Egypt is due to 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.
The president will host an elaborate ceremony in the canal city of Ismailia attended by foreign dignitaries amid tight security measures following a series of attacks by Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula and the capital.
The unveiling of the $8.5bn (£5.5bn) 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 Mr el-Sissi, who as army chief led the overthrow of an Islamist president in 2013 and was elected to office last year.
Egypt’s black, white and red flag now adorns streets across much of the nation, along with banners declaring support for Mr el-Sissi and hailing his latest achievement. The government declared Thursday a national holiday, and banks and most businesses were closed.
The new extension involved digging and dredging along 72 kilometres (45 miles) of the 193km canal, making a parallel waterway at its middle that will facilitate two-way traffic.
With a depth of 24 metres (79 feet), the canal now allows the simultaneous passage of ships with up to 66-feet draught.
The project was initially estimated to take three years, but Mr el-Sissi ordered it to be completed in one.
The government says the project, funded entirely by Egyptian investors, will more than double the canal’s annual revenue to £8.5bn by 2023, injecting much-needed foreign currency into an economy that has struggled to recover from the 2011 uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak.
But economists and shippers saying the hoped for traffic and revenues would require major growth in global trade, which seems unlikely.
But the man-made waterway linking, inaugurated in 1869, is a symbol of Egyptian national pride. And pro-government media have compared Mr el-Sissi to ex-president Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose nationalisation of the canal in 1956 is seen as a defiant break with the colonial past.