General Tolba Radwan smokes another cigarette and watches from behind dark glasses as his entourage of fans squeeze in for selfies with Egypt’s latest military wonder. The general, now 70, is annoyed. When he was 26, he commanded dozens of soldiers on suicidal missions to defend his country. Now, he takes crowds of camera-toting families on battlefield tours. Behind Tolba burbles the New Suez Canal, a 22-mile-long tributary whose construction was spearheaded by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. The zinc-colored water cuts through the desert, which is bare except for the occasional “Long Live Egypt” mosaic and palm tree sticking out of the haze. The Suez Canal proper has belonged to the army since Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized it in 1956, and it is more than just the republic’s pride—the 150-year-old waterway is the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia, and Egypt’s main source...

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