As the year is coming to an end, the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, has been exceptionally active in inaugurating dozens of social and economic development projects in the eleven governorates of Upper Egypt. The array of the projects ranges from improving the capacity of fuel production and oil refining stations, and building water distillation stations for drinking and farming, up to repairing the infrastructure of main and sub-roads, and building new specialized hospitals in each village.
The projects are part of the National Strategy for the Development of Rural Areas, that was announced earlier this year, with an estimated budget of 700 billion Egyptian Pounds (about 45 billion US dollars), to be invested in upgrading the infrastructure of water and energy supplies, building underground sewage networks, and improving road services.
Geographically, the Upper Egypt area covers at least two-third of Egypt’s geography. Demographically, the Upper Egyptians represent, roughly, more than 65% of the total Egyptian population. Collectively, the Upper Egyptian governorates contribute more than half of Egypt’s agriculture production, which is amounted to US$27.6 billion per year, positioning Egypt as the third largest in Africa and the first among all the Arab countries, in terms with agricultural production capacity. Above all that, most of the tourist sights and Pharaonic monuments that Egypt owns, exist in the Upper Egypt.
Despite these facts, the Upper Egyptian governorates have been suffering from lack of basic services or development projects, for decades. This led to the wide-spread of poverty and illiteracy that allowed political Islamist groups, terrorist organizations, and drug dealing gangsters to control the region, and marginalize state power there for a long period of time.
In light of these facts, El-Sisi’s development projects in rural areas, especially in Upper Egypt, is expected to further enhance the already progressing Egyptian economy. On one hand, they will balance the demographic distribution between the urban and rural cities, as less people will desire to leave their less-developed rural cities to live in the Capital City of Cairo or migrate to Europe. This will indirectly solve the illegal immigration problem, which Egypt has been, for a while, exerting tremendous security efforts to effectively control. Eventually, this will redefine the scope of foreign relations between Egypt and its neighbors in the northern Mediterranean and Europe.
On the other hand, the most important, yet undeclared, outcome of these crucial national projects is fighting against the religious extremists and terrorist organizations, who found a fertile soil for their radical ideology among the needs and despairs of the young people living in the less-developed and under-constructed villages of Upper Egypt. The huge development gap between the Capital City of Cairo and other rural governorates, either in the northern region of the Egyptian Delta or the southern region of Upper Egypt, enabled the appearance of extremist political Islamist organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which played on the people’s need to keep in pace with the glamorous life of the secular political and social elite in Cairo. Later, radical jihadist groups, such as Aljamaa Al-Isalamia, built on the Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric to recruit terrorists from among the youth living in these cities.
Nevertheless, the energy development item in the state projects targeting Upper Egypt has a strategic importance that extends beyond satisfying the needs of the Upper Egyptian governorates, to connecting Egypt with its neighbors in eastern and central Africa.
One of these projects is Benban Solar Park, in Aswan. When completed, Benban is expected to be one of the largest clean energy fields, in the whole world. This particular project, in addition to the project to upgrade the capacity of Assuit Refining Company for greater production of fuel, will turn the Upper Egypt into a hub for exporting electricity and petroleum products to Africa; the same way the Egyptian Delta region, via the Mediterranean, is becoming a hub for exporting gas and electricity to southern Europe and Turkey.
In that sense, the geo-strategic importance of El-Sisi’s Upper Egypt Week lies in the fact that it can define the future of Egypt foreign relations, in a way that may automatically solve some of the chronic geopolitical problems Egypt is having with some neighbors, especially in Africa.
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