Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Work on the GEM continues

A soft loan agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency will enable construction work on the Grand Egyptian Museum to continue, writes Nevine El-Aref

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Al-Ahram Weekly

At the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) construction site this week hundreds of Egyptian and international journalists flocked to witness the signing of the second soft loan agreement between the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the ministries of antiquities and international cooperation.

The first agreement was in 2006 when the JICA provided a $280 million soft loan to be repaid over 30 years at an interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Payments will be made in installments after a 10-year grace period following the GEM’s official opening.

In 2010, the first and second phases of the GEM were completed. They included the construction of a power plant, fire station, and fully equipped conservation centre built 10 metres below ground level. The centre has 12 laboratories and four storage galleries and is believed to be the largest such facility in the world and is intended as a regional, as well as Egyptian, expert centre.

 However, problems encountered after the 25 January Revolution led to budgetary problems, slowing the construction of the GEM after the first and second phases.

In 2012, work resumed after a joint venture between Egypt’s Orascom Construction Industries and the Belgium BESIX Group was awarded the contract for the completion of the GEM’s third phase, which includes the construction of the museum’s main building and landscaping.

The new loan, agreed this week, is for some $460 million, which the government will repay over 25 years at an interest rate of 1.4 per cent after a seven-year grace period.

Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enany described the new loan as a great push in the museum's construction and one that would make the dream of the GEM come true. He said that the GEM was the largest project linking Egypt with the JICA and that the GEM was the largest cultural project the JICA had ever supported.

The museum’s soft opening, Al-Enany said, would include the inauguration of the halls displaying the funerary collection of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun and the grand staircase, which will display the colossus of Ramses II transported from Ramses Square in downtown Cairo.

Al-Enany said that 80 per cent of the construction work had been completed and 50 per cent of the whole. "I appreciate the JICA's cooperation with the Ministry of Antiquities in sprucing up the GEM’s construction," Al-Enany said, describing the GEM as Egypt’s 21st-century landmark.

A collection of 39,000 artefacts had been transported to the GEM from museums and archaeological sites around the country, he said. "We are planning to transfer 100,000 artefacts as scheduled, and the transportation process is being carried out according to the latest international techniques," Al-Enany added.

 “The museum will provide the best environment for the display of Egypt’s priceless treasures, as well as providing more space, better lighting, and more information on them, all of which will help to do justice to Egypt’s heritage,” Al-Enany said.

Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr described the GEM as a very important project that was not only an Egyptian project but also an international one and one that the whole world was looking up to.

"It is a development project creating large opportunities for jobs, especially for young people working in the tourism sector. This helped us to secure a special loan from the Japanese side," Nasr told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that Egypt wanted to thank the Japanese government for all its support and continued cooperation.

She said that the GEM was one out of an envelope of many over recent years amounting to $8 billion, of which $2.5 billion were in the form of grants.

"We are now in discussion with the JICA and the Japanese government on another very important project, which is education," Nasr said. She added that during his visit to Japan, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had toured several schools and had been impressed with the quality of education.

The government was hoping for a further loan agreement focusing on the education sector in Egypt, she said.

Teruyuki Ito, JICA representative for Egypt and Yemen, told the Weekly that this loan is the second phase of the loan provision made in response to the request from the Egyptian government, and it was expected that the project would contribute to the development of the tourism industry and the creation of more job opportunities and the economic and social development of Egypt.

He said that the new loan is bigger than the first one and would provide more facilities.

Tarek Tawfik, supervisor-general of the GEM, said the loan was important because it guaranteed the completion of the GEM and its soft opening at the end of 2017 as well as the official opening in 2018.

He said the loan was giving GEM employees a strong push to redouble their efforts to meet the scheduled deadline. The government was repaying the first loan, he said, which was one of the reasons the Japanese government had agreed to the second one.

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