Archaeologist voices concern over Suez Canal expansion project
Suez Canal construction - YOUM7/Mohamed Awad

CAIRO: Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el-Damaty has made assurances that the construction and digging associated with a new planned 72-kilometer expansion of the Suez Canal will not harm archaeological sites in the area, Al-Watan reported Saturday, but that hasn’t silenced all criticism of the project from the archaeological community.

In a phone call to CBC TV channel’s “Momken” talk show Wednesday, Damaty said the digging of the new artificial waterway is “far away” from the archaeological sites in the Suez Canal area.

Archaeologist Monica Hanna said that the Suez Canal area has been Egypt’s “gateway from the east” and that the surrounding area contains several significant archaeological sites.

“The proposed area intersects several archaeological sites, including four ancient forts along with Tell Habua, which houses the remains of a 2,000-year-old Roman fortress and is situated on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal,” Hanna said.

Tell Habua is also the seat of ancient Egyptian administrative and religious buildings, with palaces and domestic structures, a fortified city, storehouses, silos and bread ovens, with serpentine walls and ox burials, she added.

Damaty countered that several studies and archaeological surveys on the digging range of the new waterway were carried out during the tenure of former Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim.

However, Ibrahim, who resigned following the inauguration of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in June, denied Damaty’s claim, and speaking to Al-Watan, said that no permits for digging in the Suez Canal area were issued during his tenure.

“Digging permits for such gigantic projects are usually issued by the ministry’s Antiquities Standing Committee after specific studies to determine whether or not the area is an archaeological site,” Ibrahim was quoted as saying by Al-Watan.

Abdel Rehem Rehan, head of the Archaeological Documentation Unit of the Antiquities Ministry told The Cairo Post Sunday that it is possible to protect sites near the proposed digging—if there are any—by surrounding them with cofferdams to obstruct the flow of water.

Sisi announced the Suez Canal expansion project Tuesday, and Suez Canal Authority head Mohab Memish said the cost of the project is estimated at $4 billion, Al-Watan reported.

The new branch of the canal will be 72-kilometers long, 35 of which will be dug afresh, and the remaining 37 kilometers as part of an expansion and deepening of the current canal. According to Memish, it will double Egypt’s revenue from the canal to $12 billion a year.

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