Saudi Prince Talal on Toshka and Egyptian heritage

Saudi billionaire Prince Walid Bin Talal said he is not withdrawing his investments from the Toshka Project, but will examine two alternative courses of action: either inviting new investors from East Asia, or entering into a partnership with Egyptians.

The prince said he invested in Toshka upon President Mubarak’s suggestion ten years ago. The Toshka project is a land reclamation project in the Western Desert. It is not expected to be completed until at least 2017.

Speaking at a press conference at the American University in Cairo two days ago to mark his inauguration of the Walid Bin Talal building, Talal said he has invested LE600 million in the project so far. The first phase, involving soil and water research, has already been implemented, said Talal.

Talal thanked agriculture minister Amin Abaza for clarifying to the Egyptian people facts about his project following a meeting between the two around a week ago.

Talal said that investment in Toshka isn’t limited to agriculture but also includes related industries. He said that tomatos are grown to make ketchup, and that products from Toshka are exported to France, Italy, Austria and Spain.

"We’re also thinking about growing wheat seasonally," he added.

Talal, who owns the Arab media company Rotana, also spoke of his work with Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch. Talal clarified that Murdoch is Catholic and not Jewish, and assured that Egyptian artistic heritage is in "safe ‘Saudi’ hands."

The prince said that, as a Saudi, he cares for Egyptian cinema as much as Egyptians do.

"Even if [Murdoch] were a Jew, it would be better to try and find common ground with other religions. If we wish to develop our relationship with the US […] then we shouldn’t forget that it has Muslims, Christians and Jews," said Talal, who recommended that narrow-mindedness should be abandoned in favor of dialogue with the West. Murdoch owns 11 percent of Rotana.

The Saudi prince said the four channels of Rotana are broadcast from Egypt. His investments in the tourism sector are estimated at around LE11 billion and provide jobs for 24,000 Egyptian employees. Talal also has investments in the banking sector.

Talal said his objective is to serve Arab society and correct the false image Americans have of Muslims since the 9/11 attacks. He added that he would like to extend bridges of understanding between Muslims and the West through the research centers that he has established at the AUC and Islamic studies centers at the universities of Harvard and Georgetown in the US, and Cambridge in the UK.

During the inauguration ceremony, the prince urged for better understanding of the US. "We talk a lot about it without learning anything about the culture, traditions and lifestyle of its people," he said.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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