There is little enthusiasm in Egypt for the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) which was unveiled during the latest G20 summit in New Delhi, India.
The project, which will create a trade route parallel to the Suez Canal, bringing Europe and India together via Arab Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, is raising fears in Egypt about the prospects of the Suez Canal, the shortest cut between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
Egyptians, including people on the streets, worry that the IMEC will reduce interest in the 193-kilometre Egyptian canal, especially in the presence of apparent consensus in Western capitals over the need for lessening dependence on China and as Cold War winds blow powerfully in these capitals.
The new potential corridor will increase the geostrategic relevance of Gulf nations, bringing them to the centre of international trade, and force major powers to take their interests into consideration in a world that is becoming more multipolar as major power rivalry gets more intense day after day.
The fear here, however, is that the new corridor will decrease Egypt's geostrategic relevance, at a time the populous Arab country depends on the Suez Canal more intensely for income and future economic planning.
The canal is a pillar of this country's strategic and political weight, encapsulating the gifts of geography to it in a passageway Egyptians paid dearly to dig, protect, and upgrade over the decades.
Several Egyptian officials rushed to downplay the importance of the IMEC, with some of them appearing sceptic about the viability of implementing the corridor.
Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, which operates the Suez Canal, Osama Rabie, said the proposed new route would be both long and costly for shipping lines.
"Some goods might expire as they take the journey from the source to the destination on this new route," Rabie told a local television channel in a recent interview.
Three days later, Egyptian Minister of Transport, Kamel al-Wazir, said the Suez Canal would continue to be the world's most important maritime passageway.
Nevertheless, national worries about the IMEC were manifested in the number of articles, columns and analyses local newspapers ran and the time local television channels specified for the effects the potential corridor would have on Egypt and the Suez Canal.
Pillar of national economy
Deep under those worries is the paramount importance of the Suez Canal to Egypt and its economic present and future.
The canal is a main contributor to Egypt's national income, bringing in $9.4 billion in the fiscal year 2022/2023, which ended in June, from $7 billion only in the previous fiscal year.
The canal mainly contributes almost 5% of Egypt's gross national product and 10% of its gross domestic product.
Although it comes in fourth place in terms of national earnings, after the exports, remittances from Egyptians working in other countries, and tourism, the Suez Canal is central to Egypt's economic future planning.