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After 150 Years: Suez Canal Still matters

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“No one is more a canalist than I, but I want the Canal to belong to Egypt, not Egypt to the Canal”-Isma’il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt

The Suez Canal, since its establishment in 1869, has remained to be an important artery for world trade crisscrossing from the East and West. It has great impact on the global economy considering that it provides waterway for transporting petroleum commodities from the producers to the consumer states. Added to that, from a defence and strategy perspective, the canal has been used as “a gateway for military convoys” from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. According to some pundits, it is the strategic opening to the Middle East provided by the canal that has allowed for great powers to instigate rivalry and conflict in the region. 

Suez Canal and Egypt

With Egypt’s growing readiness to implement policy, the country has witnessed the implementation of some great national projects, the most important of which is the new Suez Canal project: the development of the existing Suez Canal and the area alongside the canal. There was also a national security objective for Egypt, whereby it aimed to transform itself into a world centre of logistics and industry to act as a catalyst for economic development for the country. The location’s advantages have allowed it, to attain to a certain degree of world centrality in terms of industrial economic zones, distribution of transit trade, and logistics services for ships transiting the Suez Canal (Mostafa Kamel Al-Hegazy, 2013). The challenges Egypt faced in the political realm arising from domestic, regional and global downturns have hindered it from obtaining the desired benefits. Suez Canal, considered as one of the most important navigation lanes in the world, plays its part in facilitating one tenth of the globe’s trade. However, annual revenues, did not exceed above $5 billion in the previous years. In spite of expansion and deepening attempts, most giant ships cannot go through the canal and are forced to turn around the Cape of Good Hope. The present Suez Canal is not optimally exploited despite its economic importance as there are no adjunct port services, logistics and industrial centres, ship maintenance and repair workshops, storage facilities and transit trade, unlike in other states of the region, such as the Port of Jabel Ali project in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. Therefore, it cannot not cope with such challenges except through its contribution to providing attractive privileges for global trade transit.

Egypt’s New Suez Canal

The revenues of the Egypt’s Suez Canal reached 5.9 billion U.S dollars in the fiscal year of 2018-2019, an all-time record in the waterway’s history, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority Mohab Mamish said, “The canal made an increase of 300 million dollars or 5.4 percent increase compared to the previous fiscal year.”The new channel in the Mediterranean and Red Sea is 9.5 kilometers long and 18 meters deep has been aimed to reduce navigation time for ships to 11 hours from about 18-22 hours, and cut vessels’ waiting time to three hours from a previous delay of eight to 11 hours. The new channel was opened in 2015 amid doubts about the feasibility of the project in light of the uneasy global economy and instability in the Middle East. It is reported that 70,679 ships with record 4.268 billion tons have crossed the canal since its inauguration.

New development projects and up gradation of the canal have helped improve the performance and earn greater revenues in the short period of time. The importance of the new channel is likely to pave way for building other mega-level projects including the tunnels that connect the three canal cities, notably Suez, Ismailia and Port Said, as well as the Sinai Peninsula. The tunnels, two of which were built under the canal, will facilitate the development of the Suez Canal Corridor Area Project, which was launched in August 2014 and aims to increase the role of the Suez Canal, in the regions international trading.

Conclusion

Cairo is betting on the project for the development of the “Suez Canal axis”, which is anticipated to open investment for the Egyptian economy through the localisation of re-export industries, such as shipbuilding and vehicle manufacturing. Re-export operations would result in major activities in shipping and traffic through the canal, which is expected to increase demand for logistics services, whether fuel supply, maintenance or food supplies in addition to opening tourism opportunities for the vessels’ crews. Traditionally, the only revenue from the Suez Canal has come from transit fees. The Suez Canal Authority announced a record $3.6 billion in revenues for the last fiscal year but that level was  considered below potential and weak, compared to Singapore’s experience in providing logistics services to ships, which generate about ten times as much revenue. A total of 70,679 ships, transporting 4.3 billion tonnes of cargo, transited the Suez Canal in the previous year. The canal last year also recorded the highest number of vessel crossings in one single day, 81 vessels with 6.1 million tonnes of cargo, the highest number of transiting vessels in one day to date.

Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-Ultra-class cruise ship Spectrum of the Seas, the largest passenger ship in the world, crossed the Suez Canal on its maiden voyage. The ship was 347.1 metres long, 41.4 metres wide and displaces 170,000 tonnes. It could accommodate more than 4,200 passengers and has a crew of 1,500. It has reportedly paid about $1 million in transit fees to SCA.The Megamax 24, one of the world’s largest container ships with a capacity of 23,000 containers, also crossed the canal recently. The 400-meter ship had a beam of 61.4 meters, a little under the maximum permissible – 62.1 meters – for transits through the Canal. The 232,000 gross ton ship has a draft of 16 meters, with a total capacity of 23,000 TEUs and the ability to stack 24 rows of containers on board, compared to the previous “Megamax 23” class, with a capacity ranging from 18,000 to 20,000 TEUs in 23 rows. Megamax 23 vessels have a beam of 59 meters. The New Suez Canal is the result of the most recent expansion project of the waterway to accommodate larger vessels, it was inaugurated four years ago on August 6, 2015.

Zaeem Hassan Mehmood, is an alumnus of National Defence University, Islamabad. He is serving as Research Associate at National Centre for Maritime Policy Research (NCMPR)

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Middle East

Justice delayed is justice denied. I lost my family to Iran Regime’s barbarity

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Mohammad Shafaei’s family- The toddler in his mother’s arm is Mohammad Shafaei

On May 4, over 1,100 families of the victims of the 1988 massacre in Iran wrote a letter to the international community. We called on the United Nations and European and American governments to take immediate action in preventing the regime from further destruction of their loved ones’ graves.

I was one of the signatories. I have lost six of my relatives to the regime’s cruelty. I was seven years old when my parents were arrested for their democratic ideals and activism.

My father, Dr. Morteza Shafaei, was a well-respected and popular physician in Isfahan. He was admired by people because he was extremely compassionate and giving to others. He was brutally executed by the regime in 1981 simply because he sought a democratic future for his family and his compatriots. The mullahs also killed my mother, two brothers, Majid (only 16) and Javad, and one of my sisters, Maryam, along with her husband.

By the age of 8, I had lost my entire family, save for one sister, as a result of the regime’s executions and crimes against humanity.

Mohammad Shafaei

The 1988 massacre stands as one of the most horrendous crimes against humanity after World War II. In the summer of that year, based on a religious decree issued by Khomeini, then-Supreme Leader of the theocratic regime in Iran, tens of thousands of political prisoners were liquidated. Most of the victims belonged to the principal democratic opposition movement Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

It is believed that the regime massacred at least 30,000 political dissidents that year in the span of a few months. This much was confirmed by the designated heir to the regime’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri both in his published memoires and leaked audiotape in 2016, in which he condemned the ongoing crime against humanity in August 1988 during a meeting with high-ranking regime officials.

Those officials continue to serve the regime today in high-ranking positions. Ebrahim Raisi, for example, who was a member of the “death committees” in charge of rounding up and killing the political prisoners, is currently occupying the highly sensitive post of the Judiciary Chief. He is expected to announce his candidacy to run for President during the June election. After the June 2009 uprising, he said, “Moharebeh (waging war on God) is sometimes an organization, like the hypocrites (MEK). Anyone who helps the MEK in any way and under any circumstances, because it is an organized movement, the title of Moharebeh applies.” According the Islamic Punishment Act, the punishment for Moharebeh is death.

For years, the clerical regime has been systematically and gradually destroying the graves of the victims of the 1988 massacre in Tehran and other cities. As the world learns more about the killings and the international outrage grows, Tehran’s mullahs are scrambling to clear all traces of their crimes against humanity.

