Ships passing through the Suez Canal today; One of the busiest shipping lanes in the world - social media
CAIRO – 25 April 2022: Significant historical occasions gather on April 25 making it a special day in Egyptian history.
In addition to being the day when all Egyptian lands returned to Egypt’s sovereignty, digging the Suez Canal and constructing the city of Port Said began on April 25.
The idea of digging a canal linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea dates back to the reign of Pharaoh Senusret III, however, it was rammed and re-slit several times over the centuries.
The modern Suez Canal begins its true history with Ferdinand de Lesseps obtaining the right to establish a company to start the digging process. The Ottoman Caliph issued the first concession on November 30, 1854, which stipulated in its first article that Ferdinand de Lesseps must establish and supervise a company responsible of excavating the Suez Canal. The second article stipulated that the director of the company must be appointed by the Egyptian government, and the third article stipulated that the term of the concession must be ninety-nine years starting from the date of launching the canal. The fourth article stipulated that the Egyptian government must receive 15 percent of the company's net profits annually.
It also stipulated that the passage fee in the canal shall be agreed upon between the khedive and the company, that all countries shall be equal without distinction or privilege, and that when the concession of the company expires, the Egyptian government must replace it, taking over the canal and all its facilities.
This was followed by the second decree on January 5, 1856, which included 23 articles clarifying the provisions of the first decree. Articles 14 and 15 affirmed the neutrality of the channel: “The Grand Maritime Canal from Suez to El-Tina and its ports are always open as a neutral passage for every merchant ship.”
Under these two decrees, the International Company for the Suez Maritime Canal was established on December 15, 1858, with a capital of 200 million francs (L.E 8 million at the time), divided into 400,000 shares at a value of L.E 500 per share.
Egypt's share included 92,136 shares, whereas England, the United States, Austria and Russia were to share 85506 shares. However, these countries refused to participate, forcing Egypt to borrow exorbitant interest to buy its share at the urging of Ferdinand de Lesseps.
The borrowed amount at the time amounted to 28 million francs (L.E1,120,000), bringing Egypt’s share to 177,642 shares, worth nearly 89 million francs (L.E 3,560,000 at the time).
In the meantime, the project’s committee convened and took several decisions, including the establishment of workshops, providing machines and all the facilities necessary to prepare the workshops, erecting a lighthouse to guide ships coming to the entrance of the canal and the location of the port, and the construction of a bridge from Port Said into the sea and a dock for ships to unload their goods; All that was to take place in the area from which excavation was scheduled to start at the city of Pelusium and Tinnis.
During the subscription, the Supreme Council for Works of the Suez Canal signed two contracts for the implementation of the first phase of the excavation process with Monsieur Hardon on November 22, 1858.
De Lesseps approved the site after having examined it with Director General of Works at the time Monsieur Mougel Bey, Monsieur Laroche, Hardon and other project heads and agents, in addition to 150 sailors, drivers, and workers on April 21, 1859.
Excavation began in the Suez Canal, despite the objections of England and the Sublime Porte, on April 25, 1859, from the city of Pelusium, with the participation of nearly 20,000 Egyptian workers. On the same day, construction work began for the city of Port Said.
The company provided residences to encourage workers to stay and continue working, in addition to appointing an imam for the village’s mosque.
The waters of the Mediterranean Sea began to flow into Timsah Lake [Crocodile Lake] on November 18, 1862, which is located halfway between Port Said and Suez. It was a depression of land, surrounded by sand dunes.
The waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea met on August 18, 1869, announcing the completion of this huge project, which took ten years to implement, during which 74 million cubic meters of earth were extracted, at a cost of 433 million francs (LE17,320,000 at the time). It was double the amount that was initially allocated for the project.
The Suez Canal was opened in a huge ceremony on November 17, 1869, attended by 6,000 invited kings and princes, headed by wife of Emperor Napoleon III of France Empress Eugenie, King of Hungary, Emperor of Austria, Crown Prince of Prussia, Ambassador of Great Britain in Constantinople, iconic Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen, Prince Abdelkader Al-Jazaery, in addition to the princes of the Alawite family, namely Crown Prince of Egypt at the time Prince Tawfiq and son of the late Khedive Said Pasha Prince Toussoun, Nubar Pasha, among many others. The imperial yacht “Aigle”, passed through the canal on this day carrying on board senior guests, to be the first boat to cross the canal.
Crossing the Suez Canal came to a halt for the first time since its opening with the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, when the British army seized the company and temporarily stopped its operations.
Mammoth Ever Arm vessel crosses Suez Canal on its maiden voyage - Suez Canal Authority [Photo date April 15, 2022]
On January 3, 1883, Lord Granfield issued a proclamation to the great powers stating his desire to withdraw the army from Egypt and suggesting the organization of the Suez Canal by an international agreement.
Indeed, international committees convened in Paris on March 30, 1885 to draw up a document guaranteeing freedom of navigation at all times for all countries, but no agreement was reached.
The Constantinople Convention was drawn-up on October 29, 1888 between Turkey, England, Russia, France, Austria, Holland, Spain, Hungary, and Italy, establishing a final system to guarantee freedom of navigation.
President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal in his speech in Alexandria on July 26, 1956. With the nationalization of the Suez Canal, all its money, rights and obligations were transferred to the Egyptian state, and the commissions and committees that were in charge of its management was dissolved. Shareholders and holders of founding shares was compensated for the shares they owned at the value estimated according to the closing price prior to the date of enforcement of this law on the Paris Stock Exchange. This compensation was paid after the state has completed the receipt of all funds and property of the nationalized company.
The total compensation received amounted to L.E28,300,000; The value of 800,000 shares, all paid in foreign currency by January 1963, one full year before its due date.
Egypt sent a letter on July 17, 1957 to the International Court of Justice in respect of that agreement, informing it of Egypt's acceptance of the court's compulsory jurisdiction in accordance with the provisions of Article 36 of the Basic Law of this court with regard to all disputes related to navigation in the Suez Canal.