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The New York Times, April 20, 1878, p.3:

SUEZ AND THE GREAT CANAL

WHERE THE ISRAELITES CROSSED THE RED SEA.

THE WELLS OF MOSES--THE SWEET-WATER CANAL--
THE OVERLAND ROUTE--INCREASE OF COMMERCE--
STEAM MARINE--IMPORTANCE OF THE ROUTE--
PROPOSED ALTERATIONS--RATE OF SPEED--
DE LESSEPS AND HIS RESIDENCE.


From Our Own Correspondent.
SUEZ, Egypt, March 10, 1878.   
    There is not much to see in Suez, and what little there is does not possess any great amount of interest. You have a dirty town, surrounded by the desert; you have dirty streets, dirty houses and bazaars, and correspondingly dirty inhabitants. Water for washing, cooking, and other purposes comes all the way from the Nile by means of the Sweet-water Canal, and is evidently too dear to admit of universal use. Nobody appears to trouble himself much about bathing, and the few that indulge in that practice look as if they had proceeded to roll in the dust before their skins were dry.

    There has been a city here for many hundreds of years, but it has remained through all the centuries with very little change. There was a spasm of progress when the Suez Canal was completed, but it was only a spasm, and very soon the place settled back into its old ways. It has a little trade along the Red Sea, and is the point of departure for caravans in several directions; formerly it had the handling of merchandise and passengers between Europe and the East, but since the canal was opened its affairs have declined considerably, though there is still enough to keep it alive.

    As for stock sights, it is poorly provided, as it contains no architectural monuments nor anything of historical interest. The guides take you to the reputed spot where Moses and the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, but as the guides do not agree on this point, and each has a pet place of his own, you are left somewhat in doubt.
    An ancient mariner tells me that he has seen chariot wheels hanging to the flukes of anchors where ships have left their moorings in the harbor of Suez, and once a fisherman found a sword with a well-defined "P" on its blade, followed by the letters "B. C.," and some indistinct figures. He conjectures that this was the sword of Pharaoh, and that the chariot wheels belonged to his army. I am inclined to skepticism on the point, particularly as my informant denied any descent from George Washington and his hatchet.

    There has been much controversy among the savans as to the exact spot where the Israelites made their crossing and the Egyptians went in pursuit. Among those who have given attention to the matter is Prof. Brugsch, who has been in the employ of the Egyptian Government, and was its Commissioner at the Philadelphia Exhibition. He locates the crossing of the Red Sea at a point a little north of Suez, where the ground is now dry, but bears evidence of having been overflowed in former times. He argues that in the days of Moses the Red Sea was higher and flowed farther to the north than at present...

    I have looked all around here and seen no trace of either pursued or pursuers, and when I asked for the Israelites I was referred to a shop in the bazaar where antiquated garments were sold, and to another where watches and spoons would be exchanged (at a low valuation,) for coin.
    The guides about the Suez Hotel are clamorous to take you to the wells of Moses where the Israelites made their first camp after crossing the Red Sea. They are very old wells, (and no man knoweth their age,) in a clump of palm-trees, on the eastern side of the Gulf of Suez, about two miles from shore, at a point three miles below the town. They are said to be in exact accordance with the Scriptural account, and their identity is as well established as that of most of the places mentioned in the Bible.

    The modern interest of Suez is in its position on the overland route to and from India. At the first establishment of this route by Lieut. Waghorn, steamers came from England to Alexandria, and there landed passengers, mails and cargo. River steamers proceeded through the Mahmoudieh Canal, and up the Nile to Cairo, whence the journey of 80 miles over the desert was made by means of vans or small omnibuses. Each van carried six persons, and they were wedged something like sardines in a can, so that the ride was anything but comfortable.
    The vans were sent off at regular intervals, and before reaching Alexandria the passengers formed themselves into parties of six and then drew lots for the order of their departure. Those who were fortunate secured the latest numbers, as the first batch was started immediately on the arrival of the steamboat at Cairo and waited all day in Suez, while the last lot had their waiting at Cairo, where there was plenty to interest and amuse them.

