Egypt celebrates its ‘gift to the world’
 
 
Courtesy: Official Suez Canal Facebook Page
 

In celebration of the New Suez Canal’s official opening, the government has declared Thursday an official holiday, with many Egyptians taking to the streets on Wednesday night and Thursday morning to participate in the festivities.

Privately owned Youm7 reported that Sisi will be aboard the royal Mahroussa yacht during the inauguration of the new canal, as part of a parade by Naval Forces. Head of the Suez Canal Authority, Mohab Mamish, added that the president will be accompanied  by “representatives from the Egyptian people,” including “families of martyrs.” The Air Force will be also celebrating with air show displays using F-16 fighter jets.

A documentary of the canal’s history will be aired later, after which Sisi and Mamish will each give speeches. An opera performance has also been scheduled for the evening, with the participation of renowned musician Omar Khairat.

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Celebrations in Cairo

Local media goes all out

Images of cargo ships and the canal filled the front pages of virtually all Egyptian newspapers, public and private on Thursday.

State-owned Al-Akhbar was a rare exception, featuring a photo of President Abdel-Fattah al Sisi prostrating himself in prayer and the headline “Thank God.” State-owned Al-Ahram chose to run with “June 30 sun rises from the canal today,” a reference to the June 30, 2013 protests against former President Mohamed Morsi. Meanwhile, privatey owned Al-Shorouk’s headline reads “Today is the zero hour on the shore of the canal,” while the paper’s leader proclaims “The new Suez Canal, the message of Egypt to the world.”

“World leaders gather today to witness the genius of the Pharaohs,” proclaims privately owned Al-Dostour.

Further down the page, the coverage continues in the same vein. Al-Ahram describes the launching of the canal as a “date filled with joy and optimism for a brighter future… A new vein that carries goodness and prosperity to Egyptians and the world.” Privately owned newspaper Al-Dostour writes, “Today, Egyptians write a new history that unveils a project close to a miracle; the New Suez Canal, which Egyptians dug in one year, breaking a new world record in creating this accomplishment.” 

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Al-Akhbar’s front page on August 5

Privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm also reports that a number of ministries reaffirmed the positive effect the new canal will have on economic and social development in Egypt, adding that it will increase Egyptian imports in a number of fields, open new horizons in the field of tourism, service surrounding governorates while creating job opportunities for youth and changing the map of global navigation. Minister of Investment Ashraf Salman is quoted in Al-Dostour newspaper as saying that following the inauguration of the New Suez Canal, they will begin establishing new industrial and trade zones for the Suez Canal at a cost of US$150 billion.

Meanwhile, state and privately owned broadcasters are simultaneously airing promotional clips about the canal.

The guestlist and the backstory

The Egyptian presidency has declared that 30 heads of states and 90 official delegations will attend the official celebration, a list which includes Arab leaders, mostly from Gulf states, as well as African heads of state and European representatives. Most of the leaders and high-profile delegations in attendance already have strong relationships with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime.

UAE Prime Minister and Dubai leader Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum come representing one of Egypt’s strongest alliances in the region. Both UAE and Saudi governments have financially propped up Egypt with billions of dollars in aid in recent years, but Egypt-Saudi relations have witnessed a slight deteroriation following the death of late King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz and the appointment of Kind Salman. Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman will be representing his government in the celebrations.

Bahraini King Hamad bin Eissa al-Khalifa, as well as Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah will also be in attendence, along with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Yemeni President Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi. Jordan’s King Abdullah, who was the first leader to visit Egypt following the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi, will join the celebrations as well.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir will be attending the event, a few hours after he ordered the release of 101 Egyptian fishermen who have been detained in Sudan since April on charges of breaching territorial waters. Press reports state that Sisi also ordered the release of 44 Sudanese fishermen detained on similar charges.

A number of European leaders will be also attending the celebrations, following Sisi’s efforts to build stronger relations with the West by utilizing Egypt’s strategic role in the region. Sisi has paid visits to Germany and France in recent months, in attempts to strengthen economic relations with the two states, despite rising concerns over Egypt’s poor human rights record.

It seems, however, that the president’s diplomatic efforts have finally yielded. French President François Holland will be attending as the celebration’s guest of honor, according to local press reports. This month, Egypt recieved three Rafale fighter jets from France, the first dispatch out of 24 warplanes in a $5.6 billion deal brokered earlier this year.

UK Secretary of State for Defense Michael Fallon will be heading the UK delegation, along with Ambassador John Casson. Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti will represent the current Italian administration, which has seen improvements with its relationship with the Egyptian government over the situation in Libya.

Despite speculations that Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the celebrations, official Russian news agency Novosti reported that Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev will be taking the president’s place during the inauguration.

The Dutch Ambassador in Egypt, Gerard Steeghs, and Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, Melanie Schultz, will be joining in the festivities. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, as well as  Swiss Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider Ammann will follow suit.

Leaders from Croatia, Maldives, South Africa, Mali, Togo, Mauritania, Niger, Democratic Congo, as well as delegations from Hungary, North Korea, Uruguay, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, China, Singapore, Spain, Romania, Portugal, and Japan will be celebrating the opening along with Egyptian officials.

The US, however, has only sent a comparatively low-ranking delegation from Congress to participate in the event.

Surprise trains, blimps and memorabilia

Transportation Ministry spokesperon Ayman al-Sheraei stated yesterday that, in light of the festivities celebrating of the inauguration of the New Suez Canal, Minister Hany Dahy has ordered the launch of “the train of surprises.”

The train, according to the ministry’s official Facebook page, left Ramses Station in Cairo at 7:20 am this morning and is scheduled to return at 7:15 pm. The destination was disclosed earlier this morning, when Railway Authority CEO Ahmed Hamed revealed that it will head to Alexandria. According to the statement, the train driver was informed of the destination minutes before departure.

According to the privately owned channel al-Nahar’s website, Sheraei stated that two screens were installed in the Misr and Sidi Gaber stations in Cairo and Alexandria, so passengers and travelers could watch today’s celebrations.

Meanwhile, dozens of citizens gathered in Tahrir square and near the Museum of Antiquities waving the Egyptian flag and chanting for Sisi. Tahrir Square and the surrounding areas were decorated with an abundance of Chinese lanterns, inflatable dolls and flags.

In Alexandria, a number of young men and women took off from Bibliotheca Alexandrina in an organized motorcycle tour of the coastal city in celebration of the inauguration.

Meanwhile, according to the privately owned channel CBC Extra, in Luxor, a blimp with a picture of the president is currently floating above the city.

In another celebratory development, Egypt Air has placed an ad on all its flight seats sporting the logo of the New Suez Canal, the date of its inauguration and the slogan “From Egypt to the World.”

Additionally, Finance Minister Hany Kadry stated on Thursday that the ministry will release gold Suez Canal memorabilia of various types and sizes in celebration of the historical occasion.

The high-profile official said in a statement on the ministry’s website that a gold coin will be issued with the New Suez Canal logo and the slogan “The New Suez Canal from Egypt to the whole world” on one side, and two boats crossing the canal on the other. 

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