Al-Masry Al-Youm has obtained a copy of a document confirming that the Egyptian government sold Saudi prince and billionaire Al-Walid bin Talal more acres in the Toshka land-reclamation project for agricultural investment projects than what had been officially announced. According to the document, bin Talal received an additional 128,000 acres as a "buffer zone"--ostensibly meant to protect the land initially allocated to him--bringing the total amount of land granted to the Saudi prince to 228,480 acres.
A number of commentators criticized the government for handing out such vast tracts of land without ensuring the rights of the state in the clauses of the contract.
"The government should have the upper hand in all contracts that allocate land for investment," said law
professor Georgi Sari. "In this contract, the government is the weaker party." "According to the way this contract was drawn up, one could say the land was sold--not allocated--on a usufruct basis," Sari added, comparing it to the contract with which the United States bought Alaska from Russia in the late nineteenth century. "The Egyptian Constitution, however, prohibits the sale of all state lands."
According to the terms of the contract, bin Talal paid only LE50--less than US$10--per acre. He also received discounted rates for water and electricity, in addition to tax exemptions and the right to own the land after completing payment.
Several members of parliament, for their part, accused the government of squandering public funds by granting bin Talal so many privileges. Independent MP Mustafa Bakri requested an explanation for the low sale price, noting that per-acre land prices in Toshka stood closer to LE20,000.
"Talal has so far developed only 800 acres of the land he purchased," said Bakri, who intends to submit an interpellation to the government on the matter.
Al-Wafd MP Salah Sayegh said that bin Talal would probably resell half the land later--without developing it--at a higher price. Sayegh went on to urge the government to withdraw all lands allocated to the Saudi investor.