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Egypt eyes extensive role in Syria reconstruction efforts

Egyptian companies are seeking to participate in the reconstruction of Syria and communicating with the concerned Syrian parties to discuss their involvement.

After seven years of war in Syria, countries like Australia and Russia declared in December the end of the military air operations in the country and of the war on the Islamic State (IS), announcing the return of their warplanes to local bases.

A new journey now begins to reconstruct Syria, amid conflicting estimates of the total reconstruction cost that ranges from $250 billion to $500 billion and even $900 billion. United Nations envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said during a press conference in November that reconstructing Syria will cost $250 billion at least. Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit disagreed and said that the reconstruction would cost $900 billion.

Egypt’s Ministry of Trade and Industry launched wide-scale calls and steps with Egyptian companies to participate in the reconstruction of Syria, especially after the expulsion of IS, according to a statement of the Export Council for Building Materials at the end of November. Egypt seeks to participate in the reconstruction plans in Syria, unlike in Iraq in the 1990s when it was excluded from the process.

The council said in an official statement Nov. 24, “The ministry held meetings in the last few days regarding agreements and foreign trade to strengthen the Egyptian role in the reconstruction of Syria, especially as there is already great demand for iron, steel, copper and aluminum products as well as ceramics, insulation material and sanitary ware from the Syrian market.”

Syria had officially asked for the help of international organizations to rebuild schools in November. The “Rebuild Syria 2017” exhibition was launched in September in Damascus, under the patronage of the Syrian Ministry of Public Works and Housing, with the participation of 162 companies and 24 countries. Egypt also took part in the Damascus International Fair in August, and according to the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, 30 Egyptian companies were present to highlight the role of the Egyptian private sector in rebuilding Syria.

Tarek al-Nabrawi, the head of the Egyptian Engineers Syndicate, told Al-Monitor over the phone, “The Engineers Syndicate is playing an important role in reconstructing Syria. A syndical delegation visited Syria in early 2017 and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss engineering coordination with the syndicate in Syria and the development of work to cater to the demands of the upcoming stage and to discuss the role of the syndicate in helping the Syrian people post-war.”

He noted that Egypt will be firmly present in Syria to make way for the Egyptian engineers, engineering companies and contracting companies to rebuild the country. He told Al-Monitor, “The calls between the Egyptian Engineers Syndicate and the concerned Syrian parties aim at opening the job market for Egyptian consultancy offices and professional companies in Syria.”

Nabrawi expects 2018 to witness a boom and influential role for Egyptian construction companies in Syria and to open the door for other companies — in the electricity, building material, steel, aluminum, ceramics and sanitary material fields among others — to work in the Syrian market and participate in rebuilding cities and facilities that the war has destroyed.

According to studies and estimates from the Engineers Syndicate, rebuilding Syria will cost $500 billion. Nabrawi said that the syndicate expects Egyptian companies to get a share ranging from 20% to 25%, or between $100 billion and $125 billion. Thousands of job opportunities could open up for Egyptians in the Syrian market.

Regarding the security measures needed to ensure the work of Egyptian companies in Syria, Nabrawi said, “The work of these companies is limited to consultations, technical advice and engineering as well as complete coordination with concerned Egyptian authorities like the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Egyptian Businessmen's Association, as well as Syrian authorities.”

The Construction and Building Committee of the Egyptian Businessmen’s Association, a nongovernmental organization supporting economic development and raising the competence of human resources, launched Nov. 30 the Syria Reconstruction Initiative, in cooperation with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, through Egyptian contracting companies. Groups were formed to determine the work requirements and means of guaranteeing the entitlements of the Egyptian companies that will participate in the reconstruction efforts.

A delegation from the Construction and Building Committee was preparing to visit Syria at the end of December to discuss reconstruction operations in Syrian territories and hold mutual meetings with its Syrian counterpart to set the parameters of cooperation and coordination in the reconstruction process. But, according to Said al-Atroush, the media consultant of the Egyptian Businessmen's Association, the visit was delayed to allow more time for more research and make arrangements before the Egyptian companies travel to Syria.

Egyptian security expert Brig. Gen. Khaled Okasha told Al-Monitor that the Syrian authorities should oversee the work of the companies and protect them. Only places under the control of the regime and the Syrian army will be selected to guarantee the safety of the workers, their lives, the equipment and the work process. Okasha said, “Multinational companies are participating in the reconstruction, including European companies, which means that [some of] the Syrian territories are now completely safe.”

He added, “The assessment of companies and commercial offers [by the Syrian authorities] is subject to several criteria, including the readiness of their technical staff to work. Besides, the offers undergo commercial assessment and the previous work of these companies is evaluated, as well as their logistic and equipment-related dimensions. The Syrian-Egyptian relations can play a general role, which does not go beyond facilitating the work of these companies or receiving an invitation from the start to participate in the reconstruction of Syria.”

Nabrawi noted that Egypt enjoys good relations with Syria and supported the Syrian army in the conflict. Sisi had said in November 2016, “My country supports the Syrian army in facing extremists, protecting the Syrian lands’ unity and rebuilding what the war destroyed.”

Egypt also contributed to setting the stage for many agreements between the warring parties in Syria, such as the truce in eastern Ghouta in July and brokering the cease-fire in the Homs countryside in October 2017. He said that the Egyptian role in Syria is honorable and decent.

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