Published: June 1975
New Life for the Troubled Suez Canal
Only a handful of wild animal species have been successfully bred to get along with humans. The reason, scientists say, is found in their genes.
By William Graves

This article was originally published in the June 1975 National Geographic.

Groping our way through water dark with silt, Mohsen El-Gohary and I drift cautiously down on the bomb. It lies armed and lethal in some forty feet of water, half buried in the mud of the Suez Canal floor.

As we approach the bottom, I edge closer to Mohsen; with visibility limited to a few feet, I have no urge to go exploring. I am simply an observer in a dangerous task, that of clearing the Suez Canal of the debris of war.

Happily for me the dive is brief, merely involving inspection of the bomb. Found earlier by Egyptian Navy divers, it has been identified as an Israeli 550-pounder, probably dropped during the Arab-Israeli war of 1973. Mohsen's job as an Egyptian ordnance expert is to determine whether the bomb should be recovered for study or blown up where it lies.

The answer comes quickly. Concentrating on the bomb's exposed fuse, Mohsen probes it thoughtfully with his hand in a way that gives me chills, even in the 75-degree water. After a pause he shakes his head and gestures upward: The job calls for a demolition team.

Nations Join to Unclog Waterway

Such episodes were common along the Suez Canal last autumn in the midst of clearing operations. During more than a month of exploring the historic waterway, I met many with Mohsen's courage and dedication. Not all were Egyptian, for in the massive challenge of reopening the canal, the Arab Republic of Egypt received help from many quarters, notably the United States, Great Britain, and France. The gesture represented a major effort to promote peace in an explosive area of the world; it cost U.S. taxpayers alone more than $20,000,000.

Whether such international efforts will help bring lasting peace depends in some measure on the Suez Canal itself.

The canal when I saw it belonged temporarily to several hundred ordnance and salvage technicians from several countries in addition to Egypt. As a result of years of intermittent combat between Egypt and Israel, the waterway had become a giant slag heap of war—blocked by scuttled and sunken ships, strewn with unexploded ammunition, abandoned by more than a million Egyptians who had fled their homes along its banks, and occupied on either side by mortal enemies. Along the 100-mile-long canal, scarcely an acre had escaped being fortified or damaged.

Such was the challenge in early 1974, when a disengagement agreement and Israel's subsequent withdrawal from the canal offered the first real hope in more than six years. Egypt promptly announced its intention to reopen the waterway, whose closure since 1967 had cost the world an estimated 12 billion dollars in higher shipping costs, including the expense of the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope. By this spring the canal was clear of war debris. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat announced that the waterway would reopen on June 5.

For nearly a century after its completion in 1869, the Suez Canal was a highroad of commerce and empire, linking the nations of Europe with far-flung outposts and funneling the raw wealth of Asia and East Africa—rubber, oil, coal, tin, and manganese—to industrial markets in the West.

During the peak year of 1966 more than 21,000 ships passed through the canal. But to regain such importance, I discovered, the waterway must expand to keep pace with a worldwide revolution in transportation.

Two Wars Cause Two Blockages

The decision to reopen the canal brought to Egypt such men as Rear Adm. Kent J. Carroll, in command of the U.S. Navy task force sent to assist in the clearing operation. One morning I accompanied him on a helicopter flight from the battle-scarred city of Ismailia midway along the canal to the southern entrance at Port Taufiq.

In preparation for his assignment, Admiral Carroll had obviously done considerable research. As we skimmed southward above the bright ribbon of water, hemmed on either side by vast reaches of desert, he gave me an illustrated course in modern Suez Canal history.

"This is the second time Egypt has cleared the canal," the admiral began. "After the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized it in 1956, war with Israel, Britain, and France resulted in major blockage that closed the waterway for five months. But the six-day war of 1967 shut it down for years. At that time Egypt scuttled several vessels in the canal to deny its use to Israel, and Israel occupied the east bank." He waved toward a line of fortifications sweeping by on our left.

"That's the famous Bar-Lev Line the Israelis constructed in 1968-69. It was built while both sides were pounding each other across the canal with artillery and occasional air strikes. Now look off to the right; you'll get a glimpse of some of Egypt's deadliest defenses." Dotting the desert at wide intervals were the ominous sites of Soviet-built SAM's, the surface-to-air missiles that had taken a heavy toll of the Israeli Air Force.

Farther along the canal we came to the remnants of a huge dike that had obviously once spanned the entire canal.

