Desert land for sale

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 9 Jan 2024

MPs approve legislation giving foreigners the right to own desert land

Foreign investors can now purchase land for investment purpose

 

On 3 January, the House of Representatives approved changes to a 1981 law to allow foreigners to buy desert land. The government-drafted amendments covered the second paragraphs of articles 11 and 12 of the 1981 Desert Land Law,  reports Gamal Essam El-Din.

The second paragraph of Article 11 now allows foreign investors to purchase land for investment purposes or be the majority shareholders of any company buying such land. The second paragraph of Article 12 grants the president the right, after cabinet approval, to treat Arab investors as Egyptians in terms of land ownership.

Head of parliament’s Housing Committee Attia Al-Fayoumi said the changes are in line with investment and other laws which allow foreigners to own agricultural land.

“After foreigners were granted the right to own agricultural land and private property it is only logical they be given the right to own desert land as long as it doesn’t threaten national security,”he said.

Some MPs had opposed the changes, citing national security concerns. MP Diaaeddin Dawoud said the law could be used by “malicious foreigners” to acquire large areas of land which could then be used as a springboard for foreign institutions to exert political pressure.

“I fear that given the current shortage of foreign exchange the government will use this law to sell large parcels of land to foreigners, particularly Arab Gulf investors,” said Dawoud.

Atef Al-Maghawri, spokesperson of the Tagammu Party, said that the changes “open the door for foreigners to own the 90 per cent of our land that is desert”.

Wafdist MP Hani Abaza suggested that the law be re-amended to prevent foreigners of Jewish origin from owning land in Egypt.

Addressing MPs’ concerns, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Alaaeddin Fouad said under the law all purchase requests from foreign investors must obtain security approval and stressed that ownership of land in Sinai is subject to a different lawwhich prevents foreign ownership of land on the peninsula.

Al-Fayoumi tried to calm MPs’ fears by underlining that the desert land ownership law gives the defence minister the right to sequester any land deemed vital to national security and the government the right to recover land should foreign investors abuse ownership. “The amendments strike a delicate balance between the needs of attracting foreign investments and safeguarding national security,” he said.

The changes are intended to attract investors to desert land reclamation and productive agricultural projects.

“Egypt is seeking to increase the area of agricultural land from 9.8 million feddans to 10 million feddans within 12 months.This will only be possible by allowing foreigners to own land and contribute to our food security,” said Al-Fayoumi. 

To come into effect the amendments must be ratified by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and published in the official gazette.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 11 January, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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