Egypt's Sisi opens New Suez Canal, says to defeat terrorists

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Egypt Opens $8.2B New Suez Canal


Egypt received a show of international support on Thursday as it inaugurated a major extension of the Suez Canal which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hopes will power an economic turnaround in the Arab world's most populous country.

The former armed forces chief, who led a military takeover two years ago but ran for president as a civilian last year, told a ceremony attended by French, Russian, Arab and African leaders that Egypt would defeat the terrorism that dogged the project.

"Work did not take place in normal circumstances, and these circumstances still exist and we are fighting them and we will defeat them," Sisi said after signing an order allowing ships to cross the New Suez Canal.

"We promised a gift to the world and we accomplished it in record time - an additional artery for prosperity and for connecting civilization to enhance the movement of international trade," he said, as the first vessel, a container ship called CMA CGM TITAN, blew its horn and passed through the canal.

The $8 billion project was completed in just one year instead of three on Sisi's orders, but economists and shipping analysts question whether there is sufficient traffic and east-west trade to meet its ambitious revenue targets.

The canal expansion is the centerpiece of a grand agenda by Sisi to cement his tenure as the man who brought stability and prosperity to Egypt after he ousted elected Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 following mass protests.

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Egypt's Sisi opens New Suez Canal, says to defeat terrorists
CAIRO, EGYPT - AUGUST 6: Hundreds of Egyptians gather to celebrate the opening of a new waterway at the Suez Canal on August 06, 2015, at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo by Mostafa Elshemy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SUEZ, EGYPT - AUGUST 06: Attendees, organizers and participents take photos and relax beside the new canal after the opening ceremony of the new Suez Canal expansion including a new 35km (22 mile) channel on August 6, 2015 in Suez, Egypt. The new channel of the Suez Canal was finished in a year at a cost of 8 billion USD and is designed to increase the speed and capacity of ships. The new branch is being celebrated as a major nationalist project. (Photo by David Degner/Getty Images).
SUEZ, EGYPT - AUGUST 06: Attendees, organizers and participents take photos and relax beside the new canal after the opening ceremony of the new Suez Canal expansion including a new 35km (22 mile) channel on August 6, 2015 in Suez, Egypt. The new channel of the Suez Canal was finished in a year at a cost of 8 billion USD and is designed to increase the speed and capacity of ships. The new branch is being celebrated as a major nationalist project. (Photo by David Degner/Getty Images).
Egyptians wear Pharaonic costumes as they march in front of bulldozers which took part in digging the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
An army zodiac secures the entrance of the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. Egypt on Thursday will unveil a major extension of the Suez Canal that President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country's ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
People including those holding Egyptian flags and posters of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi celebrate the new Suez Canal opening, while gathering around Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal billed by its patron, el-Sissi as a historic achievement needed to boost the country's ailing economy after years of unrest. (Ahmed Abd El-Latif/El Shorouk newspaper via AP)
People celebrate the new Suez Canal opening while gathering around Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal billed by its patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as a historic achievement needed to boost the country's ailing economy after years of unrest. (Ahmed Abd El-Latif/El Shorouk newspaper via AP)
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, third right, and French President Francois Hollande, center, ride a golf car as they leave the opening ceremony of the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Egyptian air force planes parade over a statue representing a man digging the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Egyptian army soldiers watch a cargo container ship cross the new section of the Suez Canal after the opening ceremony in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
A cargo container ship crosses the new section of the Suez Canal after the opening ceremony in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Egyptians wear Pharaonic costumes as they march in front of a statue representing a man digging the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Egyptian air force planes parade over bulldozers which took part in digging the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
In this picture provided by the office of the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, left, talks to Yemen's exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi following a ceremony unveiling a major extension of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. El-Sissi has billed the extension as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (Egyptian Presidency via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
In this picture provided by the office of the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, sits with Emir of Dubai Sheik Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum following a ceremony unveiling a major extension of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. El-Sissi has billed the extension as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (Egyptian Presidency via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
A firework display closes out the opening ceremony of the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Egyptian air force planes parade during the inauguration ceremony of the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Egyptian soldiers stand near decorations marking the inauguration ceremony of the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
In this picture provided by the office of the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi smiles at a boy dressed in a tiny military uniform as he waves the national flag from a monarchy-era yacht that sailed to the venue of a ceremony unveiling a major extension of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. El-Sissi has billed the extension as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (Egyptian Presidency via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Egyptian special forces soldiers stand guard during the opening ceremony of the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. With much pomp and fanfare, Egypt on Thursday unveiled a major extension of the Suez Canal whose patron, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has billed as an historic achievement needed to boost the country’s ailing economy after years of unrest. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Egyptians perform during the opening ceremony of a new waterway at the Suez Canal on August 6, 2015, in the port city of Ismailiya. Egytpian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi staged a lavish ceremony to unveil a 'new' Suez Canal, seeking to boost the country's economy and international standing by expanding the vital waterway. AFP PHOTO/ KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian army officers walk in front of a huge screen during the opening ceremony of a new waterway at the Suez Canal on August 6, 2015, in the port city of Ismailiya. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi staged a lavish ceremony to unveil a 'new' Suez Canal, seeking to boost the country's economy and international standing by expanding the vital waterway. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptians soldiers patrol the road during the opening ceremony of a new waterway at the Suez Canal on August 6, 2015, in the port city of Ismailiya. Egytpian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi staged a lavish ceremony to unveil a 'new' Suez Canal, seeking to boost the country's economy and international standing by expanding the vital waterway. AFP PHOTO/ KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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The inauguration ceremony was also intended to bolster his international standing in the presence of French President Francois Hollande, Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, King Abdullah of Jordan, the emir of Kuwait and the king of Bahrain.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo on Aug. 2 for a strategic dialogue with Egypt, but no top-level representative of the Obama administration attended the ceremony. Ambassador Robert Beecroft and Darrell Issa, a Republican U.S. Representative from California, attended.