"That's still another chapter, the Deversoir Causeway," Admiral Carroll explained. "After the October war of 1973, Israeli engineers built it to support their forces on the west bank. It's a massive thing, made of huge stones and sunken barges, the largest single obstacle in the canal."

Over the course of an hour we took in a variety of other sights, including a huge natural bulge in the canal known as the Bitter Lakes and the jumbled ruins of Suez and Port Taufiq. Here, on a triumphant day in November 1869, the French builder of the canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps, completed the historic first transit of the waterway with other dignitaries aboard a ceremonial fleet that had sailed from Port Said in the north.

Egypt Plans Wider, Deeper Waterway

Back in Ismailia once more, Admiral Carroll wished me luck on my inspection trip.

"You've got a surprise in store for you," he said. "Americans tend to think that Egyptians don't much care for them because of our policies in the Middle East. But the U.S. role in clearing operations has made a tremendous difference. You'll find many unexpected friends along the canal."

I found not only friends but also a surprising awareness that work on the canal has only just begun. Simply to restore the waterway to its prewar operating level will cost Egypt at least $288,000,000. But to recapture world trade lost during the blockage, especially oil shipments from the Persian Gulf to Europe and the United States, Egypt must greatly enlarge the canal.

"In this age of giant tankers," a U.S. authority on world shipping had told me, "the Suez Canal has become an antique. Nowadays a fully loaded tanker may draw 73 feet of water—about 25 feet more than the canal's depth. Eight years ago, most of the world's tankers could use Suez. Today only one out of four can make it. The route of the future lies around the Cape of Good Hope."

Not if Mashhour Ahmed Mashhour and his fellow engineers can help it. As chairman of Egypt's Suez Canal Authority, Mr. Mashhour is already thinking far beyond the reopening of the canal. At his headquarters in Ismailia, he gave me a view of the waterway as Egypt foresees it in the 1980's.

"Time, not Israel, is the great enemy now," Mr. Mashhour began. "We have lost nearly eight precious years and we cannot spare another day, for the job ahead of us is enormous. To handle today's traffic, we must vastly enlarge the canal. The original waterway required excavation of 97,000,000 cubic yards of earth. Within the next decade we must excavate more than 300,000,000 cubic yards. This gives you an idea of the final result."

Unfolding a diagram of the canal in cross-section, he pointed to successive layers shaded in various colors.

"The top layer represents the canal as it is today," Mr. Mashhour explained. "The diagram shows the width to be approximately 200 yards, with a channel depth of 49 feet. The dark-blue layer below indicates our initial goal, with the channel dredged to a 51-foot depth. The pink layer represents 64 feet, and the final one, forecast for the 1980's, shows the canal expanded to a width of nearly 350 yards and a depth of 77 feet.

"At that point," he added, "supertankers of 300,000 deadweight tons can pass fully loaded through the canal and cut 4,000 miles off the Cape of Good Hope route."

Pipeline Will Lighten Supertankers

I remarked that tankers of nearly half a million tons were already in service on the high seas. Presumably these would still have to use the long route.

"Perhaps the real giants will have to use the cape route," Mr. Mashhour answered. "But we have begun construction of a double pipeline from the Gulf of Suez to a point west of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea.

"The main purpose is to transmit oil from our offshore wells in the Red Sea to mainland industrial centers, but the pipeline will serve canal traffic as well. Many tankers with a loaded draft too great for the canal will be able to pump their cargo ashore at the port of Suez, pass through the canal partially loaded, then fill up again at the pipeline's Mediterranean end. The entire process will take less than 24 hours, compared to ten extra days around the Cape of Good Hope."

"Disobedient" Wife Rescues Husband

If Mr. Mashhour's plans go through for widening the canal, Ali Tawab very likely will have to move his house. Considering that he stoutly refused to abandon it to a terrible war, the government may find him reluctant.

I met him near El Qantara, a ghostly ruin of a town bisected by the canal 20 miles north of Ismailia. Despite its name—the Bridge—El Qantara's west bank never suffered invasion, though many residents would have preferred a human assault. What crossed the canal instead was a years-long hailstorm of artillery shells. Israeli guns devastated the west bank, and Egyptian guns the east bank.

The effect was that of a giant road grader, first leveling the town, then piling it back on its own foundations. Here and there a ruined house still stood amid giant mounds of rubble, like some solitary desert outpost abandoned to the dunes.

