The Suez Canal is a shortcut connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. (Photo: Tech Historian)
JAKARTA – The name of the Suez Canal in Egypt suddenly became a topic of conversation after speculation emerged that Israel was deliberately bombarding Gaza because it had hidden interests in realizing the big project to build the Ben Gurion canal.
This new canal is predicted to be more strategic than the Suez Canal. The route will be wider and more efficient than the Suez Canal and directly connect the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. And, the important point is that it is controlled by Israel itself. This is different with the Suez Canal which is now controlled by Egypt.
Talking about the Suez Canal, this waterway is a shortcut connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Because of its very strategic position, this canal plays an important role in international maritime trade.
Apart from its important role in global politics, the Suez Canal also has a number of other interesting facts, as quoted from Britannica, Saturday (11/11/2023).
1. It has been around since Cleopatra’s era
The Suez Canal has actually been around since ancient Egyptian times. The Egyptian pharaoh Senusret III had built a route connecting the Red Sea and the Nile River around 1850 BC. This path was later perfected by Pharaoh Necho II and the Persian conqueror Darius. The project is thought to have been completed in the 3rd century BC during the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Many world figures including Cleopatra are believed to have sailed the Suez Canal.
2. Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to build it
In the modern era, after conquering Egypt in 1798, French military commander Napoleon Bonaparte sent a survey team to investigate the possibility of cutting through the Istmo Suez and building a canal from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. But after four separate expeditions to the region, explorers mistakenly concluded that the Red Sea was at least 30 feet higher than the Mediterranean Sea.
They warned that efforts to build a canal could result in catastrophic flooding in the Nile Delta. The researchers’ calculations led Napoleon to withdraw from the project, and plans to build a canal suffered setbacks until 1847, when a group of researchers finally confirmed there was no serious elevation difference between the Mediterranean and Red Seas.
3. Opposed by England
Planning for the construction of the Suez Canal officially began in 1854, when former French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps negotiated a deal with the Egyptian viceroy to form the Suez Canal Company. Because the canal proposed by Lesseps had the support of the French Emperor Napoleon III, many British statesmen viewed its construction as a political scheme designed to undermine their global shipping dominance.
The British ambassador to France argued that supporting the canal would be suicidal. Britain continued to criticize the construction of the Suez Canal, but later bought a 44 percent share after the Egyptian government ran out of money and auctioned off its shares in 1875.
4. Built with forced labor and advanced machines
Building the Suez Canal required a large workforce. Initially, the Egyptian government provided this by forcing poor people to work for low wages and under threat of violence.
Starting in late 1861, tens of thousands of farmers dug the initial section of the canal manually. This project progressed very slowly and was stopped after the Egyptian ruler, Ismail Pasha, suddenly banned the use of forced labor in 1863.
Faced with a labor shortage, Lesseps and the Suez Canal Company changed strategy and began using machines. This is a steam and coal powered digger made specifically for digging canals. This new technology provided the boost the project needed, and the company continued to make rapid progress over the final two years of construction. Of the 75 million cubic meters of sand ultimately moved during construction of the main canal, about three-quarters was handled by heavy machinery.
5. The Statue of Liberty was originally going to be installed on the Suez Canal
When the Suez Canal was nearing completion in 1869, French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi tried to convince Ferdinand de Lesseps and the Egyptian government to let him build a statue called “Egypt Bringing Light to Asia” at the entrance to the Mediterranean.