Egypt's allies are keen to burnish its image in a region beset by turmoil. Cairo too faces an increasingly brazen two-year-old insurgency based across the Suez Canal in the Sinai peninsula that has killed hundreds of police and soldiers.

In an ominous turn, Islamic State's Egyptian affiliate released a video on Wednesday threatening to kill a Croatian hostage within 48 hours if Muslim women prisoners were not freed. Last month, the group managed to fire a rocket at an Egyptian navy vessel in the Mediterranean, near the coast of Israel and the Gaza Strip.

But Egyptian authorities say the safety of ships through the strategic canal has never been under threat.

Earlier Sisi, in full military regalia, sailed up the canal, flanked by a young boy in military fatigues waving the Egyptian flag, aboard the yacht El-Mahrousa, the first ship to pass through the Suez Canal when it was opened in November 1869.

Newly delivered French Rafale fighters and U.S. F-16 warplanes staged a flypast, while helicopters flew overhead and naval vessels escorted the yacht in the televised ceremony.

DELIVERANCE FROM PURGATORY

Thursday was declared a public holiday. Cairo and other cities were decked out in bunting, with fairy lights hung from the Nile river bridges and banners proclaiming "From the mother of the world (Egypt) to the whole world".

Tents for the festivities in Ismailia were erected on the east bank of the canal. A giant statue of a toiling canal worker with shovel in hand looked over the waterway. A towering statue of the ancient Egyptian Pharaonic goddess Isis with wings splayed looked out over the new channel, with the flags of the world flying behind it. Nationalist songs by military brass blared.

Sisi was to host a lavish dinner later on Thursday and guests were to be treated to Verdi's Opera Aida.

The yacht was an ambivalent symbol, since King Farouk, the last monarch to rule Egypt, sailed into exile in Italy aboard it after being ousted by the military in 1952.

Egypt had been reeling from years of turmoil since the Arab Spring uprising that deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and many of the country's nearly 90 million population have suffered from a slower economy, a fall in tourism and high inflation.

The government believes the New Suez Canal and an industrial zone to be developed around it will seal Egypt's deliverance from economic purgatory - to the skepticism of some.

The project involved extending a waterway parallel to part of the 19th century canal connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, as well as deepening and widening the old channel - the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

In Cairo's Tahrir Square a crowd of about 300 gathered in the square honking horns with the color of the Egyptian flag.

"This isn't just for me, it's for my children and grandchildren. This is for the whole world," said 50-year-old Gamal Amin.

But not everyone was enthralled. "There isn't anything new to be celebrating. There are more important things for Egyptian people that this money could have been used for," said Mahmoud, 24, walking past Tahrir.

WISHFUL THINKING

For many Egyptians, as well as economists and experts, the immediate benefits of the expansion, funded largely by a public subscription in Egypt, are not obvious.

The Suez Canal Authority expects a windfall of additional revenue -- $13.23 billion in annual revenue by 2023 from just over $5 billion in 2014, with the number of daily vessels rising from 49 to 97 over the same period.

But sluggish world trade, competition from an expanded Panama Canal and a slower Chinese economy make it unlikely the project can achieve its revenue targets anytime soon or bring about a significant fall in unemployment from about 13 percent.

Some economists have branded the projections 'wishful thinking' especially since Suez Canal revenue growth has failed to keep pace with growth in world trade since 2011.

But British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon praised the project as a "modern wonder". Britain, Egypt's former colonial power, France and Israel launched an ill-fated attack on Egypt after Nasser nationalized the canal in 1956, but were forced to withdraw largely due to U.S. and Soviet pressure.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein, Omar Fahmy, Mostafa Hashem, Jake Rashbass, Ulf Laessing; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Paul Taylor and Hugh Lawson)

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