Egypt’s president on Tuesday inaugurated the digging of a new section of the Suez Canal, a $4 billion military-led project to expand a key corridor of world trade that he says will be finished next year.
As warplanes flew overhead in a ceremony broadcast on state media from the canal city of Ismailia, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said that the new 35-km (22 mile) segment is part of several planned mega projects to boost the country’s dilapidated economy.
Egypt is the gatekeeper of the canal, one of the world’s busiest water corridors and the strategic link between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. It is one of Egypt’s main sources of income, generating annual revenues of $5 billion.
The canal was opened for navigation in 1869. The inauguration of the new segment comes on the 58th anniversary of the nationalization of the canal by former Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Expansion of the canal has been an issue of national security since the canal connects most of Egypt’s territory with Sinai Peninsula, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel.
The region is also major hub for weapons smuggling, while an insurgency by Islamic terrorism in the area has been on the rise over the past decade.