An army for war and peace

01-03-2014 11:02 AM

Injy Samy

Residents of Heliopolis, especially, feel the difference. The eastern Cairo upper-middle-class suburb has been suffering from crushing traffic congestion that escalated to gridlock level

throughout the last years. Any trip or errand through the district practically became a veritable piece of hell. Yet recent projects that seemed to have miraculously cropped up overnight have alleviated the problem to a point undreamt-of by eastern Cairenes. Roads have been widened, squares and roundabouts upgraded, overpasses erected, and new exits and entries added. The result has been stunning; life became instantaneously easier.
The secret saviour? The Egyptian Armed Forces.    
Making life easier
The recent opening of a plethora of projects by the Engineering Authority of the Ministry of Defence has taken Egyptians by pleasant surprise. These projects aim at providing services for the people and include some 473 projects executed during the period from August 2012 till now. And they don’t only serve east Cairo; Giza on the west is being given a new set of periphery roads, highways and bridges to the tune of several billion Egyptian Pounds which come mainly from the military budget.
Under-privileged areas such as the villages of Kerdassa, Barageel, and Bashteel in Giza will be getting bakeries, sports centres, and youth community centres. Fayoum, some 100km southwest of Cairo will be getting a new 16,000-unit housing project, Suez will get bakeries, and South Sinai bridges and medical centres.
Yet this is not the first time the Egyptian army has provided the community with much-needed services or products. The story goes back to the 1950s and 1960s when Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel-Nasser worked to expand and strengthen Egypt’s army to make it a regional force to be reckoned with. For that purpose he embarked on ambitious projects of not only procuring arms but also of setting up an impressive military production base in Egypt. Some 28 military factories were established to focus on engineering, metal, chemical and electronic industries. 
Products and services
During wartime the military factories focused on military production, but during prolonged periods of peace it was decided that that huge industrial base should channel its capacities to produce goods for the community. And so it was that these plants supplied Egyptians with top-notch products that included among others diesel engines, workshop tools, plastics, household appliances, aerosols, pesticides, poultry and dairy products, agri-products, oils, food preserves, radio and TV sets, computers and various electronics. 
With its huge resources and capacity on hand, the military also diversified into the field of expert services, providing facilities for transportation, security and guard services, garage and parking, container rent, environmental services, tourism and hotel management, as well as many others. It also went into the fields of contracting, road building, mineralogical activity, and marine services. 
The army also offers medical services of legendary quality, even though these services are mainly offered to their personnel and may serve civilians only under special conditions.
Is it any surprise then that Egyptians feel their army is an integral part of their daily lives, not merely a remote body whose presence can only be felt during wartime?  
WATANI International
26 February 2014
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