The devastation is doubly painful to Ali Tawab, for he built a number of houses in the town. During my search for refugee families recently returned to El Qantara, I found him one afternoon at his house on the canal's west bank, a mile or two south of town. A handsome man in his seventies, with white hair and a glint of humor in his brown eyes, he sat surrounded by a group of children and grandchildren in front of his partially destroyed house. It was some time before I realized he was blind.

Over cups of sweet tea Mr. Tawab spoke of his life as a builder along the canal. His career had been interrupted by five separate wars, starting with World War I and ending with the October war of 1973. During the latter, he told me, El Qantara's few remaining inhabitants had finally abandoned hope and fled westward beyond the war zone. He himself refused to join them.

"I said to my neighbors, 'Stay and keep me company,'" he recalled, "but they could not bear to watch the town die. As for me, I no longer had the use of my eyes, and I would only have been a burden on the road."

Packing his family off to stay with distant relatives, Mr. Tawab remained in the house with his wife, who refused to leave her husband in the care of one of their children. Her decision probably saved his life.

One afternoon several weeks later the room in which the Tawabs sat simply exploded around them, whether from a bomb or artillery shell they never learned.

"The roof began to collapse," Mr. Tawab recalled, "and I lost my direction. I realized I could not reach the door, and I thought the end had come. I called to my wife to run for safety"—he paused, smiling—"but she never learned the Moslem law of obedience. Instead she took me by the hand and somehow led me through the falling wreckage out into the yard. Allah was with us that day."

Elsewhere along the canal, faith took the form of endurance and devotion to things dimly recalled. One morning during a visit to an elementary school in the city of Port Said, I met Hoyida Mohamed, aged 11. She and her family had just returned home after seven years as refugees in a Nile Delta town 43 miles to the west.

Memory of Home Lives in the Blood

Hoyida's father, I learned, had been a bumboat vendor in Port Said harbor until 1967. When the six-day war abruptly put him out of business, he and his family fled the city along with 320,000 other inhabitants. The few thousand who remained behind lived anxiously as Israeli troops dug in a few miles away.

In the years that followed, Port Said lost all semblance of the once-thriving northern terminus of the canal. The harbor and waterway lay blocked by sunken ships and by the constant threat of attack from either side. Israeli artillery bludgeoned the waterfront, turning it into a honeycomb of ruin. Hunger, disease, and despair took their toll until Port Said became a derelict city. Yet all the while young Hoyida Mohamed yearned for home.

She had been barely 4 years old when she left Port Said. I asked how she could miss a place she hardly remembered. Her reply expressed the instinctive longing of refugees throughout the ages.

"When I was born," she replied gravely, "the first thing my eyes saw was Port Said. I was too young to know it then, but my father has always told me, 'Port Said is a drop of your blood. Never forget it.'"

By the summer of 1974, when Hoyida and her family returned home, Port Said had already begun digging out from under the ruins. While Egyptian crews demolished condemned buildings and cleared the streets of rubble, an American salvage firm concentrated on the canal.

Using explosives and underwater cutting torches, divers began dismantling two scuttled ships that blocked the main channel. As a giant section of hull was cut free, a floating crane would lift it to the surface and add it to a grim montage along the canal bank. Despite safety precautions, several salvage workers had narrow escapes. In one bizarre accident inside the passenger ship Mecca, diver Richard Trautman found himself facing an underwater fire.

"I was caught for only a few minutes," Rich told me later. An expert oil-rig diver from New Orleans, he had completed salvage work in relatively deep water at Port Said and turned to another wreck, when I met him near the city of Suez. During a break in diving operations, Rich described the Mecca episode in matter-of-fact tones.

"I was working 50 feet down inside the ship," he said. "I used my normal diving gear, heavy plastic helmet with an air hose to the surface, and was cutting access holes through steel fuel-tank bulkheads with an oxygen-arc torch to reach the starboard side of the ship.

"I'd already cut through five compartments, and that gets a little cramped, because the access holes are only shoulder width and you're dragging these long hoses behind, one for you and one for the torch. It was in the sixth compartment that I ran into trouble." He shook his head at the memory. "I sure was some surprised."

Unnoticed by Rich at first, sparks from the torch rose to the top of the compartment in streaming bubbles of fire. As the bubbles reached air trapped at the top, they ignited a leftover film of fuel, spreading flames across the entire bulkhead. While 50 feet underwater, Rich suddenly found himself beneath a roaring canopy of flames.

