The Suez Canal: Foundation, Crisis and Beyond

The Suez Canal: Foundation, Crisis and Beyond

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today's exploration will take us to the Suez Canal and does it really need an introduction technically speaking the Suez Canal is the artificial waterway running north to south across the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt which connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea the canal separates the African continent from Asia while providing the shortest sea route between Europe and the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans nowadays the canal is a hundred and ninety-three kilometers long 24 metres deep and 225 metres wide to give you an idea of just how much traffic goes
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through Suez in 2018 alone eighteen thousand seven hundred and fourteen ships sailed through the canal for a total of 1.1 billion tons of cargo beyond the numbers in the stats Suez enjoys a well-earned iconic status resulting from decades of complicated history in today's Geographics video we're going to look at some of the events in which the canal has played not just a mere setting but a true
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protagonist let's start with a little test don't worry it's a multiple-choice one can you name the decade in which the canal linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea was first dug is it a the 1860s C II or B the 1860s BC well what if I told you that both answers in 1869 seee but the first waterway connecting the two seas albeit not
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directly was dug during the reign of Pharaoh Sanel stret the third from 1887 to 18-49 BCE this canal was not a straight link from the Med to the Reds as is often heard but rather it connected the latter sea with a branch of the Nile for 4000 years ago that's still pretty impressive the canal of sonow stret was often abandoned due to silting the process of becoming filled or blocked by like sandy or clay like deposits however Egyptians never shied away from a massive infrastructure
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project so time and time again they set themselves to the task of reopening and expanding the canal under the reign of Netra ii around 610 BCE another canal was dug between the pollution branch of the Nile and the northern end of the bitter lakes which are located halfway between the shores of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea the cost of this enterprise well according to Greek historian Herodotus it was a hundred thousand lives with a 100 thousand victims of the building of that can now we'll probably be delighted to learn that the canal also fell victim to neglect disrepair
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and silting it took a foreign ruler Persian Emperor Darius the first to bring the canal back to its glory days Herodotus again writes that the canal was wide enough that to triremes could pass each other with oars extended and that it still took four days to sail from the Mediterranean to the great bitter lake during the reign of Ptolemy ii Philadelphus the canal was extended by linking the bitter lakes to the Red Sea once again from the days of sonow stretch a ship could travel from the Delta of the Nile to the Red Sea without having to unload its cargo and
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cross the desert by other means after yet another stint of neglect it was the Roman Emperor Trajan Stern to join the club of canal revivalists mert guess what no surprises it didn't last very long skipping a few centuries ahead in the seventh century ce e ruler Ambra even at last rebuilt the canal this was after the Islamic takeover of Egypt the canal was used for shipping grain to Arabia and transporting pilgrims to the Holy Land the canal was finally blocked once and for all in 767 C II by the Abbasid
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caliph al-mansur his aim was to cut off supplies to insurgents located in the Delta and in Medinah it was one of the earliest instances of how a waterway could play a strategic role in times of conflict and strife it took more than a thousand years before an another military leader would even consider digging a new canal and this was none other than napoleon bonaparte conqueror of egypt in 1798 the Corsican general
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envisioned the project as a means for the French Navy to control trade with the Indian Ocean French engineer Sharla pair set off to work in 1799 but his team soon ran into a big problem it appeared that the Red Sea was 10 meters or 30 feet higher than the Mediterranean this meant that digging a canal would cause the Red Sea to burst through the Sinai and into the Nile Delta a catastrophic flood in reality though this was just a mathematical miscalculation but it was enough to discourage a Napoleon who meant well are
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the problems to occupy in anyway and the work and the canal was quickly suspended despite Napoleon's lack of follow-through his attempts left an important legacy semi-modern idea of directly connecting the Med and the red across the Isthmus of Suez without using a branch of the Nile as a bridge in 1833 a group of French intellectuals known as the sent Simone ian's arrived in Cairo and they became very interested in the Suez project despite the perceived problem of the differing sea levels unfortunately at that time Egyptian Viceroy Mohammed Ali Pasha had little
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interest in the project being involved in a war against his theoretical boss the Ottoman Sultan in 1835 many of the censor mone ins fell ill to a plague epidemic and most of these survivors returned to France among the few who remained in Egypt was vai count Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps in 1847 French topographer and engineer Paul Adrian Bordeaux got his numbers right and confirmed that there was no difference of the levels between the Mediterranean and the red seas the few Sam Simone Ian's in Egypt felt perky again who need to be dampened by the Viceroy his lack of enthusiasm and by
