ISMAILIA, Egypt - Nationalist celebrations to inaugurate a major extension of the Suez Canal intended to power an economic turnaround began on Thursday when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi boarded a historic yacht to welcome foreign dignitaries.
Dressed exceptionally in military regalia, the former armed forces chief, who led a military takeover two years ago but ran for president as a civilian last year, sailed to Ismailia to join leaders of France, Russia and Gulf Arab states for the ceremony.
The $8 billion New Suez Canal project was completed in just one year instead of three on Sisi's orders, but economists and shipping analysts question whether there is sufficient traffic and east-west trade to meet its ambitious revenue targets.
The canal expansion is the centrepiece of a grand agenda to lift the most populous Arab nation out of poverty and secure Sisi's grip on power after he ousted elected Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 following mass protests.
The spectacular inauguration was also intended to strengthen his international standing, with French President Francois Hollande and Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev among leaders attending.