From the great pyramids to the Suez Canal, Egypt has a long history of planning grand projects—and pulling them off. However, ambitious new plans by
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to lift Egypt out of its post-revolution
slump are meeting skepticism.
That’s because Egypt also has a historic track record of bureaucratic delays,
corruption and project mismanagement, all of which have been exacerbated
by the country’s recent political turbulence. Former President Hosni Mubarak
worked 14 years on an unfinished desert reclamation project whose name,
Toshka, has become synonymous with grandiose government-led megaprojects.
“There’s an air of unreality to the grand project idea, and it’s remarkably
consistent going back to the early 1950s in how the military has thought about
the economy,” Robert Springborg, who studies the Egyptian military, told
Aiming to buck this trend, President Sissi has proposed investing US$140
billion in projects ranging from new tourist destinations and airports to
development of desert land. It’s an ambitious figure for a country whose gross
national income just two years ago was US$259 billion.
Digging the Way Out
The cornerstone of President Sissi’s plan is a major expansion of the Suez
Canal, a powerful economic engine for Egypt.
The president wants to build a second lane for the canal, which serves as
the shortest path for Asia-bound vessels leaving Europe, to allow for two-way
traffic. That would dramatically expand the canal’s capacity, more than doubling its annual revenue from US$5.3 billion to over US$13 billion. The project
would also bring an estimated 1 million jobs to a country plagued with rampant unemployment since the 2011 revolution.
“The country has been going through continuous turmoil, facing one of
the greatest social crises. The Suez Canal has a very strong symbolic value for
many Egyptians,” says Amr Adly, PhD, a political economist and scholar at the
Carnegie Middle East Center who’s based in Cairo, Egypt.
Fifty companies led
by army engineers began
work on the project in
August. The initial plan
called for completion in
three years at a cost of
US$4 billion to US$8 bil-
Jobs estimated to be created by adding
a second lane to the Suez Canal
Egypt’s planned investment in large solar