120,000 Egyptians Did Not Die Building the Suez Canal

2020 July

If you ask Google, "how many people died building the Suez Canal", out pops the number from the Featured Snippet in giant 32px font, 120,000 deaths, a number so huge and devastating that only until June was it overtaken by the number of coronavirus deaths in the United States.

It's quantitative, authoritative, and utterly bullshit. Have some perspective: the Suez Canal was so successful and profitable that its developer, Ferdinand de Lesseps, immediately went on to build the Panama Canal, snaking through dense jungle infested with yellow fever and malaria, a project so disastrous that the company went bankrupt, the French government collapsed, and a billion francs (in 1889!) disappeared. The Panamal Canal disaster took 22,000 lives—so how exactly was the Suez Canal so successful if supposedly six times as many died?!

Unfortunately, the only person with half a brain to answer was mobbed by zombies without any, so it'll take a while to get to the bottom of this. It's a modern tale as old as time, nationalist authoritarian president meets collection of books written thousands of years ago in ancient Greek, with a pinch of fake news to taste...