Upbeat and clearly relishing the pomp-filled occasion, el-Sissi nevertheless conceded that the $8.5 billion project will not bring a quick economic windfall to a country roiled by violence and unrest since 2011. Its completion, he said, was but the first of a 1,000-step journey Egyptians must take toward economic recovery.
The magnitude of the project, its completion on schedule 13 months into his presidency and the large high-level foreign representation at its unveiling were likely to bolster el-Sissi’s already high standing among many Egyptians — pushing aside, at least for a time, his reputation as an authoritarian leader with little regard for human rights or liberties.
Thursday’s festivities were partially overshadowed by an Islamic State group affiliate’s threat to kill a Croatian hostage kidnapped in Cairo last month — a grim reminder of the threat posed by Islamic terrorists battling the Egyptian government.
Tight security was in place at an elaborate ceremony held in the canal city of Ismailia and attended by foreign dignitaries, including French President Francois Hollande, King Abdullah of Jordan and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
The canal extension has been trumpeted as a historic achievement by pro-government media and has revived the nationalistic personality cult built around the 60-year-old el-Sissi, who as army chief led the overthrow of an Islamist president in 2013 and was elected to office last year in a landslide vote.