The Egyptian government has shown the resolve to embark on an ambitious investment and development programme in key growth sectors. This week saw the inauguration of a major project in the petroleum sector that had been on the backburner since 2011. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi opened a hydrocracking complex project in Qalyubiya, to the north of Cairo.
The project involves cracking, a chemical process used in oil refineries, low-value Mazut into high-value petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel. The complex, jointly established with the private sector at an investment level of $3.4 billion, is part of the country’s strategy to develop the refining industry and cut fuel imports. Production from the new plant is expected to save some $600 million to $1 billion annually.
Work on the project had stopped for years due to the instability that followed the 2011 uprising. On the sidelines of the event, Al-Sisi also inaugurated Al-Tagnid-Shubra Banha axis which links Mostorod district, where the new complex is located, to major roads in the eastern and western parts of the country. The project is part of the country’s plan to upgrade the road network across the country. In East Cairo alone 50 roads covering 200 kilometres have been upgraded and 40 bridges have been built at a total cost of LE22 million.
The government’s unrelenting construction activity is part of an effort to address infrastructure gaps and improve Egypt’s ability to attract domestic and international investment. As the president stressed during the abovementioned inauguration, stability and security are essential for attracting investment, whether in Egypt or throughout the world. New construction projects, such as the roads being rolled out, are making their impact on the economy.
According to the Oxford Business Group, construction accounted for 5.9 per cent of GDP in 2018, but “its full impact… extends well beyond its direct contribution to the economy... The recent surge in construction activity is improving transport networks, making energy production and consumption more efficient, and providing the necessary base infrastructure for new urban areas.”
After years of stagnation since 2011, now is the time not only to rebuild the Egyptian economy, but also to correct mistakes of the past. Cracking down on building violations is just as important as new projects. The country has seen a significant rise in illegal construction since 2011, with many people trespassing on government property, building on fertile agricultural land and constructing illegal multi-storey buildings that often do not meet engineering safety standards.
Clusters of unplanned red-brick buildings and informal settlements have sprung up at the edge of cities where streets are so narrow a fire truck would not be able to make it through should there be a need.
The government’s resolute measures to stop the violations is important for the welfare of everyone. The country lost precious 90,000 feddans (around 400 square kilometres) in the past nine years to building violations and land encroachments. These lands cannot be replaced; reclaiming a single feddan could cost up to LE200,000.
Unplanned buildings have come to constitute about 50 per cent of the urban clusters in villages and cities countrywide, the prime minister once said. For the good of future generations, the government cannot turn a blind eye to these encroachments.
Violators must pay their dues. On the one hand, the fines collected will be used to upgrade infrastructure to meet the needs of the additional edifices, while on the other it is a warning that violations will no longer be tolerated.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.