What Israel Can Learn From Egypt's New Suez Canal

When Egypt wanted to expand the Suez Canal, the president didn't turn to tycoons for assistance – he solicited the help of the Egyptian people.

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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A ship crosses the Gulf of Suez toward the Red Sea as a holiday-maker poses at Sokhna public beach in Suez, August 9, 2015.
A ship crosses the Gulf of Suez toward the Red Sea as a holiday-maker poses at Sokhna public beach in Suez, August 9, 2015.Credit: AP
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

Excavations on the Suez Canal began in 1859, after Egyptian ruler Muhammad Sa’id Pasha granted the concession to build it to a French company. The project took 10 years to complete. More than a million Egyptian laborers worked on it, with 120,000 dying in appalling conditions.

But when revolutionary leader Gamal Abdel Nasser tried to restore ownership to the Egyptian people some 100 years later, two dying colonial powers, England and France, launched a war – with the enthusiastic cooperation of the nascent State of Israel.

The world called the war against Egypt the Tripartite Aggression; Israel called it Operation Kadesh. Every injustice has its holiness (“kedusha”).

Egypt learned its lesson, which is why the current president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, decided last year that the money for digging a new Suez Canal – which was dedicated last Thursday – would come from ordinary people. Within eight days, the Egyptian people had bought bonds to the tune of $8 billion.

Israel hasn’t learned the lessons of privatization, which here means the wholesale disposal of national resources; it hasn’t learned from the privatization of the Dead Sea, Israel Shipyards, and more.

When the gas was discovered in the Mediterranean, the state hastened to give the concession to two or three tycoons, who are now acting the same way the British Empire acted toward Egypt. This was done instead of establishing a national authority to manage the gas resources (similar to the Suez Canal Authority), so the large companies would be subcontractors, not owners, while I, the ordinary citizen, could be a partner for a few shekels.

Today – since the people are not, heaven forbid, demanding to restore the gas franchise to its owners but merely to improve the terms – we are facing our own tripartite aggression by American and Israeli companies, backed by the U.S. government, whose embassy contacted MKs from the Joint Arab List to pressure them to support the gas deal proposal. And let’s not forget Sheldon Adelson, who is asking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make regulatory changes. What chutzpah – some foreign citizen intervening in my regulation! By the way, what’s “regulation”?

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks,” says the prophet Isaiah, and in Egypt they decided to make the army’s Engineering Corps responsible for digging the new canal. A whiff of the End of Days. Perhaps that assignment will moderate the army slightly, and restrain its destructive actions when it confronts fanatical terrorists.

The Egyptian story also has a global aspect. After several years in which the Arab nations have been offering displays of horror to the world, along comes Egypt. And, instead of drawn swords and rolling heads, it offers the world some Arab charm – a canal 72 kilometers (44 miles) long that was completed in a year – and that’s just the first stage. During the second stage, which has already begun, some 10 million dunams (2.5 million acres) of land will be developed, with industrial centers all along the canal and lots of new housing.

When you see Sissi throwing his weight behind these ambitious projects, risking his political future if the effort fails, and then look at Netanyahu – who I’m not even sure is aware that work has begun on the Tel Aviv light rail – you realize what kind of leadership material the man we are privileged to have ruling over us is made of.

Ministers were fighting about the date the rail work was due to start. People were crying about the expected traffic jams, and wailing even harder about the economic calamity about to befall them. And Netanyahu? He’s fully occupied with Iran and U.S. President Barack Obama. But don’t worry. When the next disaster befalls us, you will see him bent over maps (blurred, of course), oozing authority. And if he gets to use that supertanker plane again, even better.

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