The Arab Conquest of Egypt
Salah El Din El Ayoubi (Saladin)
The Suez Canal
In 1831 Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-94) came to Cairo as a young consular student, and there had his attention called to Lepere’s memoire regarding the scheme of connecting the two seas, which led him to consider its great importance in spite of Lepere’s doubts as to its feasibility. In 1838 he made the acquaintance of Lieut. Waghorn, whose zealous advocacy of the establishment of a route between Europe and India via Egypt stimulated his zeal for a similar project. In 1841 and 1847 Linant Bey and Robert Stephenson, Alois von Negrelli, the Austrian, and Bourdaloue, the Frenchman, demonstrated the inaccuracy of Lepere’s calculations. In 1854 De Lesseps, having matured his plan, laid it before Said Pasha, who was the viceroy and determined to carry it out. Difficulties were thrown in the way of the enterprise by the British government during Lord Palmerstons ministry, but on Jan. 5th 1856, permission to begin the work was formally granted by the viceroy. A considerable time, however, elapsed before the necessary capital was raised, and it was not till April 25th 1859, that the work was actually begun. The viceroy undertook to pay many of the current expenses and provided 25,000 workmen, who were to be paid and fed by the company at an inexpensive rate and were to be relieved every three months.
On March 18th 1869, the water of the Mediterranean was at length allowed to flow into the nearly dry, salt encrusted basins of the Bitter Lakes, the northern part of which lay 26-40 ft. below the level of the Mediterranean, while the southern parts required extensive dredging operations. The opening of the Suez Canal was inaugurated on Nov. 17th 1869, with magnificent festivities in the presence of the Empress Eugenie and many European princes. 100,000 Egyptian workmen lost their lives during the undertaking.
Said also gave De Lesseps a number of undertakings about the supply of labour and purchase of shares which were to be financially disastrous for Egypt. The British government pressed the Ottoman Sultan to invalidate the concession obtained by De Lesseps from Said Pasha which entitled the Universal Suez Canal Company to dig the canal and operate it for 99 years (largely because it was under French direction) and a new concession had to be obtained in 1856. Ismail tried to modify the concession when he came to power in 1863, placing more responsibility on the company to provide the labour promised by Said. In the end Egypt paid almost 70 % of the 19 million sterling pounds cost of the canal and received 15 % of its profits.
In 1875, Lord Beaconsfeld, on behalf of the British Government, acquired 176,602 of the Khedives shares for a sum of 4,080,000 pounds sterling and nearly one half of the shares became in British hands. Up to its nationalisation in July 1956 by President Gamal Abdelnasser, the canal used to belong to the Suez Canal Co. (Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez), founded in 1854, which possessed also lands, buildings, and other properties, valued in 1929 at nearly 3,000,000 pounds sterling. Its concession should have expired in 1968. It was replaced by the Suez Canal Authority in 1957.