    In course of time the railway was built across the desert, and the vans disappeared; and later on the railway was extended to Alexandria, so that Cairo was quite left out of the route of the overland passenger who could not stop over at least one trip.
    At present, the mails and through passengers go by rail (250 miles) between Suez and Alexandria, in 12 hours, and the departures of the steamers at the one port are dependent upon the arrivals at the other. Whenever a mail steamer arrives, a train is sent off as soon as possible, and the ship at the other end of the line has her steam up and everything in readiness to depart the moment she has her consignment on board.
    Contrary to the general belief, the fast mails do not pass through the canal, as by so doing more than two days would be lost, and two days in the transport of letters is an important item.

    The canal debouches into the Gulf of Suez in front of the town which bears its name; from the veranda of the hotel every vessel passing in or out of the canal may be distinctly seen, and the initiated can make out the name and rig of any steamer of their acquaintance. The canal has enough to do, and sometimes it is so crowded that steamers are obliged to wait for hours before they can enter.

    Since the opening, in November 1869, the business of the canal has steadily increased. Beginning at the 1st of January, 1870, it has been as follows:

SHIPS PASSED THE CANAL.
In 1870............
In 1871............
In 1872............
In 1873............
489
763
1,082
1,173
    In 1874............
In 1875............
In 1876............
1,264
1,494
1,457

    The decrease in the last-named year was only apparent, as the tonnage was greater than in 1875, and the receipts of the canal were proportionately larger.

    In 1877 the number increased to 1,663, with a receipt of very nearly 33,000,000 francs, against a little over 5,000,000 francs in 1870. Every year the average tonnage of ships passing through the canal is greater than that of the previous year. The 1,494 ships of 1875 had a capacity of 2,940,000,000 tons, while the 1,457 of the following year measured 3,072,000,000 tons, and the 1,663 ships of 1877 footed up an aggregate of nearly 3,419,000,000 [note: these tonnage figures, in the billions, appear to be erroneously 1,000 times too high].

    The greatest increase, both in average and aggregate tonnage, has been on the part of England, whose use of the canal in 1875 and the two following years amounted to 1,061, 1,090, and 1,303 ships respectively. Deduct these from the figures given in the columns above, and observe how small in proportion was the use made of the canal by other nations. England has been the great gainer by the construction of the canal, although she opposed it to the best of her abilities, and derided the scheme of De Lesseps to open a waterway across the desert. But when she found its uses and advantages she was not slow to employ them, and to watch for a chance for acquiring an interest in the property.
    At present England would be in a bad way in the East if an earthquake or other convulsion of nature should render the canal impassable, and her dread lest Russia might seek to blockade it may be easily understood.
    Many sailing ships still go via the Cape of Good Hope, but all the steam commerce between England and the East takes the canal route.
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    The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world's great civilizations. A unified kingdom arose circa 3200 B.C. and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 B.C., who in turn were replaced by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines.
    It was the Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century and who ruled for the next six centuries. A local military caste, the Mamluks took control about 1250 and continued to govern after the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517.
    Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became an important world transportation hub, but also fell heavily into debt. Ostensibly to protect its investments, Britain seized control of Egypt's government in 1882, but nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Partially independent from the UK in 1922, Egypt acquired full sovereignty following World War II.
    The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honored place of the Nile River in the agriculture and ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress society. The government has struggled to ready the economy for the new millennium through economic reform and massive investment in communications and physical infrastructure.
    CIA World Factbook: Egypt


Area of Egypt: 1,001,450 sq km
slightly more than three times the size of New Mexico

Population of Egypt: 80,335,036
July 2007 estimate

Languages of Egypt:
Arabic official
English and French widely understood by educated classes

Egypt Capital: Cairo


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    The opening of the canal gives a great impetus to the construction of steam-ships, and here again England stands at the front. In 1869 her steam tonnage was less than 1,000,000 tons, in 1876 it was more than 2,000,000, while France had only 200,000, Germany 180,000, and all the other European countries together not far from 400,000.
    I am indebted for the above figures to a recent number of Le Phare d' Alexandrie, which has devoted considerable space to the canal and its operations, and predicts great results from it in the future. It declares that more than half the commerce between England and India takes the route of the canal, and predicts that before many years there will be very little remaining to go the way of the Cape of Good Hope.

