Suez Canal Pespectives--Sinai Side Undeveloped
Our 11-hour passage through the Suez Canal is complete, and we're in the Mediterranean Sea. There were no warships today, so the Prinsendam led the northbound convoy of 46 ships, and actually got underway at 3:30 a.m. There were no halts, since the southbound convoy of the day, 18 ships, was waiting for us in Great Bitter Lake when we passed, south of Ismailia.
Signs of Middle Eastern conflict were everywhere. To protect the canal and its shipping, the Egyptian government stations soldiers every few hundred feet all along the 101-mile length of the waterway. Mostly, they live in flimsy tents and stand solo watch out in the bright sunlight. It cannot be pleasant duty.
The Suez Canal, finished in 1869 and containing no locks, since it is at sea level throughout, was first conceived by ancient Egyptian monarchs in the 6th century BC. It is traversed each year by about 25,000 ships, about 14% of the world's shipping, and individual ships frequently pay tolls of $200,000 or more. Of course, it marks the boundary between Africa and Asia.
There is a very marked difference, as we saw today, between the east bank, the Sinai desert, and the west bank, which is irrigated and part of the Nile river delta. So, on the one side there is lush farm land, and on the other side, the east side, almost no development at all. It's as if the Egyptians expect the Israelis to be back some day, as they were in 1956 and 1967-73.
There are signs along most of the way of the remainders of the Israeli Bar Lev line, built to defend their positions on the east side of the canal. Israeli engineers built berms and ramparts 25 feet high, and there are still the ruins of some military equipment destroyed in the Israeli-Arab wars.
On the other hand, Ismailia and other cities along the way on the west bank look fairly prosperous, as did Luxor a few days ago.
There is only one bridge across the canal, and that is a spectacular suspension bridge built a few years ago by the Japanese. Otherwise, there are multiple ferries, every few miles, and some with a huge backup of truck traffic. (The Asian influence is quite noticeable here in Egypt. When we went to Luxor the other day, we rode in Chinese-made buses, very comfortable with every modern feature).
Tomorrow early we dock in Alexandria, and many passengers, including me, will take a 12-hour tour from there to Cairo and the Pyramids. Malta has been substituted for Libya as the following stop, Libya having been cancelled because the Khadafy government would not give visas to the American passengers.
Two articles in the Herald-Tribune today deal with the Obama candidacy. Maureen Dowd makes a rather compelling case for him not putting Hillary on the ticket as a Vice Presidential running mate, calling her a "Trojan rabbit," a disruptive force who could jinx Obama. And Edward Luttwak, in a chilling article, warns that to fundamentalist Muslims, Obama is an apostate, because his father renounced Islam, and that accordingly his murder is regarded as mandated by Islamic law. Luttwak notes that Iran has endorsed apostate murder and that Obama could, under no circumstances, go there for any talks.
Luttwak concludes, "Of all the well-meaning desires projected on Obama, the hope that he would decisively improve relations with the world's Muslims is the least realistic."
Maybe so, but many Muslims I've met while circumventing Africa have expressed admiration of Obama, and enthusastically backed his candidacy.