Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal by Zachary Karabell - review by Justin Marozzi

Justin Marozzi

Lines In The Sand

Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal


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CAMPED IN THE sands of the Libyan Desert on a calm evening in November 1854, a sophisticated Frenchman addressed the corpulent Said Pasha, ruler of Egypt. Ferdinand de Lesseps was a skilled former diplomat who had moved easily in the highest circles for most of his life and his words were a soothing ehto a troubled young monarch who wanted to make his mark on the world. Egypt, said the Frenchman, still has the capacity to be a potent force in world affairs, and is still capable of adding a brilliant page to the history of world civilisation'. Said should give his blessing to the construction of a canal across the Isthmus of Suez. Carried away with the brilliance of his own rhetoric, de Lesseps emphasised the dow such a project would bring the pasha. pa he names of the Egyptian sovereigns who erected the Pyramids, those useless monuments De Lesseps of human pride, will be ignored. The name of the Prince who will have opened the grand canal through Suez wdl be blessed century after century for posterity.'

A century and a half later, it is interesting to note how Western history has remembered the Suez story. Said was to die before the opening of the canal and it was his nephew Ismail who presided over the fantastically grand inauguration, attended by the royal families of Europe. Ismail,

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