CAIRO: The Egyptian economy has proven to be resilient and investors have achieved profits and higher growth rates than the other markets they deal with, Minister of Industry Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour said at a panel discussion Wednesday, where he called for a national dialogue on the controversial use of coal.
Abdel Nour expressed optimism over the economy at the discussion organized by the Canada Egypt Business Council and the Egyptian Council for Sustainable Development.
“The interim government is able to rectify the economy and make the difficult decisions needed,” the minister said.
“The Suez Canal Development Project, mining projects and petrochemical industries in the country would constitute an economic breakthrough,” he added.
The government is amending the investment law to facilitate trade rather than adding more incentives, according to Abdel Nour.
The controversial use of coal to resolve the mounting energy crisis was tackled several times in the event.
Despite the opposition of Minister of Environment Laila Iskandar, the Cabinet decided to allow coal to be used as part of the energy system on April 2, in “full adherence to environmental standards,” and decided to increase penalties for those who violate regulations.
The lack of fuel is the main problem of the industry and leads to the rejections of major draft projects because of the significant energy supplies they require, Abdel Nour said.
“We find extreme opinions regarding everything, including turning to coal as a source of energy. As with other issues, we need a national dialogue on the use of coal,” Abdel Nour said.
Iskander said in March that using coal in factories is dangerous to the economy, tourism, and people’s health, MENA reported.
Coal would be mainly used in the fertilizer factories, saving 450 cubic feet of natural gas daily, which would be available for use in other outlets, according to Abdel Nour.
The use of coal as an alternative energy source is a solution to the energy crisis in Egypt, he said, adding that cement factories have operated to only 50 percent of their capacity during the recent years, head of the Suez Cement Company Omar Mehanna told Youm7 earlier in April.
“There is not better, faster, cheaper alternative energy source, and easy-to-control side effects other than coal,” Professor of Petroleum and Mining at Al-Azhar University Mohamed Reda told The Cairo Post early April.
The Cabinet’s decision to use coal is the best solution for the current crisis, Reda said. He added that all European countries are using coal as an energy source and are following precautions to protect and secure the environment.
Abdel Nour added that Egypt must diversify energy sources, including nuclear energy, noting that 96 percent of Egypt’s energy comes from oil products.
However, because Egypt’s energy crisis will only come to an end in 2017/2018 after the government’s natural gas projects are implemented; the energy crisis must be resolved immediately, Abdel Nour said.
A professor of renewable energy at the discussion said that the “talk on how expensive it is to embark on renewable energy sources is in the interest of other people because wind energy, for example, is cheaper than oil.” He called on a “revolutionary transition” to renewable energy in Egypt.
The minister responded saying that there are “immense efforts to use renewable energy through the energy mix plan,” adding that the price difference between renewable energy and fuel is subject to studies, but he asserted that “power will cost more if generated by renewable energy than its current subsidized pricing.”
In response to another suggestion, Abdel Nour said that biogas and solid waste are “complementary sources of energy” and cannot be main sources because they are not sufficient to fill the energy gap.
However, Egyptians Without Coal have previously suggested to The Cairo Post that waste-based energy can be widely used as a main energy source, pointing to the Netherlands as a country where many companies have become almost completely reliant on it.
The coordinator of the movement Ahmed Droubi had further contradicted the minister’s claims, stating that the entire world is currently moving away from using coal due to it being the most harmful fossil fuel for the environment and health.
Moreover, Abdel Nour and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab visited Helwan Iron and Steel Factory on Tuesday according to a Cabinet statement. Abdel Nour said at the discussion that this particular factory is “a mess,” but the government will embark upon developing it.
Generally, conditions in public sector companies are “not disastrous” and the government is planning to invest heavily in them, although bankers are hesitant towards funding certain sectors, such as textile companies, Abdel Nour said.
Further, in the absence of any participants speaking on behalf of workers, a number of attendees representing businessmen criticized labor rights at the “expense of business owners.”
“We have to admit to that the gaps between incomes in Egypt are unbearable and that they have to be reduced. Social justice is a principle that is close to our hearts, but there has been blackmail in its name since the January 25 Revolution, although social justice means much more than the minimum wage law and subsidization,” Abdel Nour said.
Egypt applied the minimum wage law of 1,200 EGP ($170) in January 2014, but has not been able to provide that figure to all workers in the country, which had led to major strikes in various vital industries earlier in the year.
At the end of the discussion, which was attended by several ambassadors from various countries, including Canada, Abdel Nour said that despite hardships, the balance of payments is on the right track and Egypt is regaining investors’ trust from various countries in different sectors including mining, which is a promising field in Egypt.