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Thursday, August 6, 2015, 22:06

Egypt unveils Suez Canal extension

By Associated Press

Egypt unveils Suez Canal extension
An army zodiac secures the entrance of the new section of the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Aug 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

ISMAILIA, Egypt - Egypt unveiled on Thursday 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.

El-Sissi, wearing his ceremonious military uniform and trademark dark sunglasses, flew to the site aboard a military helicopter and immediately boarded a monarchy-era yacht that sailed to the venue of the ceremony.

The unveiling of the US$8.5 billion 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.

The government declared Thursday a national holiday, and banks and most businesses were closed.

The new Suez Canal extension involved digging and dredging along 72 kilometers (45 miles) of the 193-kilometer canal, making a parallel waterway at its middle that will facilitate two-way traffic. With a depth of 24 meters (79 feet), the canal now allows the simultaneous passage of ships with up to 66 feet.

The project was initially estimated to take three years, but el-Sissi ordered it completed in one.

The government says the project, funded entirely by Egyptian investors, will more than double the canal's annual revenue to US$13.2 billion by 2023, injecting much-needed foreign currency into an economy that has struggled to recover from the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak and the years of turmoil that followed.

Economists and shippers have questioned the value of the project, saying the increased traffic and revenues the government is hoping for would require major growth in global trade, which at this point seems unlikely.

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