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British opposition to the project the most active proponents of the idea - les ups he didn't give up he only had to wait for a change of leadership in Cairo Ferdinand de Lesseps was born on November the 19th 1805 to a family of French career diplomats while posted in Egypt he had become friends with Sayid Pasha one of the 95 children allegedly sired by Mohammed Ali Pasha shortly after the Viceroy had failed to engage in the canal project de Lesseps had retired but in 1854 his old French side
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Pasha became the new ruler of Egypt and de Lesseps could not miss the opportunity for building a canal he returned to Egypt where science more importantly the permission to finally begin work on the Suez Canal just to clarify de Lesseps he was no engineer he was a great organizer and a great planner and most importantly he was a real pro at securing the necessary political and financial backing for a project of this magnitude his chief supporter was actually none other than French Emperor Napoleon the third one who could not resist the sight of a
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tempting money-making project nonetheless herbs not met Lesseps nonetheless de Lesseps failed to seek and rest and gold from British investors one wonders why the British government was not happy to build a quicker route to the Raj Australia and the other colonies maybe they just had too much fun circumnavigating Africa every single time by looking at British newspapers of the time it seems like public opinion was skeptical that the canal can actually be built and even if de Lesseps succeeded in doing so there were doubts about any sort of return on investments at the time investing in a railroad from
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Cairo to Suez sounded financially more appealing any out de Lesseps managed do you collect the finances he needed through advanced sales of canal shares on the Parisian stock market and pollie in the third would later chip into as a major financier in 1858 de Lesseps forms the universal company of the maritime Suez Canal this private company owned by French and Egyptian shareholders had the authority to dig the canal and operate it for 99 years at the end of this period the company would hand over ownership to the Egyptian government's the company's original cost estimate was 200 million francs that's about 2.2
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billion u.s. dollars in today's money engineers also estimated that a total of 2.6 billion cubic feet of earth would have to be moved excavation of the canal it began on the 25th of April 1859 and no walk in the park the canal company ran into financial problems from the get-go luckily said Pasha came to the rescue buying 44% of the shares four years later in 1863 a smell Pasha succeeded sight a smell was not a supporter of the project which was still being opposed by the British and Ottoman governments its mail had the work suspended which
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prompted de Lesseps to appeal to Napoleon the third the Emperor convenes an International Commission in March of 1864 reaching an agreement that's allowed for work to resume meanwhile thousands of workers were digging in excruciating conditions poorly compensated and exposed to diseases and the harsh climate of the Sinai cholera was a recurring nightmare these issues created a high attrition rate amongst laborers and the canal company had to constantly renew their ranks drafting in 20,000 new diggers every 10 months it is estimated that a total of 1.5 million
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Egyptians worked on the canal as many as a hundred and twenty-five thousand workers or ten percent of the total workforce died of cholera after a decade of grueling work financial problems and political meddling the canal was nearing completion this is when de Lesseps was approached by sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi Bartholdi pitched the idea of building a colossal statue at the mediterranean end of the canal called egypt bringing light to asia so that stuff's at that point was kind of like I don't really know about this I mean does it at least come with free shipping so
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bartholdy continued shopping around the idea of his statue which by the way looks like a giant woman in ancient Egyptian robes carrying a torch high above her head and nota in 1886 the sculpture was unveiled in New York Harbor it's now known as the Statue of Liberty on November the 17th 1869 the barrage holding back the waters of the Mediterranean was breached and the mighty waves flowed through the dig and into the Red Sea the Suez Canal it was officially opened 160 kilometers of man-made waterway connecting portside in
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the north with Suez in the south it was an impossibly impressive achievement more importantly the canal now linked the two hemispheres and opens endless opportunities for trade and for conquest but first things first the canal company had to party and well they knew just how to do it the celebration gala at ports I lasted six whole weeks and was attended by six thousand VIPs among them the Empress of France Franz Joseph of Austria Hungary the Prince of Prussia the Prince of the Netherlands and the Prince of Wales no doubt the British
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retinue was impressed by the canal indeed you can imagine that the British were impressed because they began to reconsider their whole official stance on the canal from well probably just yeah so I say we could use some of that old chap yes indeed in 1875 the Egyptian government was in debt and the British offered to buy the 44% initially owned by side Pasha the Egyptians were happy to accept and Brits were in with the story of the empire inextricably linked to that of the canal for the next 80 years the Suez
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Canal became its lifeline to the colonies and well half the world the canal became the a water to Britain and Frances heart's enemies of the British and French would do anything to sever that artery and the British and French would do anything to defend it in 1915 First World War hostilities had spread into the Middle East Egypt had become a British protectorate in 1882 meaning the Ambar bordered with Ottoman controlled Palestine in January
