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Egypt : Mubarak promises more jobs as he opens re-election campaign

President proposes loans, land development, and more tourism to create 700,000 jobs

Egypt's veteran President Hosni Mubarak vowed to do more to create jobs Sunday as he opened a re-election campaign in which chronic unemployment is likely to loom large. The challenge continues to be "creating 700,000 job opportunities a year for our people entering the workforce year after year," the 77-year-old incumbent told a crowd of about 1,000 workers in this industrial city outside Cairo.

"I affirm in front of you that creating new job opportunities, was and still remains, the most important and serious challenge I faced with you over the past years," said the president, who is running in his first contested election after 24 years at the helm.

"And it will continue to be the most important and serious challenge that I will face with you," he said.

Some of Mubarak's audience were prepared to give the president another chance to boost job creation in a country in which unemployment stands at 9 percent according to official figures but double that according to independent estimates.

"I am confident that the president will implement all that he said," said Mohammadi Abdul Hafiz, 26, an employee at a ceramic factory in the industrial zone.

But others said they feared the veteran incumbent was only highlighting the issue now that he had to face challengers in next month's election rather than being presented to voters as a sole candidate after endorsement by parliament.

"I don't believe all this, it's campaign talk," said Said Abdul Latif, whose asbestos factory in 10th of Ramadan City was closed down a year ago

"You cannot solve the problem of unemployment just like this," he said.

"All my children went to university but they don't have work. This was under Mubarak, is he going to change now? "The trend is clearly not one of job creation. This regime has not given the people the dignity they deserve." The president said he planned to set aside 63 billion Egyptian pounds ($11 billion) over the next six years to offer loans to people wanting to set up small and medium-sized enterprises.

He forecast the program would create some one million new jobs over the same period.

He also unveiled plans to pump more money into the industrial sector that he said would add an additional 1.5 million jobs over six years.

The president said he also planned to distribute a million acres of land reclaimed from the desert and predicted that would create a further 70,000 jobs a year.

Mubarak said he also hoped to boost the tourism sector, one of the country's top foreign currency earners, adding that investors will be encouraged for the first time to invest in the Mediterranean coast.

"Our objective is that the number of tourists coming to Egypt increase to 14 million by 2011, which will produce 200,000 jobs a year at a total investment of 48 billion pounds ($8.3 billion) during the next six years." But analysts, including Mohammad Said Saeed, deputy director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, doubted Mubarak would be able to deliver on his campaign pledges.

"I can't see anything too promising on the unemployment issue, especially when you look at all the other commitments, such as boosting consumption, raising minimum wages," Saeed said. "You can't have all these things at the same time. I wonder how these figures stick together in any consistent coherent policy."

Cairo,08 22 2005
The Daily Star
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