CAIRO: Egypt's powerful military chief launched a $40 billion housing initiative Sunday to build a million homes in cooperation with a major Emirati construction firm, the first campaign-style move by Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is widely expected to run for president.
El-Sissi hasn't made an official announcement yet, but has strongly indicated he would run. The elections expected in April are the first since the military ousted elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July following mass protests against him.
The housing initiative was announced Sunday on the official Facebook page of Egypt's military spokesman. It said the million homes are dedicated to "Egypt's youth" and are a first step to solve the country's housing problem.
In a signing ceremony later aired on Egyptian television, the head of the military's Corps of Engineers, Maj. Gen. Taher Abdullah Taha, said the initiative is one of the most important projects to solve the housing problems in Egypt and underlines the close cooperation and friendship between Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
"It is a major project that strengthens brotherly relations and friendship" between the two countries, Taha told a gathering of military generals, the chairman of Arabtec, the Emirati firm, and housing experts. "This new cooperation is an addition to a flood of giving from the brotherly United Arab Emirates aimed at helping alleviate the suffering of the Egyptian people."
Senior generals close to el-Sissi and government officials have told The Associated Press he has secured a large aid package from wealthy Gulf Arab nations and allies - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait - that would help keep the nation's troubled economy afloat, thus maintaining his popularity while pushing on with painful economic reform, like lifting or restructuring the massive fuel and bread subsidies that account for nearly half of all government spending.
So far, those Gulf countries have poured $12 billion into Egypt in emergency packages since Morsi's ouster.
At Sunday's ceremony, a military official told the gathering the UAE promised Egypt three months' worth of oil products, a move clearly aimed at easing the country's energy crunch.
Hasan Abdulla Ismaik, Arabtec's chairman, said the el-Sissi has designated for free 13 different locations for the new project, targeting middle-income Egyptians. Arabtec in a statement said the project is valued at $40 billion and will be funded in the most part by a number of Egyptian and foreign banks. They plan for it to be developed over five years.
"We believe the Egyptian economy is poised for a significant rebound, particularly with the current government policies geared toward encouraging investment in the property development sector," Ismaik said in a statement.
Pictures posted on the military spokesman's Facebook page showed el-Sissi meeting with Ismaik, reviewing the project portfolio.
Since Egypt's 2011 revolt, the powerful armed forces increasingly have taken on major infrastructure projects- an expansion of a role they have long played and which has helped them gain popularity.