Poor Egyptians help fund Suez Canal megaproject

The digging of a second lane of the canal will cost 60 billion Egyptian pounds (roughly $8.4 billion). The government, whose coffers are almost empty after three turbulent years, thought the money would best come from the public's pocket.

Poor Egyptians help fund Suez Canal megaproject

World Bulletin / News Desk

The queue of people in front of Azza Mohamed at the bank on Monday was so long that she couldn't even see the first person in line.

The civil servant, in her late forties, knew she would spend the whole day here, in hopes of obtaining an investment certificate for Egypt's Suez Canal project.

The mother of one had the feeling that she was on both a national and holy mission.

"I had hoped to have more money to pay for the project," Mohamed told Anadolu Agency. "I was ready to do anything to help my country."

Like her, thousands of Egyptians converged on banks and post offices across the country to be part of a new project to expand Egypt's Suez Canal.

The project aims to boost traffic in the vital international waterway and bring more foreign currency to Egypt, the economy of which has been battered by three years of post-Arab Spring turmoil.

The digging of a second lane of the canal will cost 60 billion Egyptian pounds (roughly $8.4 billion). The government, whose coffers are almost empty after three turbulent years, thought the money would best come from the public's pocket.

It created new investment certificates, bearing the name of the canal, with an annual interest rate of 12 percent, and invited the public to buy them.

The public reaction to the certificates exceeded expectations.

The nation's banks witnessed an unprecedented infestation of Egyptians – rich and poor – who came to give their money to the government to carry out the project, which will be partly executed and supervised by the Egyptian army.

National mission

Photos of poor Egyptians – some holding bank notes as small as ten Egyptian pounds and others holding hundred-pound notes – were no less moving.

Mohamed, the civil servant, did not initially have the 1,000 pounds (around $139) she used to buy the certificate on Monday; rather, she had only had a fraction of this amount.

Nevertheless, she kept imploring her husband – also a civil servant – to lend her some money. She then asked her sister, who had borrowed 300 pounds from her two months ago, to return the money.

Having collected the 1,000 pounds, Mohamed hurried to the bank on Monday, which turned out to be the last day of the project subscription process.

"I know this amount of money will bring me nothing in terms of interest rates," Mohamed said. "But the project is about a national dream and we must be part of this dream."

The 80-year-old mother of a colleague of Mohamed's, for her part, had gone to the bank two days in a row in order to buy a Suez Canal certificate.

Even though the woman had heart problems and could not spend long periods in enclosed spaces, she insisted on staying until the end of the second day to buy a certificate.

Tamer Mohamed, a worker at one of the nation's post offices, said the certificates had resulted in unprecedented overcrowding in his office in recent days.

"People of all ages came to buy the certificates, which were sold at the post offices too," Mohamed told AA. "I saw people who had nothing but the small amounts of money they brought with them in order to buy certificates."

"But they were all very keen to be part of this national project," he added.

Achievement

On Monday, Central Bank Governor Hesham Ramez said that Egyptians had paid 61 billion Egyptian pounds (some $8.54 billion) in eight days to buy investment certificates for the Suez Canal project, even though the government needed only 60 billion pounds for the project.

Ramez added in statements to the press that 90 percent of the money had come from ordinary Egyptians, while the remaining 10 percent had come from private-sector companies.

Economists say it is the largest show of public participation in a national fundraising project in Egypt's history.

One economist attributed the venture's success to the high interest rate – 12 percent annually – of the certificates, saying Egyptians were always enthusiastic about investments that were both safe and lucrative.

Lucrative investment returns, however, did not seem to be on the minds of those who lined up to buy Suez Canal certificates at the nation's banks and post offices.

"I swear to God I didn't have the interest rate in my mind when I went to buy the certificate," Mohamed said.

"At the bank, I met elderly women who wanted to do anything to help their country – people who wanted their country to move ahead, regardless of any financial returns," she added.

Last Mod: 18 Eylül 2014, 09:45
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