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Ship merchant exposes rampant extortion at Egypt's 'Marlboro Canal'

In 2015, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated a costly expansion to the canal [Getty/Facebook]

Date of publication: 12 May, 2017

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An Egyptian merchant shipper has exposed rampant corruption and extortion carried out by workers at the country's Suez Canal, which has come to be known as the "Marlboro Canal".
An Egyptian merchant shipper has exposed rampant corruption and extortion carried out by workers at the country's Suez Canal, which has come to be known as the "Marlboro Canal".

Amin Wahab this week took to Facebook to retell his experience of canal workers demanding cartons of cigarettes, food and other goods in exchange for letting his ship through the canal, which connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.

The major waterway has long been known in the shipping industry as the "Marlboro Canal" because of the need to bribe staff with upmarket cigarettes for them to let ships through without imposing harsh fines.

"As we passed through the canal, I was meant to be proud of my country with a crew of foreigners but what happened has made me wish I never have to through it again," Wahab said before deleting the post after it went viral.

The captain explained that as soon as workers boarded the ship they immediately demanded six cartons of cigarettes, however, worse was yet to come.

"Then came their boss, the rudest and most disgusting man I have ever met in my life, to take his spoils," he said.

The high-ranking canal official reportedly demanded a bribe of 17 cartons of cigarettes, nuts and dried fruit for Ramadan, fruits, bottled water and on top of that helped himself to a hot meal onboard the ship, all while threatening to impose a fine of $20,000.

"After all that the official went to pray, which for me was the biggest disaster out of all of this because it gives Muslims a bad name," Wahab added.

A social media group for merchant shippers last year made fun of widespread corruption at the Suez Canal with many users recalling their experiences of profiteering among its employees.

"I remember one pilot demanded to be fed, so was brought a plate of food to which he wrapped cling film round and stuck the plate and food in his bag," said one British shipper.

The canal has been one of Egypt's most important sources of foreign currency after the Egyptian tourism sector crashed in 2011 in the wake of a popular uprising that overthrew veteran leader Hosni Mubarak, ushering in years of sporadic unrest.

In 2015, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated a costly expansion to the canal in a lavish ceremony, in an attempt to boost the failing economy.

Not everyone has been on board with the project dubbed Egypt's "gift to the world", with many people criticising the expansion as a failed attempt to garner public support - not actually fix economic woes.

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