CAIRO â€" Egypt has been bombarded with a constant stream of messages this week about the miracles the New Suez Canal will bring. Not all of the claims hold up to scrutiny.
Claim: The new extension will allow two-way traffic along the canal.
Reality: This is sort of true â€" 60% true, to be more precise. The canal is 193 kilometers long, and 80.5 of those kilometers already allowed two-way traffic. With the new channel, that figure will increase to 115.5 km.
(Courtesy Suez Canal Authority)
As this diagram from the Suez Canal Authority shows, the extension will clear one of the canalâ€™s bottlenecks by adding a second lane on the stretch from the Ballah bypass (an existing two-lane stretch) to the Bitter Lakes (also an existing two-lane stretch). The red arrow (added by Mada Masr) indicates the 35-km-long new channel. The rest of the pink line shows the 37 km where existing shipping lanes have been dredged to allow larger ships to pass through.
Both of these changes will make things easier for shipping companies. Having a longer passing lane means that more ships can travel in each convoy and will make it easier to time north and southbound convoys. However, it wonâ€™t eliminate the need for convoys, nor will it allow for unrestricted, free-flowing traffic through the canal.
Claim: The New Canal is an achievement on par with the opening of the original canal. Or, as Suez Canal Authority head Mohab Mamish recently phrased it, â€œequivalent to the passing of the nation from darkness to light.â€
Reality: The canal expansion is undoubtedly a significant public works achievement. But to say it "changes the map of the world" â€" as one billboard in New York City boasts â€" seems like a bit of a stretch.
To put it in perspective: The original canal cut transit distance between Europe and Asia by 8,900 km (43% of the total distance), and shortened the trip from London to the Arabian Gulf from 24 days to 14 days. The recent work on the canal will not reduce travel distance. According to the Canal Authority, the new channel will reduce waiting time from 8-11 hours to 3 hours. For southbound ships, it will shorten the transit time from 18 hours to 11 hours (other sources put the average transit time, pre-extension, at 14 hours).
In shipping, time is money, so any time savings is great for shipping companies. But it wonâ€™t represent a major change to global commerce in the way the original canal did.
Itâ€™s also worth noting that this is not the first time the canal has been expanded. Three small bypasses were completed in 1955, making a total of 27.7 km of two-lane stretches.
Two more bypasses were completed in 1980, adding a second lane to a total of 53.8 km. The longest of these was the 40.1-km Port Said bypass. The Associated Press has archival footage of the 1980 opening ceremony: a ribbon was cut and some balloons and doves were released. A nice enough party, but not really the â€œdazzlingâ€ spectacle promised for later this week.
Claim: The New Canal will more than double the revenue Egypt collects.
Reality: Since the announcement of the canal project, officials have claimed it will increase canal revenue to $13.5 billion per year by 2023, compared to just under $5.5 billion in 2014.
Economists and shipping experts have been dubious since the beginning, because the government canâ€™t really demonstrate how shaving a few hours off canal transit time will have such a dramatic effect on global trading patterns.
â€œThe governmentâ€™s projections appear to be based on implausibly optimistic assumptions about world trade,â€ economics research firm Capital Economics said in an analysis released Monday. This is basically economist code for â€œthese numbers are totally baseless and unrealistic.â€
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi inspecting Suez progress. Photo: Egyptian presidency
Capital Economics calculates that global trade would have to rise by 9% a year for the government to see that kind of an increase in canal traffic and revenue. Currently, global trade is growing by approximately 3% a year. During the economic boom of the early 2000s, it grew by around 7.5% per year. Reaching and sustaining 9% global growth by 2023 seems â€œunlikely to say the least,â€ the firm notes.
Claim: The New Canal was financed entirely through the patriotism of ordinary Egyptian people.
Reality: The government raised LE64 billion ($8.1 billion) by selling Suez Canal bonds, which sold out within two weeks. About 88% of that came from private citizens. Along with the prospect of 12% interest, patriotism was most likely a motivating factor for many of those who bought the bonds. That amount wasnâ€™t, however, actually enough to build the canal. The government has since had to take out two additional loans from local banks, borrowing at least another $850 million.
There's nothing wrong with a party, and Egypt could do with something to celebrate at the moment â€" but some perspective doesn't hurt. While the canal looks like it will bring some benefits to the economy, it will not likely be the quick-fix for the country that some are promising.
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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