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1915 an ottoman expedition set forth from Beersheba Palestine was the intention of capturing the Suez Canal and interrupting vital trade between Britain and its colonies the leaders of the expedition where the Turkish Minister of the Navy dismal Pasha and his chief of staff a German general with a fantastic name of Chris von Cresson Stein their 25,000 man assembly marched across the Sinai ready to take the British by surprise and when I say marched we really mean it they literally walked across the desert
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due to a lack of roads or railways in the peninsula the other big problem for the attackers was water they could carry only enough to sustain themselves for four days of fighting if they did not seize the canal in that time well they'd have to walk back home for more well aware of these strategic importance over the canal the anton's plans for a potential Ottoman attack they suspected it would come soon but they didn't know exactly when the auntaunt assigns 30,000 Indian troops to guard the canal On February the 2nd Jamal and Chris Vaughn Cresson Stein launched their surprise attack which wasn't a surprise at all
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not only did the Suez garrison expect an attack but it also had airplanes that spotted the incoming troops - MA and cress von Crescent Stein went on the attack until the 3rd of February but after losing some 2,000 troops they retreated to Beersheba the expedition had been a failure and the Ottomans did not attempt to take the canal again some years later after the end of the war in 1922 Egypt gains nominal independence from the British Empire this was formalized with the anglo-egyptian Treaty of 1936 Egypt was declared an independent sovereign nation but it was
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forced to allow the presence of British troops stations in the Canal Zone to protect Britain's financial and strategic interests this military presence was clearly not welcomed by Egyptian nationalists but at least on paper it was not meant to go on forever that the treaty at a time limit of 20 years at which time the presence of troops was to be renegotiated during World War 2 there wasn't any fighting in and around the canal however seizing Suez was a clear strategic goal for the Axis forces after a series of offensives and counter-offensives across the Libyan
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Egyptian border Field Marshal Montgomery finally pushed back the Italo Germans at El Alamein in October of 1942 Britain had once again averted the risk of losing its second the most strategically precious waterway to an enemy invasion little did the British know that in the next decade it would be their turn to be the invaders the ends of World War two brought an upsurge in Egyptian nationalism which escalated throughout
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the early 1950s in 1951 the nationalist waft party won the elections new prime minister now has pasher asked for the anglo-egyptian Treaty of 1936 to be revoked the British garrison Suez was targeted next with attacks directed by the Egyptian paramilitary force On January the 25th 1952 British troops launched Operation Eagle a counter-attack against an Egyptian police units in a smelly and near the canal the engagement was a total success for the British as the Egyptians suffered fifty ki a but when news reached Cairo violence broke out
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the following day this became known as Black Saturday British expats along with their houses businesses and properties were assaulted and burned by angry Bob's British threats to occupy Cairo prompted King Farouk to dismiss Naz Pasha but in July 1952 Farooq was overthrown in a military coup by General Mohamed Naguib the general was then later deposed in the spring of 1954 and replaced by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser the real puppet master behind the coup NASA had a clear three-point plan and British occupation build up armed forces
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to attack Israel boost the economy by building a dam at Aswan his plan started well in October of nineteen fifty four NASA signed a new treaty with the London announcing that British troops would be withdrawn by June of 1956 following which the canal would be operated by British and Egyptian civilian technicians but then everything went rather pear shapes in February 1955 the British Foreign Secretary and eventual Prime Minister Anthony Eden denied a supply of weapons to NASA as a solution NASA turn to Czechoslovakia purchasing Soviet made planes tanks and other
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weaponry this decision worried the Americans the US government was a major investor in the Aspen dam that was having cold feet due to the high costs and low confidence in the success of the project the check on seal was the final blow US Secretary of State Foster Dulles announced that they were going to pull out of the dam and what did NASA shell then probably dam when the Americans pulled out the Brits pulled out two dam again and when the Brits pulled out the world's Bank pulled out their 200 million dollars - and that was probably
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another dam NASA needed cash and he realized he entered on his doorstep in July 1956 President NASA nationalized the anglo-french Suez Canal Company now all the revenues generated by shipping and trade through the canal would go straight to Egypt's coffers a nice income to subsidize the dam at Aswan this was a bold move that was bound to elicit a reaction from London Paris Prime Minister Eden started considering military action to overthrow Nasser or at least regain control of Suez the Americans made it clear they would not condone such actions so London
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had to look for allies elsewhere in October even met with a French and Israeli Prime Minister's gimel a and David ben-gurion their secret agreements involved an Israeli attack on Egypt which should give the pretext for an anglo-french intervention ie protecting the canal from the israeli-egyptian conflicts and the sin during freedom of international shipping on October the 29th 1956 the Israeli Defense Force attacked the Sinai Peninsula the next day Britain and France visibly flabbergasted at the site of these events issued ultimatums to both combatants for a ceasefire the
