The Isthmus of Suez Question


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Ferdinand Marie, Vicomte de Lesseps, GCSI; (19 November 1805 – 7 December 1894) was a French diplomat and later developer of the Suez Canal, which in 1869 joined the Mediterranean and Red Seas, substantially reducing sailing distances and times between Europe and East Asia.

He attempted to repeat this success with an effort to build a Panama Canal at sea level during the 1880s, but the project was devastated by epidemics of malaria and yellow fever in the area, as well as beset by financial problems, and the planned de Lesseps Panama Canal was never completed. Eventually, the project was bought out by the United States, which solved the medical problems and changed the design to a non-sea level canal with locks. It was completed in 1914.

This work struck de Lesseps's imagination, and was one of the influences that gave him the idea of constructing a canal across the African isthmus. Fortunately for de Lesseps, Muhammad Ali, the viceroy of Egypt, owed his position in part to the recommendations made on his behalf to the French government by Mathieu de Lesseps, who was consul-general in Egypt when Ali was a colonel. Because of this, de Lesseps received a warm welcome from the viceroy and became good friends with his son, Said Pasha. Politically, the British were allied with the Ottoman capital in Constantinople - to prevent the Russians from Black Sea access to the Mediterranean Sea - and had also repelled Ali's attempt to invade the Ottoman capital in 1833. The French were able to maneuver in Egypt under Ali's graces by playing off the British aggression against Ali in Constantinople.

Excerpt from The Isthmus of Suez Question

M M. Linant Bey and Mougel Bey, engineers, who have been engaged, the one for the last twenty, the other for the last thirty years, in the construction of important hydraulic works in Egypt, were appointed by the Viceroy to accompany me in an exploring expedition to the Isthmus of Suez, and to complete, by a fresh examination of the ground, the investigations they had already made.

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