Egypt woos UAE investments in Dubai-style transformation of Matrouh

'I seek inspiration from Dubai … Give me the funding and I will turn [Matrouh] into Dubai ­ tomorrow,' said the Major General Alaa Abu Zeid, the governor of Matrouh province.

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The UAE received special attention in the lead-up to Egypt’s economic conference held last month in the north coast town of Marsa Matrouh.

"Matrouh: the Future of Investment" was a governorate-level event based on the Egyptian Economic Development Conference (EEDC) led by the president Abdel Fattah El Sisi in March.

The event offered investment opportunities in multibillion-dollar projects in property, industry, agriculture, resource extraction and construction of a north coast trading port.

And as in the March economic summit – organised by a joint Egyptian-Emirati task force – the UAE played a central role on stage and behind the scenes.

According to Major General Alaa Abu Zeid, the governor of the Matrouh province, the conference was the culmination of a six-month promotion campaign that included two visits to the UAE.

This month, Mr Abu Zeid was sent by Egypt’s prime minister, Sherif Ismail, on an investment mission to showcase the Matrouh governorate’s investment opportunities to members of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce, returning with US$12 billion in investment pledges.

Central among them, alongside pricey plans for luxury tourist resorts, is construction of the Matrouh Port, which would serve the dual purpose of promoting tourism and international trade.

According to Mr Abu Zeid, Saudi and Emirati firms have signed initial pledges to lead the port construction, which he estimated will cost a hefty $10bn.

Mohammed Sherif, a manager of investments in the Matrouh governorate, says the port would play a significant role in supporting the proposed Matrouh development spree, easing industrial and agricultural trade and welcoming foreign tourists.

But while plans for coastal developments dominated, the hinterlands of Matrouh, Egypt’s second-largest governorate in terms of land mass, also received some attention.

Additional investment pledges back from Mr Abu Zeid’s UAE visit included those for industrial projects estimated at $5bn in water bottling, olive oil production and the exploitation of salt ponds in the Siwa Oasis.

Also on the drawing board are what the Matrouh governor described as “the largest fish farm in the Middle East” and recreational developments such as a zoo featuring desert animals.

If the plans for the desert-dominated governorate sound ambitious, they should.

According to the governor, the economic conference “announces Matrouh’s initiation into the era of Egypt’s mega national projects”.

Indeed, the conference plays into plans for the Northwest Coast Development Project, one of the handful of mega national endeavours championed by Mr El Sisi’s administration.

And as with most of Mr El Sisi’s grand plans, Emirati influence can be expected to keep pace economically and aesthetically.

Asked what he would like to see from Matrouh, Mr Abu Zeid responds without hesitation: ­Dubai.

“I seek inspiration from Dubai … Give me the funding and I will turn [Matrouh] into Dubai ­tomorrow.”

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