    The improvements in marine engines will soon bring the cost of steam navigation to a very low figure, and give the coup de grace to the sailing ship of the olden time. Those who are interested in restoring the commercial marine of the United States to its former position should make a careful study of the matter. The sailing ship has lost her old prestige and the steamer is rapidly taking her place. On many routes the former is completely crowded off by the latter; on others she still holds a place, but a less important one than of old.
    Every few years there comes out a new invention for reducing the expense of running a maritime engine; a steamer of 4,000 tons with the most recent machinery will consume less coal for a given power and speed then her 1,800-ton predecessor of 20 years ago. Any enterprising American who wishes to benefit mankind (and himself first of all) can do so by making an improvement on the marine engine so that 20 per cent. or more of the present consumption of coal can be saved. A fortune of enormous bulk awaits him, and if it should prove too large for his comfort I will be pleased to show him how to invest it to advantage.

    The canal is a single track affair, with sidings so that ships may easily pass. I am told that it is in contemplation to increase the number of sidings, so that no ship will be compelled to wait at all, but can pass immediately into the canal. The drifting of sand is less than was originally expected, but it is enough to require the constant presence of dredges along the line. Recently the Sweet-water Canal has been partly filled up at several points by the drifting of sand, and troops of Arabs are at work clearing it out.

    The Sweet-water Canal must be maintained... as it is the sole dependence of the of the employes along the line. Not a drop of drinkable water is to be found between Suez and Port Said beyond that which comes from the Nile by the above-mentioned channel, and I have heard it asserted that the building of the great canal would have been impossible without the smaller one. It existed 2,000 years ago, and was a route for the commerce of the time; after it was cleaned out and reopened at the time of the construction of the Suez Canal it furnished an avenue for a large amount of business when the section from Port Said to Lake Timsah was open and the remainder of the line was complete.

    Every steamer must have a canal pilot before she can enter the water-way, and she is under the control of this pilot until she emerges into the sea at the other end. The regulations allow a speed of four miles and hour, but I am told that if a Captain invites a pilot into his cabin to take a drink and accidentally hands him a glass containing a few sovereigns or napoleons the pilot does not make any trouble even though the ship proceeds at the rate of six or seven miles an hour.
    This is the land of backsheesh, and it is very hard to find anybody who has lived here long who will decline a handsome present when offered. So much is it the fashion that when a man does not get presents from others he takes a piece of money and drops it from his right hand to his left, and keeps up the practice for an hour or two by way of amusement. He can thus imagine he is receiving a bribe and so can keep himself in the fashion.

    The reason for the slow speed of four miles an hour is to prevent the washing away of the banks of the canal, which might occur if the ships moved rapidly. The pilots are careful to observe the wake created by a steamer, and even after they have been properly bribed they will slow her down if there is any real danger.
    The steamers do not continue their progress in the night, and it generally takes two days for the whole transit. By entering early, steaming rapidly through Lake Timsah and the Bitter Lakes, and bribing the pilot the rest of the way, a ship may get through in one day, but it is not generally done.

