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Sunday , January 17 2021

Egyptians should feel proud

Khalaf Al Habtoor, Founding Chairman of Al Habtoor Group (AHG)

I HAVE always loved Egypt and its people since my first visit to Cairo as a young and impressionable man coming from what was then a small coastal town called Dubai. In those days when the population was little more than 6 million instead of today’s tally of 21 million, there was no pollution and no deafening tooting of vehicle horns.

Cairo was a glamorous and exciting capital. Egypt’s second and then multicultural city of Alexandria was dubbed the Riviera of the Middle East. Sad to say, during the following years, chaos and decay reigned. Magnificent buildings were neglected, their exteriors dark grey from accumulated dust. The alluring Egypt overall began to look shabby.

In the aftermath of the 2011 and 2013 revolutions, that ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his Muslim Brotherhood successor Mohamed Morsi, the most populated Arab country was on its knees facing bankruptcy while tackling civil unrest, external terrorism, mass unemployment and energy shortage. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a career soldier turned politician, removed his Field Marshall’s uniform and was elected to the highest office which he assumed on 8 June 2014.

In just six short years, the President has proved his doubters wrong. On the infrastructure front, under his direction, the Egyptian Armed Forces’ engineering corps, often in partnership with privately-owned companies, have altered the landscape. Cairo’s famous Tahrir Square is unrecognizable after its incredible makeover, and the once grubby downtown is sparkling. Dozens of multi-lane new highways and tunnels have eased travel by road, some cutting journey times by hours.

New airports have sprung up including Sphinx that takes some of the load off Cairo International Airport. Amazingly, besides the grand New Administrative Capital, there are many other new smaller cities under construction all over the country – Salam Misr City, East Port Said city, New Nasser city, West Assiut city, Toushka city, Alamein city, and the Damietta Furniture City.

The other day, I could not have been more impressed while watching the President’s inauguration of the King Salman International University in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. The architectural design and finishing are stunning. Hard to believe that the project took a mere three years.

The President was busy that day inaugurating several other projects among them a new airport and road on the northern Sinai Peninsula, a desalination plant in the city of el-Arish plus new museums in Sharm el-Sheikh and Kafrel-Sheikh.

The Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, close to the Pyramids and said to be the largest in the world, is poised to open shortly while, at last, the Pyramids plateau has new facilities to serve the needs of tourists.

Most importantly, the President has fulfilled his pledge to provide housing solutions for the people. Hundreds of thousands of apartments were built and given to former slum inhabitants complete with furniture, appliances and green outdoor areas. And he has either built or reopened dozens of factories as well as reserving vast tracts of land for new agricultural projects.

In short, under the hands-on guidance of President el-Sisi, who has proven to be a great patriot as well as a statesman with inherent diplomatic skills, the country is in a process of transformation in just about every respect, largely underwritten by major discoveries of gas in the eastern Mediterranean, creditworthiness as confirmed by rating agencies and steady growth in GDP.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the globe, Egypt’s GDP is expected to reach 3.5 percent by the year’s end, according to Fitch, the highest in the MENA region. The government’s debt to GDP ratio has declined from 108 percent in 2017 to 87 percent. Inflation is down to a manageable 4.2 percent as opposed to over 30 percent a few years go. The virus has impacted unemployment rates currently 9.6 percent – one point lower than that of France and just 1.7 percentage points higher than the United States.

Given Egypt’s economic performance, investors are beginning to be seriously attracted. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has cited Egypt as the top investment market for 2021-2025. Indeed, I am engaged in studying the country’s investment potentials myself in light of a new investor-friendly climate.

There is no doubt that Egypt is on the right path. I cannot wait to see where it leads.

By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

UAE Businessman

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