Egypt Pulse

Sisi pitches Sinai development to business world

Article Summary
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called on the country’s business leaders to help develop Sinai, but interest has been underwhelming so far.

CAIRO — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called upon business owners Feb. 26 to make donations to the “Tahya Misr” (Long Live Egypt) Fund to support development in the Sinai Peninsula. The call continues to echo among Egyptian business owners and investors.

During his visit to Sinai Feb. 26, Sisi said, “The development of Sinai is a matter of national security for Egypt, and it will require a great deal of funding to improve the living conditions of the residents, establish agricultural, industrial and urban communities so that people from the Nile Valley area can move there to settle and work.”

Mohammed Farid Khamis, the head of the Egyptian Federation of Investors Associations, was the first to respond to Sisi’s call. Khamis handed Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail a check for 20 million Egyptian pounds (around $1.1 million) as a first payment out of 100 million pounds (around $5.6 million) for the development and reconstruction of Sinai.

The government has stepped up efforts to develop Sinai. A military operation began Feb. 9 to clear the area of terrorist groups and provide security for its citizens. The Egyptian armed forces confirmed that the military action will continue until the total elimination of terrorist groups and elements.

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Rashad Abdo, the head of the Egyptian Forum for Economic and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor, “Sisi’s call to businessmen is banking on a sense of social responsibility. This is common across the world, as many affluent businessmen donate to help to build their country. Egyptians trust the Tahya Misr Fund, so the donations will go there. The fund has contributed to several large development projects so far.”

In a July 2014 statement, the presidency announced the creation of the fund after Sisi’s June 24 statement that he would waive half his monthly salary, 42,000 pounds ($2,400), and half of his personal properties to benefit the state. Sisi called upon Egyptians to “exert efforts and join hands.”

The decree read that with the help of state institutions, the Tahya Misr Fund is "designated for the establishment of projects for the developments of slums and to reduce the number of street children and encourage the micro-enterprises and infrastructure projects in the state.”

Despite repeated calls by Sisi, some media reports have bemoaned the underwhelming donations by businesses to the fund.

Abdel Qader Sheb wrote for Al-Hilal al-Youm March 29, 2017, “Egypt’s rich who built their wealth from investments and projects in Egypt are now reluctant to be generous with their homeland and the impoverished. Despite the ongoing calls urging them to contribute with little of their considerable wealth, very few of Egypt’s businessmen, unfortunately, have responded to the call and made donations to the fund.”

The Tahya Misr Fund's executive committee announced at its Feb. 14 meeting that the fund received a total of 7.5 billion pounds (around $425 million) in donations since its establishment in July 2014.

Amr Adly, a nonresident researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Center, believes that Sisi is not encouraging large companies to be directly involved in politics, unlike the situation under Hosni Mubarak’s rule. He said in an interview on March 28, 2017, “Sisi’s military-backed regime has shown little tolerance for a resumption of the direct political role played by the owners of large private businesses during the last decade of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. The new regime is adamant about not allowing the re-emergence of old crony and patronage ties with influential businessmen. However, this does not mean that there is less cronyism today. The regime is cultivating new networks with more reliable and trustworthy businessmen who are particularly close to the military.”

Hussein Sabbour, the former president of the Egyptian Businessmen’s Association and head of Al-Ahly Real Estate Development Company, told Al-Monitor via phone, “Entrepreneurs have to contribute to the growth of the country according to their ability. The country is poor and plagued with problems. The state cannot implement all development projects. The president protects businessmen against several perils, mainly against terrorism that may threaten the stability of their projects.”

He added, “Donation is not compulsory. Those who cannot afford to make donations are paying taxes to the government.”

Abdel Monem Said Aly, the director of the Regional Center for Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor that the public and private sectors are working together as partners on these megaprojects, with the government in a supervisory role upon Sisi’s instructions. He added that often the size of donations by businessmen to the government is not disclosed, describing the relations between the two sides as “warm.”

Said Aly asserted, “Businessmen and entrepreneurs are contributing to development projects but this is not enough. We need to double the effort in both the public and the private sector. We are moving at a 5% rate of growth, which is not sufficient. We need to hit 8%, which would be a breakthrough for Egypt. … Talks about the businessmen’s reluctance to support the state are baseless.”

“The elimination of terrorism in Sinai will serve business interests and open horizons for investment,” concluded Abdo.

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Found in: Economy and trade

Ahmed Gomaa is an Egyptian journalist currently working as an editor for political affairs at Al-Musawar magazine and as an editor for Masrawy. On Twitter: @AhmedGomaa252

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