Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez

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The Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez (in German also Suez Canal Society or Suez Canal Society ) was the stock corporation founded by Ferdinand de Lesseps and licensed by the Khedive (Egyptian viceroy ) Muhammad Said , which built the Suez Canal from 1859 to 1869 and up to its nationalization by the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser on July 26, 1956.

It was already provided for in the first concession ( Firman ) that Lesseps had received from Muhammad Said Pascha on November 30, 1854 , but its statutes were not established and approved until the second concession of January 5, 1856.

Articles of Association

The company was referred to as Compagnie universelle , indicating that it was not a national, Egyptian or French project.

Your subject was

  • the construction of the navigation canal in the Isthmus of Suez;
  • the construction of a freshwater canal from the Nile near Cairo to the Timsah Sea
  • and from branch canals north to the Mediterranean Sea and south to Suez;
  • the operation and maintenance of these channels
  • and the necessary land,

in accordance with the provisions of the first license of November 30, 1854 and the second license of January 5, 1856.

The company had its legal seat ( Siège Social ) in Alexandria, since it was a company licensed by the Egyptian viceroy, but its main administration was in Paris. Formally, it was an Egyptian company, to which the rules of French law on public limited companies were to be applied analogously. The duration of the society, like that of the concession, should be 99 years from the opening of the Suez Canal.

The share capital was 200 million francs, divided into 400,000 bearer shares of 500 francs each. However, 25 shares were required for one vote in the general meeting and no one could have more than 10 votes. The shares were to be issued in several languages ​​in Turkish, German, English, French and Italian. Paying agents in most of the major cities between St. Petersburg and New York were provided for paying in the shares . Payment of the share amount should be made in full or in part after being called by the Board of Directors. Registered certificates should be issued first, and after full payment, the final bearer shares should be issued.

The board of directors ( Conseil d'Administration ) consisted of 32 members from the interested nations, who were each elected for 8 years and each had to own 100 shares in the company. The Board of Directors had a President and three Vice-Presidents. It was able to form a management committee ( Comité de Direction ) from its members . The company's building management should be based in Alexandria.

Invitations to the Annual General Meeting were to be given with a notice period of two months and with the attached agenda. The ordinary general meeting should always take place in May in Paris. The meeting had a quorum if at least 40 shareholders and at least 5% of the capital were represented. A meeting adjourned for at least two months always had a quorum.

During the construction work, shareholders should receive an annual dividend of 5% of the share capital. During the operating period, the net profit remaining after the formation of various reserves should be distributed as follows:

portion Beneficiaries
15% Egypt
10% Founder of the company
03% Board of Directors
02% Social fund
70% Shareholders (as dividend)

At the same time, the capital for the shareholders should have amortized in the 99 years of the concession period. Disputes had to be settled by an arbitration tribunal, the judgment of which could be appealed to the Cour d'Appel in Paris.

Foundation of the company on December 15, 1858

The Viceroy's two concessions were subject to the approval of the Sublime Porte , which was not granted for a long time due to political pressure from Great Britain. Lesseps, who was on the verge of bankruptcy, saw no other option than to found the company and pursue the canal construction project without a permit from Constantinople. In order to avoid bank charges, which he considered too high, he addressed the public directly with an invitation to subscribe for the shares through the press. The shares were divided into shares for the different nationalities in order to maintain the international character of the company. The subscription for the shares ran from November 5 to 30, 1858, but was not a complete success. Shareholders from France had subscribed for 207,111 shares or 52% of the capital. From other European countries there was only a participation of around 3%. The Viceroy therefore took over around 44.4% of the capital to enable the company to be founded at all. The subscription for the shares was by no means associated with the payment of the corresponding amounts. Initially, the company only called for the first 20% of the capital to be paid in. The company was founded on December 15, 1858.

Agreements with the viceroy or the government of Egypt

Financing agreement dated August 6, 1860

In the financing agreement of August 6, 1860, the viceroy formally regulated the takeover of the remaining 177,642 shares, whereby the 20% of the share amount already called should essentially be paid for in bonds and the remaining 80% in the years 1867 to 1875.

