CAIRO – 23 February 2018: The year 2017 was full of challenges to Egyptians, as many issues on the country’s agenda are still waiting for settlement. Looking back at 2017, it can be described as a year of changes in our country in many aspects. Came year 2018, we continued to adapt to these changes, and create solutions to the unfinished problems.
In the following lines, Egypt Today will shed the light on the most promising projects and events ahead for the Egyptians.
The upcoming presidential election will be the most important event for the Egyptians in 2018. The National Election Authority (NEA) is expected to officially announce on February 24 the final list of candidates in the elections.
Chairperson of al-Ghad Party, Moussa Mostafa Moussa, will be the only challenger against President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi who is running for a second term.
Over the last few months, a number of political and public figures announced their bid for the election, but none of them continued the race, including human Rights lawyer Khaled Ali, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik and former Military Chief of Staff Sami Anan who was basically removed from the voters’ database.
The NEA announced that the voting process in the 2018 presidential election will start on March 26, in a televised statement on January 8.
Sixty million eligible voters will cast their ballots in the election on March 26-28 in Egypt, while expatriates will vote on March 16-18, said NEC Chairman Lasheen Ibrahim in a press conference.
He added that the deadline for any candidate to retreat will be on March 1. The primary results of the first round of the election will be announced on March 29, where decisions on appeals submitted by candidates, if any, will be made.
The final results of the first round will be announced on April 2.
Air links between Egypt and Russia
After more than 27 months of direct flights suspension between Cairo and Moscow, the Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov announced that commercial passenger flights between the two countries will resume in February. During that period, the Egyptian government spared no effort to find a solution to the issue, due to the importance of this anticipated step to Egypt.
In October 2015, the Airbus A321, operated by Metrojet, crashed over the Sinai Peninsula, which was carrying Russian tourists returning from the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh to St. Petersburg, killing all 224 on board.
Although Egypt-Russia investigations have yet to reveal the reason of the crash, Russia, along with England and some other countries, decided to suspend direct flights to Cairo and Sharm El-Sheikh for indefinite period. The decision decimated Egypt's vital tourism industry.
The tourism sector is one of Egypt’s main foreign currency earners, which has suffered badly from the travel ban that turned the once 100 percent occupied resorts to empty places.
To understand the impact of a possible resumption of air links, one should know that Egypt is highly regarded as a tourist destination that can attract diverse types of tourists, such as those interested in exploring the country’s ancient culture, or those who want to enjoy sunny beaches.
Tourist inflow to Egypt peaked in 2010, when 14.7 million tourists visited the country, but the number fell to 4.5 million in 2016.
Russian and British tourists capture the largest portion of tourist inflows to Egypt. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), the Russian tourist inflow to Egypt reached its peak in 2014, with tourists recording 3.1 million. Following the Russian plane crash, this number went down to 2.38 million in 2015.
The British tourist inflow used to range between 800,000 to one million tourists, but this number also declined after the suspension of flights to Sharm El-Sheikh. British flights are now limited to the tourist areas in the Red Sea and the Upper Egyptian cities of Luxor and Aswan.
Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sharif Fathi visited Moscow in early December 2017 when he signed an air security agreement that will hopefully set the required procedures settle the issue permanently. It comes after several countries and international aviation bodies praised the security and safety measures adopted in the Egyptian airports following the Russian plane disaster in October 2015.
Sirius Aero, the largest Russian airline of business aviation, announced on February 17 that it has obtained the government's permission to launch its first commercial passenger flight from Moscow to Cairo since October 2015.
Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the resumption of regular air traffic between Moscow and Cairo on January 4 after the Egyptian authorities strengthened security measures at the Cairo International Airport, in compliance with Russian demands.
Egypt’s tourism recovers
There are indicators that suggest that tourism will bounce back, with the Ministry of Tourism announcing that tourist numbers are estimated at 8 million by the end of 2017, compared to 4.5 million tourists last year. How this can be possible?
The capacity of South Sinai’s hotels, including Sharm El-Sheikh, represent 35 percent of the total hotel capacity in Egypt, estimated at 225,000 rooms, of which about 65,000 rooms are in the Red Sea, 30,000 in Greater Cairo, and the rest in other provinces.
It means that the majority of Egypt’s hotel capacity lies outside the banned region. However, South Sinai represents 40-45 percent of Egyptian annual tourism income, and it can add $12 billion annually.
Meanwhile, the ministry said in a previous statement that a noticeable influx of Asian tourists started flocking to Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. The Asian visitors have mitigated the negative effects of the absence of Russian and British tourists.
China’s top public travel agency, China International Travel Service, reported a 58 percent increase in tourists flying to Egypt in 2016 compared to 2015, while Japan’s HIS travel agency said the number of tourists heading to Egypt was multiplied by four to five times last year.
The boom in Asian interest may be a result of the World Tourism Organization's decision to name Luxor the world’s tourism capital of 2016.
According to CAPMAS, the number of tourists who visited Egypt in fiscal year 2016/17 rose by 259,700 tourists to 732,700 tourists.
