Egyptian workers wait for a shuttle bus at a construction site in New Cairo, Egypt, on April 18. The workers, with their Chinese colleagues, are building a 385-meter-tall skyscraper, part of New Cairo's upcoming central business district. (LIU XUAN / CHINA DAILY)
Last summer, 27-year-old Egyptian Fathy Shehata was desperate for a job. Having completed a work stint in Saudi Arabia, he was also recently married and his wife was pregnant.
As China's major construction and real estate conglomerate, as well as a leading building work contractor, CSCEC is at the forefront of China's international contracting business
Opportunity knocked when a friend introduced him to an entry-level carpenter position for the construction of a new central business district in New Cairo, nearly 50 kilometers east of the Egyptian capital.
Shehata has since been given extensive training and is now one of the longest serving local hires. Apart from earning enough to take care of his family, he has been promoted to foreman and manages 30 carpenters for the building project.
"I have learned many skills from my Chinese colleagues and gained a lot of experience. I want to start my own business and take on some construction projects myself," Shehata said in a makeshift office at the CBD construction site through an interpreter.
The project boasts a 385-meter-tall skyscraper that is expected to be a new landmark of Egypt as well as the tallest building in Africa. It is built by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, or CSCEC.
Covering about half a square kilometer, construction of the CBD began in May last year and is expected to be completed by March 2022, including 12 business complexes, five residential buildings and two hotels, according to CSCEC.
The project has a budget of about $3 billion, 85 percent of which is financed by Chinese banks, with the remaining amount covered by Egypt's Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities.
It is part of Egypt's blueprint for a new administrative capital between Cairo and Suez, with an area of 714 square km, to help ease chronic congestion experienced by more than 20 million residents of Cairo.
The new capital is also set to connect areas along the Suez Canal and Red Sea, boosting their development. Egyptian government agencies are scheduled to move to the new capital in the second half of this year.
The construction of the CBD has already benefited local residents like Shehata.
There are now about 3,900 people, including managers and employees, working for the project, 2,400 of whom are Egyptians, according to Zhou Jingfeng, deputy general manager of CSCEC Egypt.
The ratio of Chinese to local workers will gradually decrease to the government requirement of 2:8 or even 1:9, once the project goes through the early stages, he said.
The site, bustling with engineers and other employees from China and Egypt, is considered to be a milestone for win-win cooperation between the two countries.
As China's major construction and real estate conglomerate, as well as a leading building work contractor, CSCEC is at the forefront of China's international contracting business.
The Chinese construction company, known worldwide for undertaking super-high-rise, grand-scale, cutting-edge and novel projects, has amassed numerous landmark projects in China and around the world under its portfolio.
Besides training courses, the group's Egyptian employees also have experienced Chinese colleagues acting as their mentors to help them improve their professional skills and fill gaps in the local industry.
The training and other measures are making a difference. For example, it took about 38 hours to fill the base of the iconic tower with about 18,500 cubic meters of concrete, something that would have taken three whole days in the past, according to builders. The tower base covers about 3,600 square meters and the total area, after its 80 floors are completed, will make up 260,000 square meters, according to CSCEC figures.
"We teach them without any reservation," Zhou said. "It's not just for the projects. We also do it for the sake of the employees, as well as to boost the local economy."
To that effect, following joint efforts by CSCEC and local authorities, a new training center is under construction and set to begin operation this September. The center is designed to train up to 3,000 local employees with building knowledge and skills so that they qualify to work for the CBD project and help increase the local employment rate.
Working with local construction companies and sources for raw material and large equipment supplies to jointly build the new CBD also means the project is helping to provide thousands of job opportunities for the local economy and promote its development.
Li Guoqiang, who is responsible for quality and technology supervision at the on-site mixing plant, said cooperating with local groups certainly improves the production of higher-strength concrete.
"No market, no product," Li said. Since there had been no buildings with heights close to that of the iconic tower, local mixing plants did not get the chance to develop concrete of higher standard, he said.
Once the tower is completed, the local producers will be able to provide harder, better concrete and expand their market share, he said.
Ahmed Reeyd, 43, who has been working for the project since September and is now in charge of 22 drivers, said the job provides him with "good money to support the whole family". Reeyd has four children and his wife does not work.
Reeyd said he has learned a lot from his Chinese colleagues, especially their exemplary work attitude.
"They are hardworking people. Seven months ago, there was nothing here. But now, I can see more and more people, cars and buildings. It is amazing to attain such an achievement within a short time," he said. "This is something very good for my country."
Visiting the construction site in late February, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly described the project as "a miracle by all means".
The agreement to build a business district was initially signed during President Xi Jinping's state visit to Egypt in January 2016, as part of the two countries' bilateral cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.
The initiative, proposed by China in 2013, aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa on and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the mega-project "will be remembered by history", according to local media.
Ahmed El-Faramawy, financial manager of CSCEC Egypt, spoke highly of the construction of the new CBD and said the project is good for him and his country, and will certainly "change the image of Cairo and Egypt".
"Egypt has much more development potential. If Chinese companies can keep staying in Egypt, it will be better for the future of the country," said El-Faramawy, who has been working for the project for over a year and is currently responsible for tax and banking-related issues.
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