Egypt seeks to settle land, other contract rows

Reuters, Friday 2 Sep 2011

Egyptian government seeks to settle land disputes with foreign firms to attract further investment, from home and abroad

The Egyptian government is seeking to settle disputes over the price of land and other issues with about 20 foreign and local investors in a bid to avoid costly arbitration and rebuild confidence in Egypt, an official said on Thursday.

One of the companies involved, Dubai property developer Damac, said in May it had filed an international arbitration case against Egypt over a land row and the conviction of its chairman and owner, Hussain Sajwani.

That case is one of several disputes over the price state land was sold to developers under former President Hosni Mubarak. Many Egyptians accuse Mubarak's government of doing deals that benefitted the rich elite and top officials at the expense of the rest of the country's 80 million people.

Several cases claiming land was sold to too cheaply by Mubarak's government were raised in the courts before the president of 30 years was ousted in February but disputes have gathered momentum. Investor confidence has been shaken.

Al-Ahram daily said the cabinet could reach a resolution over Damac and other cases in days, but the senior official on the committee set up to negotiate settlements told Reuters: "I think it will take a little longer." 

The committee is headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.

"We have around 17 to 20 cases now. So what we are trying to do now is instead of going to arbitration we are trying to reach a fair settlement between the two parties," said the official, who asked not to identified by name.

The official did not list all the firms but confirmed names reported by Al Ahram, which included Damac, another Dubai-based conglomerate Al-Futtaim Group and Omar Effendi, an Egyptian retail chain owned by Saudi firm Anwal.

The committee has settled one of the string of state land sales rows by revising the terms of a farmland deal with Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Courts have scrapped land contracts for Egypt's two largest property developers, Talaat Moustafa Group and Palm Hills and two former government ministers have been sentenced to jail over graft in state land sales.

The committee official said most disputes involved rows over the price of land sales or over the price gas would be supplied to industries.

"Some contracts signed before were harmful for the Egyptian government. The price of land was very low. We are trying to reach a fair settlement by which investment will be safe and the contract respected and at the same time give the government and country their rights," the official said, adding that arbitration was a costly process.

"We are trying our best to attract foreign as well as Egyptian investment."

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