du Souvenir de Ferdinand de Lesseps et du Canal de Suez was
founded in 1978 on the initiative of Jacques Georges-Picot,
the last General Manager of
Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez (Suez Canal
Company) before being chairman of Compagnie Financière
Mr Georges-Picot basically thought that it was no more the task
of Cie Financière de Suez (Suez Financial Company) to
perpetuate the memory of Ferdinand de Lesseps and the Suez canal.
If left untended, this memory would have become an increasingly
distant myth, until one day it would vanish. Hence the need
to create an organisation to handle the material and intellectual
legacy of the history of the Suez Canal Company and its creator.
First there was the material legacy. The Association is the
de facto and de jure owner of the archives
of the Suez Canal Company which were accumulated over a period
of 100 years from its founding up to 1956.
In 1998, these archives were included in UNESCO's
of the World Register.
A large collection of paintings, statues and models, documents,
letters and souvenirs was added to these archives.
There is also the intellectual legacy: The Association's core
mission is clearly to keep the memory of Ferdinand de Lesseps
and of the Suez Canal alive. If the day comes when manking is
no longer conscious of the high points of their history and
what their genius archieved, then the material evidence they
left behind will be completely forgotten.
The Association's activities have gone through a series of complementary
phases in keeping with the original plan of its creator.
The first phase was an organisational one, with steps taken
to ensure the preservation of
the heritage, making it accessible to researchers, to historians
and to everyone interested in the work of Ferdinand de Lesseps
and the Company.
Accordingly, the French
National Archives (Archives Nationales) provided a home
for the archives in Fontainebleau and later in Roubaix at the
"Centre National du Monde du Travail".
The Association then signed an agreement with Fondation
de France which would become the legal owner of the heritage
although the Association will continue to manage it as long
as it fulfils its objectives.
However, it was clear that the work of Ferdinand de Lesseps
was not the only field of historians : the Canal is really in
operation in Egypt and, as its creator had wished, it is still
welcoming ships every day from all around the world.
The best souvenir Ferdinand de Lesseps could leave is the canal
itself operational and alive. Far better than any archive document
or engraving, the canal itself is the best physical reminder
of the major project undertaken in the Suez isthmus.
It also became clear that the canal was, above all, a Franco-Egyptian
realisation and that consequently, in spite of old disputes
which no longer seem important, the Canal remained a tangible
link between both countries. It was under these conditions that
close relations were established with the Suez Canal Authority.
The Association holds every yeaur a meeting of its Board of
Directors in Ismailia, is welcome in the "Résidence"
and is involved in a project to create a Canal Museum in Ismaïlia.
In Paris too, links have been permanently reinforced between
the Association and the Egyptian Ambassador and his Cultural
For several years now, a programme has been initiated to digitalise
the Association's archives, in order to make them accessible
in Egypt too. The prestigious Bibliotheca
Alexandrina now contains a "Suez Collection".
With the help and co-operation of the Association, a librarian
from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina travels to France every year
to study at the Archives de France in Roubaix. In 2000 at last,
the Bibliotheca Alexandrina organised a seminar entitled "From
the Inauguration of the Suez Canal to the Inauguration of the
Bibliotheca Alexandrina" which, under the auspices of the
Suez Canal Authority and the Association, brought together experts
from several countries, including Egypt and France.
The Association is responsible for keeping the memory of the
Canal alive but for keeping as well the memory of Ferdinand
de Lesseps alive - and Ferdinand de Lesseps also has strong
links to Panama.
Of course, the Panama story is far less glorious and in France
evocative of a scandal with which Lesseps is invariably associated,
even though he was not personally responsible for it.
At least that is the case in France, while in Panama de Lesseps
is still regarded as a great man, ("'the Great Frenchman"),
to whom Panama owes its canal. The Association is duty-bound
to maintain a presence in Panama and also to make well known
in France, f the esteem in which de Lesseps is held in Panama.
Panama's rightful recognition of Lesseps' enterprise is undoubtedly
a powerful antidote to the low opinion that the French people
have of his work in Central America.