Infrastructure carries Egypt construction

8 February 2024

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After years of continuous growth, Egypt’s construction sector is showing signs of wobbling amid the country’s economic troubles.

The value of construction and transport contract awards in Egypt has grown every year since 2015 and rose to a record high in 2022, according to regional projects tracker MEED Projects. It grew by 57.7% to $20.5bn in 2021 – from $13.0bn in 2020 – before rising again by 42.9% to $29.3bn in 2022.

The surge in contract awards was driven by the Egyptian government’s efforts to further economic development through infrastructure expansion and construction sector stimulation.

Cairo has pursued ambitious national projects in multiple sectors, including energy, transport and urban development. Increased government spending as part of this public infrastructure investment and favourable market conditions played a pivotal role in driving project activity growth.

However, the abrupt decline in the value of construction and infrastructure contract awards in 2023 to $10.2bn raises questions about the sustainability of the dynamics at play in the sector.

The downturn in activity could indicate that budget constraints and shifting government priorities are leading to project pipelines being reworked or deprioritised. Egypt faces significant global economic headwinds and, amid plans for further reform under the latest IMF packages, there is the potential for further fiscal re-evaluation to impact the sector.

The stepped devaluation of the Egyptian pound over the past two years, in a series of moves towards a free-floating currency, has created additional uncertainty for the construction sector through soaring inflation, which reached a high of 36.8% in June 2023 – in turn stressing supply chains and inflating costs.

The IMF suggested last year that Egypt should curb its project spending. At the same time, the government has said its major projects are vital for the country’s development and a vehicle for GDP growth.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has also pledged that national projects and ongoing infrastructure schemes, including the high-speed railway network, roads and bridges, hospitals and several new cities, would continue.

El-Sisi secured a third term in office in December last year. Under his presidency, Egypt has seen repeated rounds of currency devaluation, rising inflation and a mounting debt burden – to which his proponents point to the improved security situation and the monumental infrastructure projects completed as emblematic of the achievements under his tenure.

Railway schemes

The standout feature of the country’s immediate project pipeline is a series of major railway projects that make up $4.2bn, or 91%, of the $4.6bn-worth of construction and transport projects under bid.

The two largest upcoming projects are for work on metro schemes: the $750m lot two phase one Alexandria Metro package and $750m of work on the modernisation of Cairo Metro Line 1's Helwan to El Marg Line.

Schemes on the Alexandria Metro are the next biggest pending awards. Egyptian National Railways has received bids for the $450m Cairo-Alexandria signalling systems scheme, and bidding is ongoing on lots one and two of the Alexandria Raml tram rehabilitation project.

With the ongoing currency and inflation crisis, Egypt is trying to use more local resources to further reduce its imports of construction materials. However, the demand for foreign expertise remains strong in sectors such as rail.

The country has recently awarded several significant rail contracts to consortiums of local and foreign players. In September, Egypt’s National Authority for Tunnels (NAT) and the French-Egyptian consortium of the local Orascom Construction and Colas Rail signed a $1.39bn contract to build the Alexandria metro system.

The contract award was for the first phase, which spans 21.7 kilometres and encompasses 20 stations connecting downtown Alexandria with Abu Qir.

Then in November last year, NAT and the local Orascom Construction signed agreements for the construction works on two metro projects. 

The first contract covers the civil works for the Cairo Metro Line 4 package CP402. The underground line, which runs from Giza to Fustat, connects to existing lines 1 and 2.

For the second agreement, Orascom Construction, as part of the joint venture, will execute the mechanical, electrical and plumbing works for all stations on the first line of Egypt's new high-speed railway.

The consortium of Thales and Orascom Construction also won a $367m contract in September from Egyptian National Railways to modernise and upgrade the Cairo-Beni Suef railway corridor in Egypt.

With nearly $300bn of projects planned and under way across the construction and transport sectors, Egypt represents the third-largest projects market in the Middle East and North Africa region, after Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The market prospects come with significant caveats, however. Although the pipeline of projects looks robust, the economic volatility presents a strong downside risk, at least in the short term.

Looking ahead, international contractors could be attracted by Egypt’s pitch to host the Olympic Games in 2036. If the bid is successful, the preparations and new infrastructure required will see Egypt’s construction sector moving from regional to international importance over the coming decade.

  MEED’s March 2024 special report on Egypt also includes:

Cairo beset by regional geopolitical storm
More pain for more gain for Egypt
Familiar realities threaten Egypt’s energy hub ambitions
Egypt’s desalination projects inch forward
Yasir Iqbal
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