Most of us have forgotten where exactly our loved ones are buried, many of them in mass graves. The campaign for justice for victims of 1988 has gained greater prominence and broader scope. International human rights organizations and experts have described the massacre as a crime against humanity and called for holding the perpetrators of this heinous crime to account.

Paranoid of the repercussions of international scrutiny into this horrific atrocity, the Iranian regime has embarked on erasing the traces of the evidence on the massacre by destroying the mass graves where they are buried. The regime has tried to destroy the mass graves of massacred political prisoners in Tehran’s Khavaran Cemetery in the latest attempt. Previously, it destroyed or damaged the mass graves of the 1988 victims in Ahvaz, Tabriz, Mashhad, and elsewhere.

These actions constitute the collective torture of thousands of survivors and families of martyrs. It is another manifest case of crime against humanity.  

The UN and international human rights organizations must prevent the regime from destroying the mass graves, eliminating the evidence of their crime, and inflicting psychological torture upon thousands of families of the victims throughout Iran. 

Moreover, the Iranian public and all human rights defenders expect the United Nations, particularly the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet, to launch an international commission of inquiry to investigate the massacre of political prisoners and summon the perpetrators of this heinous crime before the International Court of Justice.

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Middle East

Can Biden Bring Peace to the Middle East?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

As the fierce fighting between Israel and the Palestinians rages on, the Biden administration’s Middle East policy has been criticized for its relatively aloof, “stand back” approach that has resulted in the absence of any pressure on Israel to re-think its harsh mistreatment of the Palestinians, vividly demonstrated in the recent police attack at al-Aqsa mosque and the attempted eviction of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, viewed by the Palestinians as part of Israel’s “ethnic cleansing.”

Consequently, a UN Security Council draft resolution on the crisis has been reportedly held up by US, which has prioritized the familiar narrative of “Israel’s right to self-defense” ad nauseam, without the benefit any nuances that would reveal any fresh thinking on the problem on the part of the Biden administration.  As in the past, the new crisis in Israel-Palestinian relations has sharpened the loyalties and alliances, in effect binding the US government closer to its Middle East ally under the rainstorm of Palestinian rocket attacks, highlighting Israel’s security vulnerabilities in today’s missile age.  Determined to crush the Palestinian resistance, the mighty Israeli army has been pulverizing Gaza while, simultaneously, declaring state of emergency in the Arab sections of Israel, as if there is a military solution to an inherently political problem.  What Israel may gain from its current military campaign is, by all indications, bound to be elusive of a perpetual peace and will likely sow the seed of the next chapter in the ‘intractable’ conflict in the future.  

Both sides are in violation of the international humanitarian laws that forbid the indiscriminate targeting of civilian population and, no matter how justified the Palestinian grievances, they too need to abide by international law and consider the alternative Gandhian path of non-violent resistance, notwithstanding the colossal power of Israeli army.

As the editors of Israel’s liberal paper, Haaretz, have rightly pointed out, the problem is the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is highly unpopular, unable to form a government, afflicted with a corruption case, and who has been appeasing the extremist elements in Israeli politics who have no qualm about the illegal expropriation of Palestinian lands.  Israeli politics for its own sake needs to move to the center, otherwise the Israeli society as a whole will suffer, as more and more educated Israelis will leave the country, Israel’s recent gains through the Abrahams accord with the conservative Arab states will be essentially wiped out, as these states will need to cater to the rising tide of anti-Israel sentiments at home or face serious legitimation problems, and Israel’s regional rivals led by Iran will continue to harvest from the present crisis.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any political will in Washington to spur a political shift in Israel that would secure better results in terms of the elusive Middle East peace and both President Biden and the Democratic Party establishment are concerned that their Republican opponents will seize on any tangible US pressure applied on Israel.  In other words, domestic US priorities will continue for the foreseeable future to hamper a much-needed corrective Washington influence on an ally that receives 4 billion dollar military aid annually and, yet, is unwilling to allow the White House to have any input on its handling of the Palestinians at home and the West Bank and Gaza.  

