Pro-Sisi Egyptian tycoon casts doubts on Suez Canal project
Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris has criticized the Suez Canal Development Project launched by Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi in a phone-in with popular TV host Amr Adeeb.
The businessman said on Adeeb’s night time talk show al-Qahira al-Youm [“Cairo Today”] that he doubted that adequate planning had been carried out to ensure the mega-project would be an economic success.
Sawiris said, “[The project] needed proper research to have been carried out on the different types of business that could be done in these areas that would be profitable and create many job opportunities.”
“If a project was pitched to me that would provide employment for 2,000 or 3,000 people, I would do it even if I wouldn’t make a profit off it. But to be honest, without angering anyone, I doubt the proper research has been done,” added the 60-year-old tycoon.
The longtime backer of the Sisi government seems to have had a change of heart towards the project, dubbed “The Great Egyptian Dream” by officials. Last September, Sawiris invested 100m Egyptian pounds ($13.1m) into the expansion project.
"But to be honest, without angering anyone, I doubt the proper research has been done”
The project is digging a new canal and expanding the existing Suez Canal, allowing ships to sail in both directions at the same time, saving time and money for shippers and potentially doubling its capacity. The plan will also develop major cities and ports along the canal and building a new industrial zone over a 20 year time period.
Launched amid a blaze of nationalist fervour and grand predictions last year, the project, was completely crowd-funded by the Egyptian public in just eight days.
Sisi originally planned to execute the $8.6bn expansion of the canal in three years but he later ordered it to be completed in just one year with its inauguration scheduled for August 6.
Critics of the project have said the Egyptian government has not released enough information on the mega-project to be able to predict whether it will provide the sorely needed relief to the slumping Egyptian economy.
Sawiris is the Chairman of Orascom Telecom, which operates mobile phone networks in the Middle East, Africa, Canada, and Asia, he is staunch opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood and was an outspoken supporter of the military coup against the elected Islamist president, Mohammad Morsi, in July 2013.
He recently came under fire by social media users for defending al-Jazeera TV presenter Ahmed Mansour’s arrest by German police on pressure from the Egyptian government.