"It came a bit sudden," Rich said, "but the fire didn't really worry me. What mattered was the danger of explosion—it can burst your eardrums, give you a concussion, or even kill you."

It was a horrifying vision. I asked how he had gotten out.

"I didn't, at least not right away," Rich answered. "I let the fire burn itself out. It only took a minute or two, but while it lasted it was one crazy sound-and-light show."

Clearing Operation Takes a Toll

For all the hazards of underwater explosives removal and salvage work, only one Egyptian lost his life during the entire clearing of the canal. Those ashore were less fortunate: In the hazardous job of ridding the canal banks of land mines, 100 Egyptian soldiers died. Over a period of three months, demolition teams found nearly 700,000 mines set by Israeli and Egyptian forces.

On an inspection of the area north of Suez city, photographer Jonathan Blair and I had a tragic reminder of the unwritten law along the canal: "Walk only on paved surfaces or on footprints in the sand." Not far from where we had inadvertently strayed beyond a narrow path that bordered the canal, two Egyptian soldiers were killed soon afterward by a mine.

During long years while the maritime world awaited readmission to the Suez Canal, a small percentage of it waited patiently to get out. In the lightning onslaught of 1967's six-day war, a northbound convoy of 14 ships was caught while passing through the waterway's Great Bitter Lake and dropped anchor until the transit could be completed. It would prove to be a wait of many years.

Marooned Sailors Dwell in the Past

With special permission, I paid a visit to some of the marooned ships. Dubbed the Great Bitter Lake Fleet, these vessels represented many nationalities—Czechoslovakian, Polish, Bulgarian, Swedish, West German, British, French, and Norwegian. An American ship, African Glen, had been sunk during the 1973 hostilities. She rested on the bed of the lake with her decks nearly awash, the victim of an Israeli attack.

In spite of their forlorn appearance, the surviving ships lacked nothing in the way of hospitality. Several lay anchored side by side, and I was welcomed in the wardroom of Marit, a 10,000-ton cargo ship registered in the port of Kristiansand, Norway.

Over ice-cold bottles of Norwegian beer, Marit's chief engineer, Harry Jensen, and his colleagues explained that the original crews of the ships had long since been replaced by rotating maintenance teams who signed on for three-month tours of duty.

"It's not a bad life," Harry said. "We get shore leave in Cairo, and the ship has plenty of work for a dozen men, especially on the engines. When the time comes to leave," he added with a touch of pride, "Marit's engines will be ready to run. She'll be seaworthy, like a proper Norwegian."

The ship's crew was being provisioned from Cairo and Alexandria. As for clothing needs, Harry confided, Marit's cargo offered a wide variety.

I had begun to notice that my hosts' clothes, while obviously new, were slightly dated. Trousers seemed unfashionably baggy, belts a trifle narrow, and shoes somewhat pointed for today's tastes. I noted, too, several spotless T-shirts, each with a horseshoe emblazoned across the front, beneath the legend "EXTRA KICK"—an oil company slogan of the mid-1960's.

Ironically, one item in plentiful supply throughout Egypt had to be shipped all the way from Scandinavia. As Harry saw me off at the gangway, his eye caught an unsightly patch of rust on deck.

"Nothing to do about it till our sand gets here from Norway," he remarked wryly. "Then we plan to blast it clean and do a little repainting."

With thousands of square miles of pure desert sand all around us, I looked astonished. Harry read my thoughts. "Too fine," he said. "The Egyptian sand won't work in our blasting machine—we had to order ten tons from home."

Preparations were under way for the luckless internees of Great Bitter Lake to weigh anchor and complete their long-delayed canal passage. Marit expected to sail out on her own, perhaps in company with a master mariner named Ahmad Kamal Hamza.

As senior pilot of the Suez Canal Authority, Captain Hamza oversees all traffic through the canal. Given the slightest excuse, he cheerfully abandons his office ashore and takes to the nearest wheelhouse.

I found Captain Hamza on one of his shorebound days, beset by paperwork at his headquarters in Ismailia. With an air of reprieve he pushed the pile of papers aside and proceeded to give me a veteran pilot's view of the canal.