    M. De Lesseps, whose name is so closely allied to the history of the canal, spends most of his time in Egypt, especially in the Winter season. He has a residence at Henrietta, another at Port Said, and another at Cairo; one might suppose that a man with so many houses would be inclined to live in grand style, but such is not the case. His finest residence is at Cairo and there he spends his time, except when called to the vicinity of the canal by the questions that are continually arising.
    He is a stout, hearty, well-preserved man, with hair and mustache frosted by time, and contrasting sharply with his somewhat ruddy face. He appears frequently on horseback, especially on Sunday afternoons, when the promenaders on the Shoobra Road are pretty sure to see him. I am told that he is not on the best of terms with the Government, owing to some of the disputes about his and its rights, but outwardly he is friendly with the Khédive, and is a regular guest at all the official banquets when he happens to be in the city.
T. W. K.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1878 was equivalent to $22.26 in 2008.
In 1886 the US Mint reported that French francs were valued at 19.3 cents US gold.


TIME Magazine, May 4, 1953, p. 85:

    FOREIGN NEWS: EGYPT: Revolutionary's Rise
    The west bank of the Suez Canal, from Port Said 90 miles south to Suez, houses the mightiest military base in the Middle East. It is jammed with 37 big military installations-- ten fully-equipped airfields, docks, dumps, hospitals, radar stations, the world's largest ordnance depot. Building the base took the British 38 years and more than $1.5 billion. This week they will sit down in Cairo and begin negotiations for giving it all up to the Egyptians.
    Facing them across the table will be Egypt's top team: Premier Mohammed Naguib, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Fawzi, and four men from the Free Officers Committee. But the British have an idea that the most important man they face is a lean young field officer, just turned 35, who does not even hold cabinet rank. Lieut. Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser is becoming the real power in Egypt's military junta-- more important even than Naguib, the reluctant dictator.

    "We Are Soldiers." The British first began to catch on to this significant news early last month at the height of the impasse over Suez Canal negotiations. The British were willing to evacuate the zone only after an Egyptian promise to keep British technicians and join the Western-sponsored Middle East Defense Organization. The Egyptians refused; the deadlock seemed unbreakable. Nasser called in a British correspondent and told him: "What is our policy? It is evacuation-- complete independence." Egypt, he said coolly, was not interested in a Middle East Command. But, he went on: "We are soldiers and we are realists. We cannot maintain such an immense base as we are now. We will want technicians, and since it is a British base, we will need British technicians."
    This hard, forthright statement had an authentic ring. From the London Foreign Office went an query to its Cairo embassy: Does Nasser speak for the regime? Back came the reply: Nasser not only speaks for the regime; he, more than any one man, is the regime. Negotiations opened.

    Cut of the Knife. In February 1942, when Rommel was threatening Alexandria and the British feared an Egyptian stab in the back, British tanks battered down the gates of Abdin Palace and forced King Farouk to accept Nahas Pasha as Premier. That evening, a 24-year-old Egyptian captain, attached to the British at El Alamein, wrote to his brother: "I am glad for this incident. This cut of the knife has given life back to our young officers."
    From that day, young Captain Nasser, the son of a postal clerk, began ten years of underground preparation for the day when the corrupt Farouk would be overthrown. Service in the disastrous Palestine wars brought him a bad shoulder wound, increased his bitterness at Egypt's wretched regime, and intensified his determination. By 1949 he had enlisted seven trusted young officers. "I trained and brought up all the officers in the Free Movement," says Nasser. "I spent ten years on them. I tested them all without them knowing it." When the time came, Nasser and the others looked for a respected senior officer, picked bluff, thrice-wounded General Mohammed Naguib, a soldier's soldier. On July 23 King Farouk fell, and the world discovered General Mohammed Naguib.
    Discovery of Nasser is coming more slowly. A well-knit, handsome six-footer, in public he is shy and seeks the background. His official title is nominal: secretary general of Egypt's single party, the Liberation Rally. But while Naguib dashes to receptions... Nasser labors at GHQ 20 hours a day, making the decisions, sparkplugging the revolutionary council.
    Naguib himself has begun referring to Gamal Nasser as "my commander." He recently spoke of "Gamal, that strong mind, that abnormal determination-- Gamal, who doesn't relax a second in doing his duty."

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