2 minutes with Angus Blair: How beneficial are Egypt’s national megaprojects?

We’ve got to learn from history and how America got back to work in the 1930s, says Angus Blair (Photo courtesy of Pharos Holding’s Facebook page)

After analyzing, researching, writing about and developing businesses in the MENA region for over 20 years, COO of Pharos Holding Angus Blair gives Business Forward his take on how beneficial Egypt’s national megaprojects, like the New Administrative Capital, the New Suez Canal and the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone), are for the country’s economic growth. The interview was held on the sidelines of the 23rd Euromoney Egypt conference. 

Which megaprojects are most beneficial for economic growth?
In terms of the projects, we’ve got to learn from history and how America got back to work in the 1930s. They did that through a variety of small programs, of building schools and houses and post offices and bridges. Lots of small projects. They got people back to work in their locale. The end result was that people felt better and they were employed close to where they lived. The only major project was the Hoover Dam, which had already been planned well before the Great Depression. There is a lesson to be learnt from doing many more smaller projects.

In Egypt, we do not have a history of doing that. The roads being built in the Delta are good because it will speed up the movement of goods, especially agricultural products, out into the population centers which will reduce damaged goods, of which half are spoiled before reaching the point of purchase. So that should really help the amount of food reaching the market.

But about the Suez Canal and speeding up the movement of traffic, I think we have to look at what climate change is doing. We see how Maersk is testing the northern route with a container ship. If it succeeds, it would cut the timing by two weeks, rather than using the Suez Canal.

There is a lesson to be learnt from doing many more smaller projects

But isn’t the route only available for three months a year?
So far, the route is only available for three months a year, but if you look at last winter and last summer, old ice that hasn’t been unfrozen since thousands of years is now unfrozen. When it’s dark, more heat is absorbed, making it more difficult in winter to freeze. The problem is that now that it has happened, we are already in the cycle of climate change. And even if it is only for a few months a year, that has an impact. Even if you only use a few ships a day, that has a fundamental impact.

I do like the idea of the SCZone; however, I would have liked the idea of zero tax because you’re competing with the Jebel Ali, Salala and Tangier ports. The plans should have been to make it a free zone from the beginning. Companies are coming back – Russian, Chinese and of course Mercedes. That’s all quite good.

What about real estate projects?
I can see why you’d want to take ministries and move them [to another city or place]. But having spent a lot of time in London and seeing what happened in different centers, especially around railway stations, I would have liked to see the area around the Ramses Railway Station [taking the same direction]. Demolishing some of the poorer properties to build some of the ministry buildings there in the middle of the capital.

Another concern is the lack of mass public transport. I look at everything now from an environmental standpoint, not just economic. If people are creating a 90-kilometer city, how are you going to be able to move people around efficiently without wasting energy? Mass public transport should have been part of this. In London, the underground transport went first, and then real estate happened.

What would you like to see?
I think the first thing that needs to be done for any project is an environmental audit, and then the rest of the questions will flow.

I would prefer to look at smaller scale programs across the country using small-scale renewable energy projects to power villages, to desalinate water or even treat wastewater for homes, schools, health clinics and even small farms. I’m concerned about the stories I hear about wasted water in agriculture, especially after a Dutch agricultural mission was here and we learned about how much less water they use compared to Egypt for the same crop.

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