Agreement of March 18, 1863 on the Freshwater Canal

With the death of Said Pascha on January 17, 1863, the period of friendly understanding between the viceroy and Lesseps also ended. His successor, Ismail Pasha , was far less favorable to him and had the agreements with Lesseps concluded by his minister, Nubar-Bey. In the agreement of March 18, 1863, it was agreed that due to the increased demand for water, the first part of the freshwater canal from Cairo to Wadi Tumilat would have to be built larger than originally planned. The construction would be taken over by the government, the company waived the rights to the corresponding land and was obliged to develop the canal to Suez as a canal suitable for river navigation.

Financing agreement dated March 20, 1863

In the meantime, another 40% of the share capital had been called. The sum of around 35.15 million francs to be paid by Egypt after various settlements was to be paid in monthly installments of 1.5 million francs from 1864 onwards. Even after this financing agreement, the company had by no means received 40% of the share capital or 80 million francs.

Arbitration by Napoléon III. 6 July 1864

The government of Great Britain had taken the death of Said Pasha as an opportunity to increase its political pressure on the Sublime Porte to prevent the canal from being built. In a note to Ismail Pasha dated April 6, 1863, the Sublime Porte made, among other things, the end of forced labor and the transfer of the freshwater canal to Egypt a precondition for its still pending approval for the construction of the Suez Canal. Lesseps therefore asked Emperor Napoléon III. for support who agreed to issue an arbitration award in accordance with the mutual request of the parties.

In the arbitration award of July 6, 1864 it was regulated that the firm of July 20, 1856 on forced labor was to be regarded as part of the contract between the Egyptian government and Lesseps or the company and that the end of forced labor against the company was worth 38 million . Francs to be compensated. The freshwater canal will be transferred to Egypt against payment of 10 million francs for the canal and a further 6 million francs for the loss of fee income and the supply of 70,000 m³ of water per day for the workers, the steam engines and the irrigation of those remaining with the company Surfaces. The company received 10,264 hectares on the Suez Canal and 9,600 hectares on the freshwater canal as areas necessary for the construction and operation of the canal. She received 30 million francs for the return of other areas. The total amount of 84 million francs was to be paid in various installments between November 1864 and November 1879.

However, this arbitration award had no direct consequences insofar as the Hohe Pforte still did not issue the expected approval.

Agreement of January 30, 1866

In the agreement of January 30, 1866, a number of details were regulated, such as: B. the right of Egypt to use areas on the canal for national defense and administration (post office, customs, etc.) against reimbursement of the production costs of these areas, the right of individuals to settle along the canal, the takeover of the freshwater canal by the government Creation of an acceptance protocol with the subsequent obligation of Egypt to maintain the canal with a water depth of 2.50 m at high water, 2.0 m at normal water and 1.0 m at low water. The company's right to navigation on the freshwater canal was only to last until the main canal was completed. The company also sold the Domaine du Ouady estate to Egypt for 10 million francs. If the company were to call for the payment of the remaining 20% ​​of the share capital in 1866, Egypt was to pay this around 17.5 million francs in monthly installments in 1867.

Minutes of February 19, 1866

In the protocol of February 19, 1866, a group of experts specified the total area of ​​10,214 hectares required along the canal (50 hectares less than in Napoléon's arbitration).

Agreement of February 22, 1866

In preparation for the final approval of the Sublime Porte, the previous agreements were laid down again in the agreement of February 22, 1866 and the installment payments to be made by Egypt totaling 111.5 million francs (including the last payment on the share capital) by December 1869 listed in a table. This agreement was reproduced verbatim in the authorization of the Sublime Porte.

Approval of the Sublime Porte of March 19, 1866

The Hohe Pforte finally granted permission to build the Suez Canal on March 19, 1866 - around seven years after the start of construction on April 25, 1859.

Borrowing 1867

In 1867 the company tried to take out a loan of 100 million francs by means of bonds of 500 francs each, but this was only partially successful. Initially, only just under a third of the publicly offered bonds were subscribed. Only when a law passed specifically for the company allowed the bonds to be linked to a lottery, in which prizes between 2,000 and 150,000 francs were raffled, were the remaining two-thirds signed.

