Reuters – Egypt and the United Arab Emirates said on Saturday that they had contracted a state-run company headed by a retired Egyptian army officer to build wheat silos that are a key part of the UAE’s $4.9bn aid package to Cairo.
The UAE is taking a hands-on role in supporting Egypt and is funding a range of development projects including the wheat silo-building effort that could help the world’s biggest importer of the commodity lower its huge food import bill.
Reuters reported in March that the UAE was working directly with the Egyptian army to ensure the silo-building was conducted efficiently.
The UAE pledged last October to build a total of 25 wheat silos with a storage capacity of 1.5m tons to help prevent the loss of billions of dollars worth of wheat per year.
The project targets addressing problems in the strategic wheat sector. Millions of poor Egyptians rely on government subsidised bread, but the wasteful and corrupt system for providing it strains government finances. Egypt wants to boost its storage capacity to reduce reliance on imports.
Though UAE and Egyptian government ministers appeared together at a news conference in Cairo to announce the details of the construction of the first two silos, their choice of an Egyptian army-affiliated company to do the construction work confirmed the military’s connection to the project.
UAE Minister of State Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, who handles the aid projects, announced the signing of the cooperation agreement with Cairo alongside Egypt’s Supplies Minister Khaled Hanafi and Planning Minister Ashraf El-Araby.
Seated beside the ministers was retired Egyptian Lieutenant General Abd El Aziz Seif-Eldeen, head of the Arab Organization for Industrialization, the state-owned company chosen to build the silos.
Eldeen was a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces until 2012, which ruled the country for the 18 turbulent months after Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a 2011 uprising.
Eldeen, at the time the commander of the Air Defence Forces, was removed from the military council in a reshuffle by elected president Mohamed Morsi in August 2012, shortly after he took office. Morsi then appointed Eldeen chairman of the Arab Organization for Industrialization.
An army source told Reuters that the company does contracting work with the Ministry of Military Production, but does not fall under the jurisdiction of the ministry. The company builds airplanes and cars, according to its website.
The General Company for Silos and Storage, another state-run company affiliated with the Ministry of Supply, will be the implementing agency for the Egyptian government for the project, state news agency MENA reported.
Jaber said that work had begun on the silos project. “Within a week or two we will visit the sites.” He said the timeline for the completion of the two silos was 18 months.
He said that construction of a number of other silos would begin in November.
Along with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the UAE pledged more than $12bn in loans and donations after former army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ousted Morsi last year. The Gulf Arab countries now see Egypt as a frontline ally in its region-wide struggle against both Iran and the Islamist Brotherhood.
Al-Sisi’s victory in elections held last month has raised expectations that more aid will be announced soon. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah said last week after the election result was announced that he would host a donor conference for Egypt.