Suez Canal is a strategic route. As the shortest maritime route from Europe to Asia, it is a connecting infrastructure with a very strong impact for Egypt politics and economy.
In March 2021, the incident of the cargo vessel Ever Given and the following blocking of the Suez Canal was a strong reminder of the strategic importance of the corridor. From an economic perspective, this event was a disaster for many actors around the world. The British journal Lloyd’s list estimated that the blocking of the Canal was costing roughly 400 million dollars in goods per hour, which is to say 5 to 9 billion a day. As the shortest path from Asia to Europe, around 12% of the world maritime traffic transits trough the canal each year, including 30% of the cargo containers traffic and 10% of the global petroleum exchanges.
The event rose concern in the shipping industry about potential disruption of the traffic caused by a violent action, such as a terrorist attack. In 2015, 13 men linked to the Muslim Brotherhood planning to plant bombs on the canal to block the traffic were arrested by Egyptian forces. A study by the shipping intelligence company IHS Markit pointed out in April 2021 that “a blockage of the canal by a damaged vessel would only become more likely in the event of a suicide attack using an explosives-laden dinghy”. Even though the risk is very low along the canal due to the level of control by Egyptian armed forces, the south and north waiting zones remain critical areas for this type of scenario.
A connecting region
Egypt is not only a maritime chokepoint with the Suez Canal; it is also a highly strategic territory for global communications and internet infrastructures. Indeed, the country is one of the main corridors for submarines cables from Asia to Europe. If there is no cable in the Canal, there are however several critical cable landing stations on the Egyptian territory, on both the Red Sea (Suez, Zafarama and Ras Gharib) and the Mediterrean coast (Alexandria, Abu Talat, Port Saïd and Sidi Kerir). Part of the Telecom Egypt Transit Corridor (TETC), these infrastructures could represent high valuable targets for violent actions to paralyze communications on a very large scale.
Just like the Suez Canal, their security relies on both land and sea actions to prevent attacks that could cause major damage with minimum efforts. This is why the Egyptian Navy started a deep modernization program to tackle these strategic challenges.
Egypt turned to Europe to renew its fleet
The modernization of the Egyptian fleet was led closely with European nations. In 2013, the country acquired two French vessels (Mistral class), becoming the first Arabic navy in the region with helicopter carrier means. Since then, the Egyptian navy completed its fleet with frigates from Italy, France, and Germany. More recently, in 2018, Egypt and France concluded a new partnership for the Gowind corvette. Some vessels are planned to be built by the French company Naval Group, while others will be made directly on Egyptian soil to develop national shipping industry.
As a matter of fact, the first Gowind 2500 corvette fully “Made in Egypt” was launched in Alexandria in January 2021. Two more vessels are expected from local shipping company.
The relationship between Egypt and Europe will go further. Last January, the political and military committee of the European Commission studied a joint presidency between Egypt and the European Union for the Global Forum on Counter Terrorism (GFCT). A way to recognize Egypt’s expertise in counter-terrorism acquired against ISIS in the Sinai area, and to strengthen a strategic partnership for the future.