Construction of the Suez Canal, 1869

Construction of the Suez Canal, 1869

Source for image: unknown.

With the rise of modern Europe through its industrial revolution and the growth of seaborne commerce, entrepreneurs began to think of building canals. One such initiative aimed at connecting the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Ocean directly. This would same time either to sail around Africa or transshipping passengers and freight across the Suez Peninsula. A French enterprise took the initiative to obtain a 99-year concession for the Canal and organize the Suez Canal Company, mainly with European capital, to build and operate it.

The Canal was completed in 1869 under the leadership of the French promoter Ferdinand de Lesseps (he would later try unsuccessfully to build the Panama Canal). Numerous obstacles had to be overcome, one of which was the widely held conviction that the level of the Red Sea was more than 30 feet higher than that of the Mediterranean. More serious was the opposition of Great Britain, which was in competition and frequently in conflict with France in the eastern Mediterranean throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.

The British feared the alterations in the status quo that the Canal would bring. They preferred the existing connectors across Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula or a railroad transshipping line to a canal that would be subject to French or international influence. After its completion, the British recognized its vast strategic and economic importance and acquired a substantial financial interest in the enterprise.