The return of Russian flights and tours could be a massive boost to tourist numbers that reached 5.3 million tourists in 2016, compared to 14.7 million visitors in 2010. However, it should be noted that the industry is already recovering gradually.
The first phase of the construction of Egypt's New Administrative Capital is expected to be completed by the end of 2018, according to government sources.
The first phase of the new capital, which was launched by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in an official inauguration ceremony in October 2017, covered an area of 167 square kilometers.
Upon completion, the country's ministries and presidency are set to be transferred to their new headquarters in the first half of 2019.
The new administrative capital will be divided into 20 districts that could house up to six million people. It is also planned to include educational institutions, hospitals, 40,000 hotel rooms, a theme park, solar plants and a new international airport.
Counter-Terrorism in Sinai
The Egyptians were shocked with the bloody terrorist attack that hit the main mosque in North Sinai’s Al-Rawdah Village on 24 November 2017. It took the lives of 311 people, roughly 22 percent of the village’s male residents, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics’ (CAPMAS) 2016 report.
Although the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2017, issued in late November, excluded Egypt from its list of the ten countries most affected by terrorism, this year witnessed the deadliest attack in the history of the country, raising a question: when will the ongoing terror attacks in Egypt, particularly the Sinai Peninsula, end?
The Sinai insurgency initially consisted of separate militants who exploited the chaotic situation in Egypt following the 25th January Revolution and launched a series of attacks on government forces in Sinai. Since 2014, the terrorist attacks started to take shape of regular and organized operations. The most dangerous terrorist group, Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis (ABM), pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) threatening of more raucous attacks.
The Egyptian authorities have attempted to restore security in the Sinai through both political and military measures. Egypt launched several military operations, including Operation Eagle in mid-2011, Operation Sinai in mid-2012 and Operation Martyr's Right from 2015 till present. The ongoing operation was considered to be the largest military action in the Sinai Peninsula in years. The operation targets sites in Rafah, Arish and Sheikh Zuweid, all towns in northern area of the peninsula.
The army announced in mid-2017 that the military’s Martyr's Right operation resulted in the death of about 500 militants and destroyed hundreds of hideouts and vehicles used by terrorists since its beginning in September 2015. The army’s strategy to face terrorism was based on three stages. The first depended on monitoring terrorism regional and international networks that provide logistical and financial support to terrorists in the country.
The second stage was based on the execution of military sweeping operations in cooperation with police forces and the residents of the Sinai Peninsula, aiming to achieve full elimination of the terrorists’ presence. The third stage sought to launch comprehensive development projects to improve the living status of the residents in Sinai.
In early February, the army spokesman Colonel Tamer el-Rifai announced in a strongly worded televised statement Friday morning that the military and police forces were initiating a large-scale security operation. He said that, in addition to the northern Sinai Peninsula, this will involve actions in the Nile Delta, Central Sinai and the Western Desert along the porous border with Libya, strongholds of a persistent Islamic State group insurgency that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police.
Operation Sinai 2018 is targeting “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations”, el-Rifai said. He did not say how long it would last, but said that it involved land, sea and air forces. The air force has launched attacks against militant hide-outs in North and Central Sinai, and the navy has tightened control of the waterways to cut off supply lines, he said.
Meanwhile, a source from the Interior Ministry told state agency MENA that the country has raised the security alert to its highest level nationwide, in light of the “fierce war” by the police in coordination with the armed forces to eradicate “the roots of terrorism.”
According to the source, security measures in the vicinity of major state institutions, houses of worship and tourist hotspots have been intensified.
Egypt achieves gas self-sufficiency
Minister of Oil Tarek al-Mula stated in January that Egypt’s natural gas production had reached 5.5 billion cubic feet, and is projected to increase production to six billion cubic feet by the end of 2018, to make Egypt self-sufficient in natural gas.
Egypt’s newly discovered Zohr gas field was considered the largest natural gas well in the Middle East within the last 50 years. The project comes at a crucial time for the Egyptian economy, with various economic organizations lauding the discovery.
Egypt is currently highly import-reliant on gas: being the world’s 8th biggest importer of natural gas worldwide. However, by its second phase, the Zohr gas field is expected to reverse Egypt’s position and make it an exporter of natural gas, rather than an importer.
The Zohr gas field project has come at a cost of $15 billion in investments, provided through collaboration between Egypt and Italy. The field may have a potential of up to 850 billion cubic meters of gas and is therefore one of the largest gas discoveries in the world.
FIFA World Cup
Egypt’s national team will be among 32 squads from around the globe taking part in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia which will begin on June 14 and end on July 15.
This will be Egypt’s first time to qualify for the World Cup since 1990.
Egypt qualified for the football's most prestigious tournament after a thrilling 2-1 win against Congo at Borg El Arab Stadium on in October 2017.
Mohamed Salah scored the first goal in minute 63 of the match while the second goal came after a penalty sending the Pharaohs to the World Cup finals.
Salah is now Egypt’s fifth top scorer in history with 31 international goals.