Suez Canal offers promises not solutions  

30 July 2015

Focus on developing the Suez Canal corridor part of long-term plans with no immediate economic impact expected

The pride and joy of ordinary Egyptians, the Suez Canal expansion, has dominated local media in the last week of July, with the country even taking out advertising space in New York’s Time Square.

Egypt President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi has hailed the project as the country’s flagship scheme that illustrates the new Egypt. The canal represents a history of colonial resistance, strategic military operations and much-needed hard currency for the Arab world’s most populous nation.

The construction of the project was completed on time and on budget, with the waterway officially opening on 6 August.

Aside from the populist sentiment the scheme has projected across the country, it offers the confidence required to press ahead with several port and industrial projects around the waterway’s corridor, but does little in terms of solving Egypt’s problems in the short term.

Expansions to the East Port Said terminal and the Suez Canal Zone (SCZone) stand out as the most promising projects.

But it is the SCZone that offers the biggest potential as Egypt desperately seeks a drastic diversification of its economy. A country that is witnessing 2.3 per cent population growth year-on-year means that jobs on the ground, adequate housing and solutions to the energy situation are at the forefront of the government’s medium-term goals.

The SCZone allows the country to attract foreign investment and boost a number of industries, while creating what has the potential to be a regional logistics hub. Despite this, and although Cairo has been drafting new investment laws, including transforming the SCZone into an independent economic zone, changes to ageing laws have been minimal and slow.

Meanwhile, the focus on the canal has been criticised by some in the country. The feeling is that the $8.5bn and other funds spent could be better used to solve the country’s infrastructure woes. And when the populist frenzy surrounding the canal dies down, many across the country will find that the waterway’s revenues only slightly increase while living standards stay the same.

Al-Sisi will be able to ride the current wave of support, but the canal simply does not offer any solutions to the country’s short-term problems.

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