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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 August 2018

Egypt's space ambitions come to the fore in 2017

The Noth African country also unveiled a new phone

Egypt scholars have long endured crazy theories that insist ancient wonders such as the pyramids were built by aliens, rather than the people of the land. Now, Egyptian scientists can take some comfort in the knowledge that Egyptians – the earthling kind that is – are destined for space themselves.

In December, lawmakers in Cairo passed a bill to establish the country's first space agency. The immediate goal will be to launch a satellite for research purposes, but eventually work towards a fully-operational pan-African space station.

A space center will be constructed near Cairo to act as an incubator for the skills and technology development needed for the project. In the meantime, the new agency will also work closely with foreign scientists, including Japanese and Chinese specialists in the field.

A space agency is perhaps a symbolic leap for a country that wants to gain traction in a world dominated by science and technology. To this end Egypt finished off 2017 with the launch of an indigenous smartphone developed with Chinese help, the Nile X.

The country's Ministry of Communication and Information Technology says mobile subscriptions are running at 99 million, but less than a third of those are for smartphones. Starting from as little as 200 Egyptian pounds the Nile X range developed by local firm SICO is likely to grow smartphone ownership exponentially.

Egypt has also signed off on a US$653 million loan from the International Finance Corporation to build the largest solar power park in the world. The plant will be sited near Aswan and have up to 13 individual solar plants pumping out 752 megawatts of electricity – enough for 350 000 homes.  

More controversially, Egypt is also going ahead with New Administrative Capital project in East Cairo. Expected to cost around Us$45 billion over the next five years, the new city will contain luxury hotels, upscale residential districts, as well as a modern airport and government buildings.

Critics argue the project is too costly but supporters contend this will be a truly autonomous 'smart city' designed to meet modern standards, and draw skilled people to the region's economy.

It will be 20 minutes away from Cairo and a little further from the Suez Canal Economic Zone. Construction of an airport has already been completed, that will eventually connect with 10 main cities via an electric rail network.

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