But, assuming for a moment that the Biden administration would somehow muster the will to stand up to Netanyahu and pressure him to cease its massive attacks on Gaza, then such a bold move would need to be coordinated with a deep Arab outreach that would, simultaneously, persuade the Palestinian groups led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to go along with a US-initiated cease-fire, followed by related efforts at UN and regional level to bring about the groundwork for a more enduring peace, such as by holding a new international peace conference, similar to the Oslo process.  

At the moment, of course, this is wishful thinking and the protagonists of both sides in this terrible conflict are more focused on scoring against each other than to partake in a meaningful peace process.  In other words, an important prerequisite for peace, that is the inclination for peaceful resolution of the conflict instead of resorting to arms, is clearly missing and can and should be brought about by, first and foremost, a capable US leadership, sadly hitherto missing.

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Middle East

Israel-Palestine Conflict Enters into Dangerous Zone

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Palestinians react as Israeli police fire a stun grenade during clashes at Damascus Gate on Laylat al-Qadr during the holy month of Ramadan, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 9, 2021. /Reuters

Since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in mid-April 2021, tension has escalated, with frequent clashes between police and Palestinians. The threatened eviction of some Palestinian families in East Jerusalem has also caused rising anger. But when Israeli security forces entered and attacked the unarmed Muslim worshipers, damaged the property, and humiliated the families, the situation turned into conflict.

Since the irrational and illogical creation of the Jewish State in the middle of the Muslim World, the tension started and emerged into few full-fledged armed conflicts and wars like; 1948–49, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and 2006 wars/ conflicts. Tensions are often high between Israel and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. Gaza is ruled by a Palestinian group called Hamas, which has fought Israel many times. Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank complain that they’re suffering because of Zionists’ expansionist actions. Israel’s severe violations of human rights and extreme atrocities against Palestinians left Palestinians with no option other than protest and agitate. But Israel suppresses them and uses all dirty tricks to keep them silent.

It is worth mentioning that the United Nations Security Council has passed several resolutions to settle the Israel-Palestine issue peacefully. But Israel has not implemented either of them and kept using force to push them out and settle Jews in their land.

The State of Israel has been enjoying undue supported by the US, irrespective of who is president, but all of them support Israel unconditionally. Israel is the most favored nation of the US and the largest beneficiary of American aid, assistance, and support.

Ex-President Donald Trump helped Israel establish diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. Donald Trump favored Netanyahu, dramatically moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His daughter and son-in-law were the facilitators for his support to Israel.

Till last news, at least 56 Palestinians have died under an array of aerial bombardments of the Gaza Strip. Five Israelis were killed too. Rockets, bullets, and rocks are flying around Israel and the Palestinian territories with catastrophic intensity in the latest wave of violence that periodically marks the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces amid clashes at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem in 1967 Six-Day War.  Security forces have set on fire the centuries-old holy Mosque. Serious communal violence has broken out within Israel between Arab citizens and Jews. Fires were lit, a synagogue burned, a Muslim cemetery trashed, police cars set aflame, and an Arab-Israeli man killed. The mayor of Lod termed it a “civil war.”

The ferocity of the fast-escalating conflict might be extremely dangerous as Israel uses hi-tech, advanced, lethal weapons. A week ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed close to losing power after the climax of four inconclusive elections. The outbreak of hostilities has allowed him the opportunity to make his latest appearance as a tough guy and ended coalition talks by rival politicians. He might politicize the conflict in his favor.

There is a severe danger of spreading this conflict to a large-scale war, which might engulf the regional countries. There already exists tension among Israel and few regional powers. The recent Israeli attacks on Russian bases in Syrian may also widen the conflict.

Any war in the middle-East will have dire consequences globally. It is appealed to the UN and all peace-loving nations and individuals to speed up all-out efforts to stop the conflict at this initial stage and avert further bloodshed. It is demanded that the Israel-Palestine issue must be settled according to the resolutions passed by UNSC. Wish immediate peace, sustainable peace, and permanent peace in the Middle East and globally.

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