Suez Canal, artificial waterway running north to south across the Isthmus of Suez in northeastern Egypt; it connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Gulf of Suez, an arm of the Red Sea. The canal provides a shortcut for ships operating between both European and American ports and ports located in southern Asia, eastern Africa, and Oceania.
The Suez Canal is about 163 km (about 101 mi) long. The minimum bottom width of the channel is 60 m (197 ft) and ships of 16 m (53 ft) draft can make the transit. The canal can accommodate ships as large as 150,000 dead weight tons fully loaded. It has no locks, because the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Suez have roughly the same water level. The canal utilizes three bodies of water-Lake Manzilah, Lake Timsah, and the Bitter Lakes (the latter is actually one continuous body of water)-and is not the shortest distance across the isthmus. Most of the canal is limited to a single lane of traffic, but several passing bays exist, and two-lane bypasses are located in the Bitter Lakes and between Al Qantarah and Ismailia. A railroad on the west bank runs parallel to the canal for its entire distance.
The first canal between the Nile River delta and the Red Sea was excavated about the 13th century BC, possibly at the command of an Egyptian ruler, either Seti I or Ramses II. For long periods of time during the next 1000 years the canal was neglected, but several rulers at various times had it reexcavated or modified. All efforts to maintain it in good condition were finally abandoned in the 8th century AD. From time to time thereafter various proposals to dig a canal across the Isthmus of Suez were advanced, but no action was taken. In 1854 the French diplomat and engineer Vicomte Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps succeeded in enlisting the interest of the Egyptian viceroy Said Pasha in the project. In 1858 La Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez (Universal Company of the Maritime Suez Canal) was formed with authority to cut a canal and to operate it for 99 years, after which ownership would return to the Egyptian government. The company was originally a private Egyptian concern, its stock owned chiefly by French and Egyptian interests. In 1875 the British government purchased Egypt's shares.
Excavation of the canal was begun on April 25, 1859, and the canal was opened to navigation on November 17, 1869. The cost totaled about $100 million. About three times that sum was spent on later repairs and improvements.
Control of the Canal:
Under the terms of an international convention signed in 1888, the canal was opened to the vessels of all nations without discrimination, in peace and in war. However, Great Britain considered the canal vital to the maintenance of its maritime power and colonial interests. By the provisions of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, Great Britain acquired the right to maintain defense forces in the Suez Canal Zone, thus assuming command of the canal approaches. For most of the time after the creation of the state of Israel in Palestine in 1948, the Egyptian government prohibited the transit of vessels to and from Israel.
Egyptian nationalists demanded repeatedly that Great Britain evacuate the Suez Canal Zone, and in 1954 the two countries signed a seven-year agreement that superseded the 1936 treaty and provided for the gradual withdrawal of all British troops from the zone. By June 1956 all British troops had departed, and Egypt took over the British installations.
On July 26, 1956, shortly after the United States and Great Britain withdrew their offers to help finance the construction of the Aswan High Dam, the Egyptian government seized the Suez Canal in accordance with a decree of nationalization issued by President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser announced that Egypt planned to use the proceeds from the operation of the canal to finance the dam. On October 29, 1956, Israel invaded Egypt. Two days later, British and French military units attacked Egypt for the announced purpose of ensuring free passage through the canal. In retaliation, Egypt sank 40 ships in the canal, effectively blocking it. Through the intervention of the United Nations (UN), a truce was arranged in November, and by the end of the year Israeli, French, and British forces were withdrawn from the area. Following removal of the sunken vessels by a UN salvage team, the Egyptian government reopened the canal in March 1957. In 1958 Egypt and its nationalized canal company reached agreement on terms of a financial settlement for the canal, and by 1962 final payments had been made to the original shareholders.
The Suez Canal continued to figure prominently in the conflicts between Egypt and Israel during the 1960s and 1970s. It was closed during the Six-Day War of 1967, when several vessels were sunk in the waterway, blocking the shipping lanes. The canal was reopened in June 1975, after an international task force had cleared it of obstacles. Late that year Egypt permitted nonmilitary goods to and from Israel to pass through the waterway. Unrestricted Israeli use of the canal was secured in the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.
Playing: A Cocktail Midi Form Egypt