Nearly 150 years after its completion, the Suez Canal continues to inspire awe, living up to every cliché ever written about it. The 120-mile waterway is a vital link between Europe and Asia, a strategic asset, and a man-made wonder. But the world has evolved since 1869. Have new developments in politics, economics, and security rendered the canal irrelevant? Or does global change make it as important as ever?
To some observers, three years into this turbulent chapter in Egyptian history, Cairo’s importance to the United States seems to have diminished, with power apparently shifting in the region and so many accepted truths about the Middle East refuted by all the upheaval. Whether Egypt remains vital, however, depends in large part on whether the Suez Canal is a relic of the past or an enduring touchstone in international politics. And any notion that the canal is losing its strategic or economic importance must contend with a longer view of the canal’s place in Egyptian history and a deeper understanding of how it has shaped Egypt’s relations with the world.