CAIRO — Looking to make inroads into reconstruction projects in Libya and Iraq, Cairo kicked off its annual Builders of Egypt Forum, one of the country's biggest events in the construction industry.
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly addressed the audience at the June 16 conference, which drew government officials, builders and bank officials to discuss opportunities available for the Egyptian construction companies abroad.
It has become essential for Egypt to enter African and Arab markets, with the goals of boosting its economy, attracting hard currency and implementing interconnection projects, be they power grids or road networks between Egypt and other countries. The forum aimed in particular to promote the state’s efforts to reconstruct the parts of Libya and Iraq destroyed by terrorist organizations, as part of the Egyptian government’s and private sector’s efforts to promote strategic relations with other countries and support development there.
Hassan Abdel Aziz, head of the Egyptian Federation for Construction and Building Contractors (EFCBC) of the Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities, told the forum, which Al-Monitor attended, “Recession hit [Egypt's] labor market following the [revolution in] January 2011. The EFCBC then developed a comprehensive plan to boost Egyptian construction companies’ work abroad to compensate for the declining activities at home.”
He added, “We opted for the training, qualification and development of contractors to improve their competitiveness. We reached out to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of International Cooperation to have them activate the role of foreign representative offices, and we visited multiple construction companies in Arab and African countries. We also met with senior officials in charge of putting forward projects in these countries.”
Ali al-Sanafi, president of both the Federation of Arab Contractors and the Iraqi Contractors Federation, and Abdul Majid Kushir, chairman of the Contractors Union in Libya, presented at the forum reconstruction projects the Iraqi and Egyptian governments are implementing. They discussed the measures needed to promote investments in the construction sector and achieve sustainable development in the two countries, and the necessary frameworks for Egyptian companies to join the reconstruction process in Iraq.
Mohamed al-Raid, chairman of the Libyan General Union of Chambers of Commerce, spoke with Al-Monitor by phone about the extent to which his country needs Egyptian labor for building industrial, commercial and tourism facilities. He stated, “We ought to give priority to Egyptian workers over other foreign labor forces in Libya’s reconstruction. The return of investments will help increase trading volume between Egypt and Libya, which dropped from $1.377 billion [prior to 2013] to $455 million in 2013, due to the failure to open credit accountants and to settle debts, and the obstacles to the entry of freight.”
That was also the year of a military coup in Egypt.
The Libyan and Egyptian governments signed March 17 an agreement regulating the entry of Egyptian laborers into Libya as part of the announced plan to reconstruct Libya. The two sides agreed to open coordination offices, one in el-Salloum, Egypt, and one in Musaid, Libya.
The media reported that according to World Bank estimates, Iraq's reconstruction will cost $100 billion, and the same amount is needed for Libya’s reconstruction.
Egyptian companies that manufacture building materials will need to gear up to meet the increasing demands of construction companies. Doing so will increase investment opportunities and the demand for Egyptian workers, in light of the financial pledges a number of countries have made for reconstruction in Libya and Iraq.
On the sidelines of the forum, Iraq's Sanafi spoke to Al-Monitor about a draft cooperation agreement with the EFCBC to be submitted to the Arab Council of Ministers this year, with the goal of giving priority to Arabs in reconstruction projects.
He called on all of Egypt’s companies to deal seriously with the Iraq reconstruction dossier and stressed that Iraq has recovered from all of the obstacles to investments there. Many investment opportunities are available in the real estate sector, where there is a need for 3 million housing units; that need is expected to grow substantially.
About 60% to 70% of Iraq's infrastructure was damaged during the war in Syria, and there will be projects to fully restore electricity and communication grids, he added.
Abdel Rahim el-Morsi, deputy chairman of the Division of Recruitment Companies at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, said Libyans are demanding that Egyptian labor be used in rebuilding their country, in light of the insecurity in Libya.
He pointed out to Al-Monitor that a construction worker in Libya can earn a daily wage of 200 Libyan dinars (2,400 Egyptian pounds or $140), whereas in Egypt they earn an average of only around $6 a day, depending on the province.