The launch of a new Suez Canal, built in just one year instead of the projected three and funded in a mere two days by ordinary Egyptians was a symbol that all possibilities are achievable, says Linda S. Heard.
Thursday, August 6th was a day that will forever be inscribed on the collective memory of the Egyptian people, not only due to the expected revenues and jobs the new arm of this historic waterway and ancillary economic zones will provide, because it symbolizes a renewed sense of national pride. Moreover, it was a confidence builder, proving that the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi says what he means and does what he says.
This was the people’s achievement as reflected by the guests accompanying the President on the former Royal Yacht Mahroussa built in 1865 for the Khedive Ismail Pasha - the first ship ever to pass through the newly constructed Suez Canal in 1869.
The invitees were not the usual foreign dignitaries, but ordinary folk representing the various social and religious strata of society.
The star of the occasion was nine year- old Omar Salah, a patient at the Egyptian Cancer hospital. He was seen standing with Sisi on the yacht, dressed in a replica of the President’s military uniform. His identity piqued the country’s curiosity until it was revealed in the press that his mother had contacted the President on Facebook to say it was her son’s greatest wish to meet with Sisi before he died.
To her surprise she received an invitation for the family to join him at the opening. Sisi asked the boy what he would like to dress for the occasion; “like you” he said. Together with his parents and siblings, Omar remained by the President’s side during breakfast, lunch and dinner and received a feast of salutes, hugs and kisses from military chiefs and VIP guests.
At the opening, Sisi promised there are 1,000 more similar grand projects in the pipeline. That might sound grandiose, but there’s no reason not to believe him. “We are winning the war on terror by insisting to live,” he said. “This nation deserves a lot from us. If people are able to dream, then they are capable to deliver.”
Russian and Chinese businesses are lining-up to help with developing industrial parks, hosting hundreds of new factories, along the canal, six new ports - and turning nearby cities, such as Port Said, Suez and Ismailia into major trading hubs which could potentially generate US$ 150 billion annually, says banking and economy expert Ezz El-Din Hassanin.
The government is going ahead full throttle to build affordable homes, to eradicate slums, to provide clean water to far flung villages, to construct and renovate schools as well as hospitals and factories.
Since Sisi took power, Egypt and the Emirates have forged a special relationship which is being translated into tangible assistance on the part of the UAE to power the country’s goals.
As reported by the UAE’s state news agency WAM, the Emirates is “providing Egypt with both financial and operational resources across a wide range of social and economic development programs, and through technical assistance to help develop the country’s economic plan.”
This crucial assistance translates to the creation of 900,000 new jobs; over 50,000 houses, 100 schools, 25 wheat silos, 78 healthcare clinics and solar power for 30,275 village homes. Plus, the UAE has gifted 600 new buses to Egypt.
Several Emirati businessmen have made large contributions to Tahya Misr Fund, including Khalaf Al Habtoor who, this year, donated 100 Mitsubishi L200 pick-up trucks to the Egyptian Ministry of Defense, some of which were donated to farmers to support agriculture. “We must do what we can to stand with our Egyptian brothers through times of hardship to help Egypt get back on its feet,” he said.
The Egyptian government’s success in bringing a level of stability to the country and its efforts to crack down on radical ideologies and terrorists is bearing fruit in terms of international support. During the Economic Conference held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh during March, Egypt unveiled US$ 35 billion worth of projects. A much-needed new investment law has been approved to cut red tape and provide foreign investors with certain protections.
US Secretary of State John Kerry recently hailed the moves by President Sisi to improve the economic climate and provide more business opportunities, while stressing Washington’s willingness to back Egypt’s economy and its resolve to implement large investment projects in the country.
Britain’s Defense Minister Michael Fallon says his country is Egypt’s largest investor. “Our companies have put in US$ 24 billion over the last five years. BP’s US$ 12 billion investment this year was the largest in Egypt’s history. Vodafone employs 9,000 Egyptians.” The UK will be “keeping a close eye on areas where we can get more involved,” he promises.
German, Spanish and Italian companies are also eyeing-up Egypt, which is bolstering economic ties with Jordan, Lebanon, India and a number of countries in Africa.
Egypt with a population of 90 million is the region’s biggest, and largely untapped, market. The government’s ‘Invest in Egypt’ website showcases a wealth of investment opportunities in the real estate, pharmaceutical, tourism, agribusiness, transportation, retail, mining and IT sectors. The energy and alternative energy sectors are also a big draw for foreign industry titans.
Canny investors have leapt on to the ladder’s first rung. Last year, Egypt stock market rose by 30 per cent and in the first half of 2015 witnessed 5.3 per cent growth. There are many challenges and obstacles ahead, but if this wistful sentence spoken by Joe Kaeser, the CEO of Siemens, “I wish we had as many opportunities in Europe as we have in Egypt” is anything to go by, the country’s tomorrow has rarely looked as bright.