Amwal Al Ghad English - 2015-10-11 08:04:34
When Abu Dhabi-run contractor Arabtec signed a deal with the Egyptian government for a high-profile housing project it was seen as a sign of the Gulf Arab state's support for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
But the project announced in March 2014 and a pillar of Sisi's election campaign, has stalled, possibly risking his reputation and highlighting Egypt's habit of promising grandiose ventures and then struggling to deliver.
Egyptians were promised one million homes by 2020 at a cost of about 280 billion Egyptian pounds ($35.76 billion) and a raft of other projects to help the economy get back on its feet after the political upheaval that followed the 2011 uprising.
Sisi was counting on billions of dollars in pledges of help from Gulf Arab oil-producing allies, backers of the army's overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. Some of which this money has failed to materialise, and local banks are unable to finance the Arabtec project.
"Egyptians want these projects now but in fact they will take years to finish," said a Western diplomat in Cairo.
Egypt signed a memorandum of understanding for the project with Dubai-based Arabtec, which built the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa for Emaar Properties, but now it has ground to a halt. A source familiar with the matter pointed to disagreements over the contract and funding difficulties.
Work has not started and Arabtec has yet to submit a building plan. Arabtec declined to comment, while Abu Dhabi officials could not be reached for comment.
Abu Dhabi, the dominant member of the United Arab Emirates and home to the country's federal government institutions, is the company's largest shareholder in Arabtec through state fund Aabar, which holds a 36.1 percent stake.
Abu Dhabi officials have been Arabtec's chairmen since mid-2012, with the current board all part of the emirate's government and business elite.
In the original announcement, Arabtec's then chief executive Hasan Ismaik said the project owed much to Abu Dhabi's crown prince "who has been very keen to mobilise all efforts to boost support to our brothers in Egypt through a multitude of humanitarian, economic and social initiatives".
SISI UNDER PRESSURE
The UAE is still deeply committed to Sisi but when it comes to commercial ventures it is paying closer attention to contract details for a good return on investment, Western diplomats say.
Sisi's success in cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood - seen by Gulf allies as an existential threat - may mean the UAE has less reason to engage in ventures to back him. UAE finances have also been hurt by a fall in oil prices.
When, as army chief, Sisi toppled Morsi, he promised what he called a political roadmap to democracy. Parliamentary elections on October 18-19 mark the last step in that process.
His performance on the economy will come under greater scrutiny as political turmoil eases.
"At the moment, many ordinary Egyptians, due to the fear of political violence in the country, will be giving Sisi a lot of leeway - but eventually, the public will want to see results in economic terms," said H.A. Hellyer, nonresident fellow at the Brookings Centre for Middle East Policy.
"If the results are not sufficiently big or don't come quickly enough, be it on the Arabtec deal, the new administrative capital, or the Suez Canal expansion, Sisi's popularity could suffer quite substantially as a result."
At an investment conference in March, Sisi said UAE businessmen Mohamed Alabbar, through Abu Dhabi investment firm Capital City Partners, would lead the construction of a new administrative capital. This would include an airport larger than London's Heathrow and a building taller than Paris's Eiffel Tower.
Nearly four months after the initial memorandum of understanding was signed with Alabbar, Egypt's investment minister said that his company would only take "part of the project" along with other investors, including China Construction, which signed a memorandum of understanding of its own to study "building and financing" part of the project. Capital City Partners declined to comment.
In another example of the difficulties faced by these projects, a year after announcing it would build Egypt's first coal-fired power station, Abu Dhabi-based Al Nowais Investments said last month the paperwork still had to be finalized.
"I don't think the UAE is pulling out, but UAE companies who tried to jump on the bandwagon are finding it difficult to fulfill commitments that were not planned well," said Mohammed Ali Yasin, managing director at NBAD Securities, the stockbrokerage arm of National Bank of Abu Dhabi. More»