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Israelis continued their operations pushing back NASA's army now came the time for anglo-french intervention first an air strike grounded the egyptian air force then on the 5th of november dawned British and French paratroop secured strategic areas of portside at the northern end of the canal this was in preparation for a seaborne landings that was due the next day the force of raw Marine Commandos French paratroopers and British tanks overwhelmed Egyptian defences capturing also a great deal of nasa's newly bought check weapons the rate had been successful but this was an
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act of aggression against egypt's that the UN just couldn't stand and watch the secretary-general urged a ceasefire and the anglo-french stopped just south of port side while on their way to suez the invading forces had suffered 257 killed in action overall while egypt's reported over 3,000 deaths while the invaders had made progress on lands nasa had managed to scuttle 47 ships in the canal effectively shutting it for months u.s. president eisenhower was furious with the british Khrushchev to was not a happy chappy and he threatened Soviet
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intervention without discounting the use of nukes over Western Europe scorned by most of the world's Britain and France agreed to withdraw their troops from Egypt Israel would evacuate the following year a United Nations peacekeeping force was sent to supervise the ceasefire and restore order the Suez Canal was cleared and reopened but Britain found special relationship with the u.s. severely strained and its influence in the Middle East diminished Eden's political credibility was particularly harmed as he had kept the whole operation hidden not only from Eisenhower but his own Parliament in December 1956 he declared to the House
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of Commons to say it quite bluntly to the house there was no foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt there was not in January 1957 Sir Anthony Eden resigned in June Malays government collapsed NASA was still in power and holding on to the canal it's clear due to its location that the Suez Canal would time and time again find itself caught between Israel and Egypt in one of them many conflicts following months of escalating tensions among Israel Syria Jordan and Egypt in the spring of 1967 war seemed inevitable
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the Israeli Air Force didn't wait it struck first hard and fast operation focus launched on the 5th of June there was a preemptive strike that destroyed on the ground most of the air forces of the Allied Arab countries this was the beginning of the six-day war as a retaliatory measure NASA ordered for the canal to be shut down by mines and scuttled ships the bottom is that at the time of the big shutdown 15 international shipping vessels were moored in the canals mid points the great bitter lake the ships remained stranded in the bitter lake for eight years they became known as the yellow
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fleet because of the sands that had caked their decks the shipping companies could not afford to abandon their ships and precious cargo so they maintained rotating crews to look after them Egyptian authorities had bands the crews from using radio and imposed a police guard on every ship but the crews were not eager to remain in isolation from each other motor boats became an essential form of transport for communication and for exchanging supplies soon the bitter Lake residents grew into a fully fledged community almost entirely male except for one woman a Swedish stewardess known as the Lady of the lake the community organized
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a trade system to ensure that everybody had the needed supplies of food water and other types of drink captain kensit's of British vessel port in the cargill calculated that 1.5 million empty beer bottles were dumped in the lake the bitter Lake residents had other ways to pass the time they organized football matches on the deck of the largest ship along with sailing races waterskiing events and even movie nights hosted by different ships in turn in 1968 the bitter Lake has even held their own mini Olympic Games the event was comprised of 14 sports including high
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jump archery shooting and water polo in case you wonder who got the most medals it was the Polish team the Germans came in second the British third the crews began to shrink and by Christmas 1969 just fifty ships remains the following year NASA died but it took several more years for the canal to be cleared of all the mines sunken vessels and other detritus it finally reopens in 1970 and the yellow fleet was free to go although after eight years only two ships were still seaworthy it's strange how a wallet lasted only six days would cause a small fleet to endure eight
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years of a bizarre and static Odyssey [Music] the Suez Canal has enjoyed increased traffic in the early 2010's with roughly 50 ships passing through its waters every day shipping tolls allowed Egypt to rake in around five billion dollars annually but the canal was hampered by a relatively narrow width and shallow depth which are insufficient to accommodate two-way traffic from modern tanker ships in August 2014 Egypt's Suez Canal Authority announced an ambitious plan to deepen the canal and create a new 35 kilometers a neuron
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Ching off from the main channel the work now completed is projected to increase annual revenues to thirteen billion dollars per year by the Year 2023 the geopolitics of the area are unstable to say the least but it seems like for the time being the canal is set to thrive the risks of silting neglect abandonment or shut down off the table and traffic across the canal will increase as asian markets continue to grow but before we end the video today we've got a question for you as de Lesseps said No thank you to the Statue of Liberty whose gigantic
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statue would you like to see at the entrance to the canal and I really do hope you enjoyed today's video if you did please do hit that thumbs up button below and don't forget to subscribe when your subscribing hit the bell and as always thank you for watching

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