Egypt’s private sector launched an initiative last week to cooperate with the government in developing needy Upper Egypt governorates in a conference which saw the participation of businessmen and state ministers.
Development in Upper Egypt is achievable only through public-private partnership, said Mohamed Farid, head of the Federation of Egypt Investors.
In praise of the initiative, Ashraf El-Araby, minister of planning, welcomed private sector contributions while emphasising that development in Upper Egypt is a mission the government cannot embark on alone.
"We, the same working teams who worked together before the revolution, are preparing a development plan for 2015-2030," added El-Araby.
"The right path for developing Upper Egypt is that which was paved by Mahmoud Mohie Eddin (Egypt's former minister of investment who served under deposed president Hosni Mubarak)," said Sohag governor Mahmoud Othman.
Within that framework state ministers proposed building public housing and developing infrastructure, as well as training labour for private sector requirements.
Participants in the conference from the private sector proposed other projects, including establishing a holding company for Upper Egypt, and expanding industrial zones. They asked the government to provide them with land and to prepare the necessary infrastructure.
"I am inviting you to participate in developing Upper Egypt before we demand separation," Ashraf El-Thaalaby, the secretary of unregistered group the Upper Egyptians Party told the audience.
El-Thaalaby was invited to speak at the conference by the governor of Sohag to convey the problems faced by young Egyptians in the long neglected Upper Egypt region.
"Development in Upper Egypt is urgently needed. I am warning that if Upper Egypt does not get soon the attention it desperately needs from the state we could be seeing the Sudanese scenario," said El-Thaalaby in reference to the 2011 secession of South Sudan.
Adel Labib, minister of local development, responded with contention, arguing that Upper Egypt is not as neglected as the young journalist claimed and that such talk opens up space for a bidding war on participants' patriotism.
Roughly 25 million Egyptians reside in Upper Egypt, accounting for almost 40 percent of the population, according to January 2013 statistics from state-owned statistics agency CAPMAS.
Upper Egypt is home to 80 percent of Egyptians living in severe poverty, according to a report issued by the World Bank.
More than half of Upper Egypt residents living in rural areas are poor, while the two poorest governorates in Egypt are located there — Assiut and Qena, with poverty rates at 60 and 58 percent of residents respectively, says CAPMAS.
In fact, even as poverty declined in the period from 1995 to 2000 by 14 percent on the national level, rural Upper Egypt actually saw an increase in poverty rates by 17 percent, according to UNICEF.
One of many ramifications is the spread of chronic malnutrition among young children. Illiteracy in Upper Egypt is also higher than the national average, sitting at 17 percent, shows the World Bank report.
Almost half of youth in Upper Egypt are jobless, neither employed nor seeking work, while official youth unemployment (those actively seeking work) is at 16 percent.
The report also showed that government jobs remain the only socially acceptable form of employment, especially for women.
Last September, during a visit to Upper Egypt, Interim President Adly Mansour pointed out that it was long marginalised because previous governments failed in their duty to develop it, underlining that it is time to start a real development process in Upper Egypt, especially in the fields of infrastructure, health and education.
Upper Egypt is already home to 6,130 industrial establishments at investments amounting to LE35.8 billion (9.7 percent of total industrial investment in Egypt), according to the country's Industrial Development Authority (IDA).
Those industrial establishments employ 148,639 workers (8.6 percent of labour employed in industrial establishments across Egypt) who are paid wages amounting to LE1.2 billion (5.9 percent of wages paid in industrial establishments across Egypt).
In 2009, the government had approved LE4.3 billion for projects on infrastructure improvement in the country's poorest 1000 villages, which are mostly located in Upper Egypt.