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Al-Araby al-Jadeed/AFP

Billions pledged at Egypt investment conference

Egypt unveiled plans for a new capital east of Cairo [AFP]

Date of publication: 15 March, 2015

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Sharm al-Sheikh investment conference sees several multi-billion dollar deals signed despite last-minute investment laws. Critics say the money will only legitimise Sisi rule.
Egypt had secured billions of dollars in investment deals and aid pledges by Saturday at a conference hailed as a show of support for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

 

Among the deals was a $4.2 billion agreement with German conglomerate Siemens for a 4.4 gigawatt power plant in the energy-starved country, and an additional 2 gigawatts in wind power, a company spokesman said.

 

Another possible $6.3 billion are in the pipeline with memorandums of understandings inked for more power plants.

 

     The conference... is about the coup and its leaders generating a new way to legitimise their rule.

- Tawfiq Mansur

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates each offered $4 billion on Friday, the first day of a conference attended by hundreds of business and political leaders in the coastal resort of Sharm al-Sheikh.

 

The largest deal was penned with British Petroleum for a record investment of $12 billion in Egyptian gas fields with Russian partner DEA.

 

Sisi, who ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and brutally crushed his supporters, has sought to persuade allies that his country is on the front lines of a war against regional extremist groups. 

He has called for building a unified Arab force to fight the Islamic State group that has captured territory in Iraq and Syria, and which commands an affiliate in Egypt.

 

Cairo has already carried out air strikes against IS inside neighbouring Libya, where the group also appears to have gained a foothold.

 

Legitimising Sisi rule

 

Planning Minister Ashraf el-Arabi said the Gulf nations' pledge showed their support was "political, and this political support is very important in this phase".

 

Cairo University political science professor Mostafa Kamel al-Sayyed said that, "if it weren't for the political aspect, I think we wouldn't have seen the enthusiasm of several representatives of the Arab and Western states. Even China and Russia are standing by Egypt for the same reason. 

 

"As for the companies, they have their own economic calculations but for sure they are affected by the political stances of their governments."

 

Others were more blunt. Writing in these pages, Tawfiq Mansur, fiercely criticised the conference saying it had little to do with investment and everything to do with politics.

 

“The conference is not about generating investment, but about the coup and its leaders generating a new way to legitimise their rule.”

 

Some 100 countries and international organisations are attending the three-day gathering aimed at attracting billions of dollars for Egypt's economy, battered by years of political turmoil.

 

Sisi, who is trying to position himself as a bulwark against jihadists, said investing in the Arab world's most populous country would help stabilise the entire region.

 

Egypt's stability "is a cornerstone in regional stability," he told the conference.

 

New capital planned

 

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who met Sisi and the leaders of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, told business people Friday that Washington was "eager and ready and willing" to help Egypt's economic development.

 

He said Saturday Washington would decide "very soon" on freeing up $650 million in military aid frozen during the height of a crackdown on Sisi's Islamist opponents that killed hundreds.

 

Washington had released some of the aid, including the delivery of Apache helicopters Egypt says are important for its fight against insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula.

 

Sisi, who won elections after toppling Morsi, has been criticised for unleashing a crackdown on dissent.

 

But he also has a predilection for grand projects. Last year, Egypt announced a project to build a second Suez canal as a tributary to the present one. And this month has seen plans unveiled for a new administrative and business capital east of Cairo that will house five million people and feature a theme park "four times bigger than Disneyland".

 

Housing Minister Mustafa Kamel Madbuli said the new city would relieve pressure on overcrowded Cairo, with its population of 18 million expected to double in coming decades.

 

"The idea to build the new city originated from our awareness that Cairo's current population will double in the next 40 years," Madbuli said Friday in a presentation showcasing the details.

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