Abstract: The Suez Company's Concession, 1854-1956: Creating Modern Infrastructure, Destroying the Potential of the Local Economy

Caroline Piquet


For more than a century, the Suez Canal Company's concession in Egypt was a French preserve, reflecting the role of the concession system there. Supported by favorable legislation, concession was the most widespread European business practice in Egypt. The system provided a way for Egypt to acquire modern infrastructures; the European contribution was a necessity, especially for digging the canal. The effect of the Suez Company is indisputable—the desert of the Suez isthmus was turned into a true economic area with ports, cities, and a labor force, and the region was progressively linked to the rest of the country via a road network. At the same time, however, the concession system denied the country any benefit from the infrastructure it created: the canal had to serve the financial and strategic interests of the company, not those of the local economy. The Suez Company thus embodies all the contradictions of the concession system, providing the country with a modern infrastructure while hindering the development of a national economy.

BEH On-Line Paper