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Hello, my friend!

Private enterprise and cash is needed to further Egypt?s development

Stuart Matthews.
Stuart Matthews.

The moment you step outside the airport terminal it starts.

Egypt’s entrepreneurial individuals direct market their products and services right at the customer coal face. I had to admire their persistence, despite the massive quantity of competition and a lack of consumer confidence.

Away from Cairo’s busy airport, where a people mover to ferry passengers between terminals is the latest addition under construction, the scale of the urban sprawl quickly becomes apparent. The city may contain the largest number of unfinished buildings I’ve ever seen, whether on their way up, or slowly coming down.

Those responsible for maintaining the place give every appearance of fighting a losing battle: whether an occasional and beleaguered street sweeper, or some higher municipal power.

The frustrated citizenry have clearly been forced to improvise solutions for themselves, which in some cases just exacerbate the problem: probably why the locals seem to prefer to walk on the road, rather than bother with the assault course that the average footpath represents.

Infrastructure development is on the agenda. We’ve written before about the number of projects on the drawing board – 47 is the number quoted by Egypt’s Government Authority for Investment – and their $25 billion price tag. The need for private enterprise to take up the development gauntlet is clear; sheer scale means it will be the only way to get things done.

New Cairo, a development emerging on the edges of the city’s crowded core may point the way ahead, but this kind of private development needs to be supported by accompanying infrastructure too. As the giant villas and apartment blocks start to emerge, it’s clear new and bigger roads will be needed too.

Beyond Cairo, in main centres such as Luxor and even Aswan, private development is focused on the returns offered by the tourism sector. However, big money investment in this area creates tough competition for local businesses, clamouring for a foreign dollar or two.

These businesses have already taken the battle to the streets and the constant call of ‘hello, my friend’ reminds visitors that local commerce is competitive. Package tours keep the pampered away from the hustle and bustle, thus leaving touts to battle for the considerably smaller private tourist dollar.

Outside these main centres the most obvious work is on the long road network. Even in the August heat teams were working to resurface sections of battered desert road, in what must be a perpetual project.

In the oases the issue of water distribution is moving from government hands to local private enterprise. These geothermal springs are being lightly developed to provide rest spots for those willing to take the long drives and profits are being used to improve the distribution networks.

On the whole, it’s a more laid-back version of the private enterprise that hits you at the airport. The public and government will is there, as are the natural resources, now all it needs is a bit more cash.

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