With the launch of expansion and development projects, Port Said is on course for commercial revival, but the road to recovery will be long and arduous.
by Ahmed Goher
Speaking at the anniversary celebrations of the new Suez Canal last month, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi talked about the importance of reviving the Port Said commercial hub and announced the birth of what he called a “new Port Said.” Just two weeks later, on August 20, he called for a new, giant stadium to be established in the city of Port Said. The stadium is set to cover 135 feddans and is part of a broader sports city being constructed by the Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces including open courts, parks, and entertainment venues.
The stadium is only one prong in the comprehensive development plan envisioned for the coastal city, which is in northeast Egypt spanning around 30 kilometers along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, north of the Suez Canal and with an approximate population of 700,000 people. For one, Port Said, which was established in 1859 during the construction of the Suez Canal, lies at the heart of Egypt’s ambitious plan to transform the areas surrounding the canal into a world-class logistical, industrial and trade hub.
Port Said Governor Adel Al-Ghadban couldn’t be happier at the prospect of these new projects, which he is confident can generate over a million jobs. Such projects include a new port in East Port Said and expansions in the west port, the establishment of a number of factories in the city’s south and west following the recent discovery of oil fields along the province’s coast, the creation of a massive residential area, the digging of three tunnels linking east and west Port Said and the creation of large fishing and agricultural farms.
In 2015, the recession afflicting the city reached its peak. Back then, Member of Parliament Ahmed Farghali said the city’s 42,000 registered traders are “struggling to secure electricity and rentals for their businesses, with some resorting to downsizing their labor force.” Meanwhile, leftist leader Al-Badri Farghali expressed his dismay at the “the scene of the province with its streets empty of merchants.”
Matters became so dire that by December 2015 Egypt’s Presidency sent a letter warning the Cabinet of grave consequences if the recession in Port Said is not adequately handled and giving “urgent directives” to contain the “state of rage” spreading across the city’s traders.
Since then, the president and some of the country’s top military officials have paid particular attention to the city in their speeches, outlining progress that has been made and constantly announcing new projects to transform the city.
Mohamed Al-Masri, head of Port Said’s chamber of commerce, told Al-Wafd that the recession means such projects are not a luxury but are highly needed, adding that the president’s directives in that regard are constructive and appreciated.
Beltone Financial economist Shady Fakhoury stresses the importance of the city to Egypt’s development strategy, saying “there is no doubt that Port Said plays a central role in Egypt’s development plans,” and adding that “the area is set to witness huge industrial advancements, has benefitted from the discovery of gas along its coasts and is primely positioned to take part in the Suez Canal Economic Zone development project.”
That said, he believes caution should be taken when assessing the outcomes of the government reforms and projects. “Sure, the planned housing projects to alleviate poverty and eliminate slums are much needed, and so is providing adequate facilities for youth and the creation of job opportunities. Even more importantly, the monetary and fiscal reforms being pursued by the government are integral to the country’s whole wellbeing. But many of the fruits of these initiatives will take time to materialize.”
Fakhoury warns that ambitious promises of an economic takeoff happening anytime soon, whether in Port Said or anywhere else, could backfire if they are not met.
“Egypt is now on the verge of getting an IMF loan, and as we all know there are numerous conditions attached to the loan that will probably result in inflation. The coming few years will be tough for the average Egyptian citizen and this needs to be made very clear. Transparency is much needed and people need to know that these projects will not bear all the fruits soon. When you properly manage expectations, Egyptians will surprise you with their patience; on the other hand, if you make grand promises of prosperity occurring in the short term and then this doesn’t happen, then you have set yourself up on a concerning course.”
“The problem is whether public opinion is prepared to accept the measures which could be tough or harsh,” Sisi recently said at a conference last month. “Egyptians love their country and are able to face hardship, but they are too busy with their daily lives and so must be given the correct information about the measures.”