Canal Pilot Training Takes Years

"War has cost us heavily," he began, "not just in the physical sense but in terms of people and experience. Officially we have 234 pilots on our rolls, but the majority have been on leave since the canal closed in 1967. A good many found jobs abroad, for Suez pilots are welcome anywhere. Merely to apply for a canal pilot's position you must have a shipmaster's certificate, and further training takes two to three years."

I had heard that all Suez pilots now were Egyptian, and Captain Hamza confirmed the fact. "But before the war," he said, "we were an international team—Egyptians, Russians, Americans, Poles, Dutch, and a good many Greeks and Yugoslavs. We hope some of the foreign pilots will return once the canal is in full operation."

On the subject of salaries, Captain Hamza said they depend largely on the individual. "A senior pilot in 1967," he explained, "earned 250 Egyptian pounds a month, or nearly $600 in your currency. In addition, he received $30 for each ship he piloted, and a good man could make as many as 25 trips a month. Top salaries averaged about $16,000 a year.

"Of course," he added, "the fees are bound to increase, for pilots are the heart of the system. In the old French-run Suez Canal Company, there was a saying: 'Le pilote, c'est un bijou; it faut le proteger—The pilot is a jewel; he must be protected.'"

Even today visitors along the canal are cautioned to respect pilots at work. Beside the waterway near Ismailia stands a request to motorists in both Arabic and English:


Talk turned to expansion of the canal and future traffic. Recalling that in the last full year of operation more than 21,000 ships had passed through the waterway, I wondered how the figure would increase once expansion was completed.

To my surprise Captain Hamza replied, "Almost not at all. Expansion is aimed strictly at tonnage, to accommodate larger ships, but the number will change very little. Traffic, you see, is organized by convoys with a system of bypasses en route, so that no two ships ever pass each other under way.

"However much we widen the channel, we cannot change the pattern or increase the number by more than a few. The canal will never become a two-lane thoroughfare, for the risk of collision—and therefore blockage—is simply too great.

"You have seen what it takes to raise one 6,700-ton ship at Port Said. Imagine the nightmare of two 300,000-ton tankers sunk side by side in the canal!"

Even lesser damage to a single ship can paralyze traffic. Such a mishap occurred in 1954, and incidentally gave Suez pilots a rare holiday.

"It happened at the end of the year," Captain Hamza recalled. "We were heading north in a nine-ship convoy when the Liberian tanker World Peace rammed the railroad swing bridge near El Firdan and drove a span of the bridge into her superstructure. I was piloting one of the ships astern, and we all followed standard emergency procedure, instantly tying up to the bank of the canal.

"With a freighter," he continued, "the problem would have been bad enough, for the only way to free the ship was with cutting torches. But World Peace carried thousands of gallons of crude oil in her tanks; one spark in the wrong place would have meant a holocaust."

With infinite care a team of welders cut the tanker free, leaving a section of the bridge extending outboard on either side, enabling World Peace to limp north to Port Said. The job took several days, and during that time traffic came to a virtual standstill along the 100-mile canal.

"The accident occurred on the morning of December 31," Captain Hamza concluded. "There was nothing for the pilots to do, so we all went ashore. Normally, the canal operates 365 days a year, with a percentage of pilots always on duty. I think it was the only time in nearly a century that all of them celebrated New Year's Eve ashore."

The bridge near El Firdan no longer threatens ships, for it was extensively damaged in the war of 1967. The rail line running from the canal across Sinai was abandoned following the 1967 hostilities. The only canal bridges remaining were pontoon structures maintained by the Egyptian Army. Despite the inconvenience to ships, which were forced to wait while the bridges were slowly opened, the army refused to give them up for strategic reasons.

Three Conflicts Left a Sea of Debris

One morning, with a group of other journalists, I crossed a pontoon bridge under Egyptian military escort to inspect the east bank and the desert of Sinai beyond. It was here that three wars had reached a crescendo of fury and that the intermittent exchange of artillery fire and aerial bombardment had resulted in appalling destruction.

Although bare of deserted villages and colossal ruins such as the cities of Port Said and Suez, the east bank nonetheless bore fearful scars of conflict. Where the Bar-Lev Line's continuous ridge of sand once dominated the canal, there remained only shattered bunkers, empty gun pits, and great slabs of reinforced concrete strewn about like piles of discarded shingles.

Fire Hoses Become Surprise Weapons

Unable to breach the line by conventional means, Egyptian assault engineers hit on a novel technique. One early morning in October 1973, they slipped across the canal with pumps and ordinary fire hoses, and washed away the rampart of sand between Israeli strongpoints, allowing tanks and infantry to pour through the gaps. Demolition teams later destroyed the abandoned defenses to prevent their reuse against Egypt.

