly from Port Said to Suez.

  • And after years of work, the streams of the two seas finally began merging

  • in the mid-1860s.

  • The finished canal was 164 kilometers long,

  • with a width of 56 meters at the surface,

  • and it was officially inaugurated on November 17th, 1869.

  • While it struggled financially during its first few years,

  • the canal ended up dramatically accelerating global trade.

  • It also facilitated the migration of numerous marine species,

  • dramatically changing local ecosystems and cuisine.

  • Over the decades, traffic through the canal grew.

  • But in 1875,

  • financial issues forced Egypt to sell much of its stock in the Canal Company,

  • allowing Britain to take over.

  • It was only in 1956 that control of the canal fully reverted to Egypt

  • when it was nationalized by President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

  • This move sparked a military standoff

  • between Egypt and Britain, France, and Israel.

  • But once resolved,

  • it transformed the canal into a major source of Egypt's national revenue

  • and helped redeem the canal's imperialist legacy.

  • Today, nearly 30% of all global ship traffic passes through the Suez Canal,

  • totaling over 20,000 ships in 2021.

  • However, the incident of the Ever Given is a stark reminder

  • of just how fragile our manmade systems can be.

In March 2021, fierce winds blew a container ship off course.

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How the Suez Canal changed the world - Lucia Carminati

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    たらこ posted on 2022/02/12
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