Looking Beyond: Egypt's Big Plans For The Suez Canal

A cargo ship on the Suez Canal.
A cargo ship on the Suez Canal.
Noha Moustafa

CAIRO - As Egypt struggles to emerge from a period of deep financial uncertainty; government officials are looking towards the country’s vital shipping artery — the Suez Canal — as a major source of revenue and jobs.

Officials from several government ministries have announced massive public-private partnerships aimed at developing the region. The hope, they say, is that this waterway connecting Asia’s economies to the West could evolve into a high-tech logistical hub, with a thriving commercial and urban center growing out of the surrounding barren landscape.

Since the 1990s, the government has been implementing an ambitious plan for financial and economic reform in the Suez Canal region. Under former President Hosni Mubarak, this largely meant enhancing investment incentives to attract Arab and foreign investors. But, despite almost two decades and billions of pounds invested in infrastructure east of Port Said and the northwest Suez Gulf economic and industrial zone, residents in the area have seen little real progress.

Earlier this month, the ministries of housing, industry, investment and transport met to discuss the development of what they call the “Suez Canal Axis,” several parcels of land in and around the desert passageway.

“As part of the project, 77,000 acres east of the Suez Canal will be reclaimed,” said Mostafa Madbouly, head of the General Organization for Physical Planning (GOPP).

The projects, which include the establishment of a technology university in the Technology Valley in Ismailia, a scientific city in cooperation with international universities, and a medical city in eastern Port Said city, should transform the Suez Canal axis by 2027.

Minister of Housing Tareq Wafiq told the state news agency MENA that, if the projects are completed, they could create about one million jobs in the coming decade.

Qatar ownership

However, throughout the past year and a half’s political transition, fears of foreign influence have surfaced. The main fear is that Qatar’s financial assistance is designed to gain control over the canal. The Gulf state’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, from which President Mohamed Morsi hails, has come under scrutiny, with some claiming Morsi’s campaign was funded by Qatar. The most outrageous rumors suggest the Muslim Brotherhood group is planning to rent the Suez Canal to Qatar for 99 years.

The Brotherhood’s leadership has strongly denied these accusations, calling the rumors “absurd and illogical.”

Whatever the truth to these rumors, it does seem like Egypt is giving Qatar a significant role in the development scheme. Qatar has been keen to offer financial support to Egypt since Mubarak left office last January. Earlier this month, Qatar also confirmed it would invest $18 billion dollars in tourism and industry projects along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast over the next five years. Among them are $8 billion for gas, power and iron and steel plants east of Port Said and $10 billion for a giant tourist resort on the Mediterranean coast.

Good intentions

It remains to be seen how the government’s plans and Qatar’s dollars will be translated into jobs and improved infrastructure for the residents of Port Said and the Suez region. Mohamed Youssef, president of the Holding Company for Land and Maritime Transportation, one of the companies planning on investing in the project, told Egypt Independent that the project will not be like those under Mubarak, which favored foreign companies over those owned by Egyptians.

Abdul Mageed Matar, maritime transportation expert and former member of the Red Sea Chamber of Shipping, agreed that developing the Suez Canal Axis is of paramount national importance.

He sees many more public and private sector partnerships in the future. Due to the large budget deficit, he said the government will not be able to finance any projects from its own pockets exclusively. However, he had reservations about the government being able to attract foreign investment.

The lack of security is a major obstacle to attracting investment, whether local or foreign, he said, and the current plans ignore the lawlessness in Sinai.

Reda Issa, a researcher and socioeconomic expert, said that such a project should be subjected to extensive social dialogue.

“No group of people should be individually or exclusively able to take it into their own hands to start such a national project,” he said. “After the revolution, we are entitled to know what exactly is going to happen and how, especially given that most economic laws are still the same and no one has tried to address them or change them in any way.”

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️


We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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