TOPIC – A Suez lesson

“A gigantic freighter blocks Suez Canal and underlines how much the global economy still runs on grooves left by history.”

According to Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Royal Boskalis Westminster, removing the “Ever Given” from the Suez Canal could take “days, even weeks”. The gigantic freighter — longer than most skyscrapers — is lodged in the Suez Canal and Berdowski’s company is among those hired to move it. The task is a challenging one. And, what it has highlighted — as with most essential things, it grabs attention only in its disruption — is how important the narrow waterway is to the world. Most of the millennials and Gen Z’ers posting memes about the current Suez Crisis may not be entirely aware of the historical and political symbolism of the canal. Constructed between 1859-1869, the man-made waterway cut the time taken, and the grave danger faced by ships travelling the world: It put Egypt at a strategic junction between Asia and Europe, and the perils of the Cape of Good Hope could be avoided. Then, in the wave of assertion by colonies and quasi-colonies, Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the canal in 1956. And when Britain, France and Israel invaded Egypt — the former two to protect corporate interests that hinged on the Canal — the many hypocrisies of the colonisers’ “liberal values” were exposed in the original Suez Crisis. Of course, this is all ancient history to some. The image of the gigantic ship and a lone bulldozer trying to free it have sparked the most self-serving of all public conversations —memes with captions like “me looking at work on a Monday”. But as the supplies of fuel, food, and all the other myriad products that are piling up in ships stuck in a marine traffic jam fail to reach their destination, there is a lesson on the things that still matter. It turns out, that while much has changed from 1869 and 1956 — “data is the new oil”, after all — a large part of the global economy still runs on the very real grooves left by history.