Egypt selected a consortium of Egyptian and the Persian Gulf companies Tuesday to develop the government's mega project to transform the Suez Canal waterway into a hub of international investment and free trade zones, officials said.
Egyptian authorities say the massive development plan is badly needed to help boost an economy that has been ravaged by three years of political turmoil. The Suez Canal is a key source of revenue for Egypt, bringing in around $5 billion annually.
Canal Authority chief Moheeb Mamish said the Dar al-Handasah — a leading Mideast design, architecture and engineering consultancy registered in Bahrain — was chosen from 14 candidates to develop the project. He did not give the price tag for the project.
The goal is to transform five ports at the northern and southern tips of the canal — Sukhna, Adiba, El Arish and two facilities in Port Said — into attractive investment zones, he said.
"Egypt is the belly button of the world," Mamish said. "We have to make use of its geography."
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab described the project as part of "rediscovering of Egypt" and making use of its hidden resources. He asserted that the project will create one million job opportunities and turn the region into a new Hong Kong.
Shireen Hassan, former head of the city of Port Said's port, said Dar al-Handasah has six months to submit its master plan to the government for approval before it can start building.
"We are moving from a traditional canal to a first class world logistic and industry hub," he said. "The essence of the new project is to connect international manufacturers to their suppliers and clients" through Egypt's canal.
"The location — close to European, Middle East and North Africa in addition to Black Sea countries — offers it access to a market of more than 1.2 billion people, and they are in need of shortening distance between factories, distribution centers and markets," Hassan said.
The plan is separate from another mega project for the Suez Canal, unveiled earlier this month by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, that involves expanding the waterway.
In this $4 billion project, the Egyptian military and local companies would dig out a new, 35-kilometer (22-mile) segment of the waterway to shorten the waiting period for crossing ships crossing from 11 hours to three. Officials also have said it will also increase the number of ships that can navigate the canal simultaneously from an average of 23 to 97.