At the time of our visit the United Nations buffer zone lay some ten miles east in Sinai, but for security reasons we were permitted a look at only the first six. The view was nonetheless grim, a sweeping panorama of rolling dunes endlessly flecked with the debris of combat. On every side stood clusters of burned-out trucks and troop carriers, the tortured shapes of wrecked artillery, and nearly a hundred charred and disabled tanks.

The sight called to mind Harry Jensen and his problem with rust aboard the freighter Marit. Under the lash of desert winds, Egyptian sand does a highly efficient job, scouring not only paint and rust but also the steel beneath it to a dark luster befitting the forlorn remnants of war.

Several members of our group were anxious to photograph a disabled tank, and our Egyptian hosts became strangely solicitous. Time and again a likely prospect was rejected for fear of surrounding minefields, for poor composition, or simply for "security reasons." It dawned on me slowly that the tanks in question were all Soviet-made and therefore Egyptian losses. At length our army officer escort stopped the bus and with a sweeping gesture indicated his choice of an appropriate subject—a battered U.S.-built Israeli tank conveniently positioned in the middle of the road.

Glimpsing the Canal of the Future

Slowly, amid fragile hopes for peace, tanks and artillery were giving way to other machines in the canal zone. The new lords of the desert were the bulldozers and draglines of Osman Ahmed Osman. Formerly chairman of the Arab world's largest construction company, Mr. Osman now serves as Egypt's Minister of Housing and Reconstruction. In fact, he is the country's chief developer.

During my stay in Egypt Mr. Osman was constantly abroad, conferring with fellow Arab ministers on plans for development of the entire canal zone. I talked one day with one of his advisers, Ali Salem Hamza, no relation to my friend the chief pilot.

"We are thinking in terms of the next 25 years," Mr. Hamza began, unrolling a schematic diagram of the canal region. At first glance I hardly recognized it, for there was little to suggest present conditions.

Where thousands of square miles of desert now fringe the waterway, the diagram bore large areas shaded in green, representing land to be reclaimed or irrigated. The canal's three metropolitan centers—Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez—appeared trebled in size, with housing, new industry, free-trade zones, and tourist facilities to match. Finally, the army's cherished pontoon bridges had been replaced by five modern two-lane tunnels beneath the waterway.

It was an ambitious scheme and obviously an expensive one. Mr. Hamza acknowledged the high price.

"We estimate costs between seven and eight billion dollars," he said. "Financing will be provided partly by our own government, and the rest from abroad. Some of our Arab allies have already offered a share of their growing oil revenue, for the project will benefit them as well as Egypt."

With the Middle East then precariously balanced between peace and war, I brought up the matter of risks. What guarantee did Egypt have of launching the plan, much less of completing it?

"None," Mr. Hamza replied bluntly, "but we feel that the plan itself is an incentive for peace. No country would make such an enormous investment if it were convinced that another war were inevitable.

"Then, too, with the scope of modern weapons, the canal zone has lost some of its strategic value. When rockets can deliver warheads hundreds of miles with pinpoint accuracy, Cairo has become as much a front line as the Suez Canal."

Builder's Dream Again Seems Possible

I left the canal zone soon afterward with Mr. Hamza's words in mind. On a final flight aboard a U.S. Navy helicopter from Ismailia to Port Said, I had a superb view of the northern half of the waterway. To the west there were still the ominous silhouettes of the Soviet-built missile sites and occasional concentrations of tanks and mechanized infantry ready for instant action.

Eastward in Sinai the forlorn remnants of past wars darkened the gleaming slopes of dunes like a faint sprinkling of soot. One could only wonder whether their number would swell in the future with tragic additions by both sides.

We reached Port Said then and began letting down over the broad harbor, cleared at last and astir with the arrival of four new ships beside the remains of those that had been scrapped.

They were small Egyptian vessels preparing for a trial run through the canal, a peaceful transit after more than seven-and-a-half years of hostilities. It was a heartening sight, symbolic of Ferdinand de Lesseps' original concept of the Suez Canal.

Envisioning the great waterway as a historic link among nations, the French builder and engineer had adopted a Latin motto whose message still expresses a measure of hope:

"Aperire terram gentibus—To open the world to mankind."