Agreement of April 23, 1869

In the agreement with the Egyptian government of April 23, 1869, the company waived its duty and tax exemption as well as other special rights, all rights in connection with the freshwater canal and all possible claims for damages against the government. She only had the position of an entrepreneur subject to general laws. The proceeds from the sale of land were to be shared equally between the government and society. For this and for certain buildings and land, a price of 30 million francs was agreed, which was paid in coupons for the 176,602 government shares which became due on January 1, 1870. The company used this interest coupons to refinance by issuing so-called Délégations to obtain immediate liquidity they desperately needed. The transfer of the interest coupons to the company led to discussions in 1870 and 1871 as to whether Egypt was still entitled to participate and vote in the company's general meeting due to a lack of full shares. For this reason the board of directors was reduced from 32 to 21 members. As a compromise, it was agreed to temporarily admit Egypt to the general assembly until the issue was resolved.

Construction costs and financing

Gourmet certificate from the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez dated January 1, 1889

By the time the Suez Canal opened on November 17, 1869, costs totaled 416 million francs, which by the time it was actually completed on April 15, 1871, had increased to 426 million francs. The construction costs, including the administrative costs included in the amounts and the interest for the shareholders, appear to have been covered by the subscribed share capital, the amounts paid under the various agreements of Egypt, the borrowing and other income of the company, even if in part by long-term liabilities long-term claims were covered and available liquidity was a persistent problem.

President of the Suez Canal Society until nationalization in 1956

Society after nationalization

With the nationalization of the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956, the company's assets, in particular the Suez Canal and the freshwater canal and the operation of the canal, were transferred to the Suez Canal Authority . The Suez Canal Society received expropriation allowances for this. After the politically failed British-French attempt to militarily regain the Suez Canal ( Suez Crisis ), the company was relocated to France in 1958 and renamed Compagnie financière de Suez . It focused on a wide variety of holdings and investments in various economic sectors. After various changes in corporate law, it now appears as Engie .

Web links

Commons : Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Actes constitutifs de la Compagnie Text of the concessions, the statutes and other documents, digitized on Google books (French)
  2. English translation of the digitized statutes on
  3. Lesseps tried to create a "universal" society that was not dominated by a specific nation, an undertaking that was not completely successful even with today's Societas Europaea .
  4. The amount of 200 million francs corresponds to the cost of building the canal of 200 million francs, which was estimated in a preliminary study, when there were no detailed plans, soil surveys and mass calculations.
  5. The second concession stipulated that Lesseps would be elected for a period of 10 years from the opening of the canal.
  6. This 5% should be earned by investing the paid-in share capital - which also served to pay for the construction work.
  7. a b Arnold T. Wilson, The Suez Canal Digitalisat on (English)
  8. There are contradicting information on participation from other countries, but these are not theoretically free of contradictions. B. in the representation of the French Foreign Ministry Ferdinand de Lesseps: La Compagnie universelle du Canal de Suez ( Memento of July 13, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) on, seen June 30, 2009 (French)
  9. See financing agreement of August 6, 1860
  10. a b c Structurae (French)
  11. ^ 1. Financing agreement , (French text p. 63 ff), digitized on Google books
  12. ^ English translation of the digitization agreement on Google Books
  13. ^ Text of the agreement , (French text p. 67 ff), digitized on Google books
  14. English summary of the agreement digitization on Google books
  15. 2. Financing agreement , (French text p. 73 ff), digitized on Google books
  16. ^ English translation of the digitization agreement on Google Books
  17. ^ Arbitration of Napoléon III. , (French text p. 78 ff), digitized on Google books
  18. ^ Agreement of January 30, 1866 , (French text p. 107 ff), digitized on Google Books
  19. Minutes of February 19, 1866 , (French text p. 113 ff), digitized on Google books
  20. ^ Agreement of February 22, 1866 , (French text, pp. 134 ff), digitized on Google Books
  21. ^ English translation of the digitization agreement on Google Books
  22. Firman of March 19, 1866 , (French text p. 146 f), digitized on Google books
  23. ^ English translation of the digitization permit on Google Books
  24. Sample of a bond for CHF 500. Digital copy on Google books
  25. ^ The Suez Canal Salis, Allgemeine Bauzeitung, 1883; Digitized on ÖNB-ANNO
  26. a b The great canal at Suez , Percy Fitzgerald, London, 1876; Digitized on Google Books
  27. ^ That is 1,040 fewer shares than the 177,642 shares mentioned in the financing agreement of August 6, 1860. This difference also surfaced in the 1875 agreement to sell the shares to Great Britain, without being clarified.
  28. English translation of extracts from the digitization agreement on Google Books
  29. Sample of a Délégation digitized version on Google Books
  30. List taken from the enWP