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Egypt outlines $8-billion in projects to lure back investors

An Iranian naval ship travels through the Suez Canal near Ismailia, some 120 kilometres north of Cairo, in this 2011 file photo. Infrastructure projects announced by the government Monday include a new tunnel under the Suez Canal.

STRINGER/EGYPT/REUTERS

Egypt outlined a string of projects on Monday to develop areas including those around the Suez Canal and in the south of the country in a bid to create jobs and attract investors back to an economy damaged by political turmoil.

The projects, a mix of government and public-private partnerships, include building a new tunnel under the Suez Canal and a major Mediterranean port to spread Egypt's population more evenly away from the crowded Nile Valley and Delta region, where the vast majority of the nation's 83 million people live.

Once a darling of frontier market investors, Egypt has been deserted by many in the wake of last year's uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and the months of upheaval that followed, hammering the economy.

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Investment Minister Osama Saleh told a conference in Cairo on Monday that public-private partnerships (PPPs) were a "top priority" and listed 14 projects worth $8-billion (U.S.) in total.

The new cabinet of President Mohamed Mursi, propelled to power by the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, has used a series of investor conferences in recent weeks to try to rebuild investor confidence.

The cost of government borrowing has dropped sharply and the benchmark stock market index has surged more than 50 per cent in 2012, but ministers want to attract back direct investment in industry and infrastructure, vital to create jobs.

Deputy Finance Minister Hany Kadry Dimian said that half of the 14 projects were ready for investment while the other seven would be launched in the next 18 to 24 months.

He said the projects covered solid waste management, drinking water, health, telecommunications and roads.

The investment minister also outlined what he called "mega projects."

"The government vision is to achieve integrated development in the Suez Canal Corridor, starting at East Port Said and to open the horizon for urban development outside the Valley and Delta," Mr. Saleh told the conference organized by Egyptian investment bank Beltone.

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Ministers at the conference said unemployment in Egypt now exceeded 13 per cent.

The Suez Canal, whose transit fees are a vital source of revenues for the government, is on a major international trade route, but analysts say Egypt has been slow to capitalize on the region's potential to draw in investment and industry.

Under the development plan over the next 30 years, Mr. Saleh said the Canal area plan aimed to create 500,000 jobs and house more than 1.5 million people.

In the first stage, East Port Said would be developed, aiming to create a major Mediterranean port, as well as a new city and an industrial zone to be built over 40 square kilometres. One project included building a new tunnel under the Canal to connect the Sinai Peninsula.

The second major project, called the Upper Egypt Development Corridor, would link areas in the Nile Valley south of Cairo to Egypt's Red Sea port of Safaga. One of the individual projects would involve building a desalination plant to serve the coast, driven largely by solar power.

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