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Egypt on the road to establishing national space agency amidst controversy

The Nile Delta at night. Image courtesy of NASA.
The Nile Delta at night. Image courtesy of NASA.

The Egyptian government, under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has agreed upon draft legislation that will eventually create a national space agency for the belaboured country.

The announcement was made on 3 August 2016, and aims to harness space technologies for the purposes of economic development and for national security. According to Egyptian media reports, the draft legislation apparently mentions Cairo’s intentions to launch satellites from Egyptian territory.

More generally, an Egyptian national space agency will be given the responsibility of devising and implementing a national space policy and programme for the short, medium, and long-term within an as yet undisclosed state budget

The draft legislation has been in the works for a number of years, with its progress continuously delayed by continuing political and economic instability and uncertainty since the 2011 wave of popular protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, the election of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and then his ouster by President Sisi’s military regime.

CairoAnd now that the draft legislation for establishing a national space agency is finally underway, its timing could not be worse according to some critics. At a time when Cairo is seeking a U.S.$12 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, is being propped up financially by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and struggles to provide basic public services such as sanitation, many are questioning whether establishing a space agency is really in the Egyptian national interest at this point in time.

“We don’t know how to solve our garbage problem and we establish a space agency. Our state is a farce,” wrote one dissatisfied Egyptian citizen on the social media site Twitter.

Yet the draft legislation also comes at a time when Egypt is undertaking a number of significant satellite programmes with France and Russia. In April 2016 the Egyptian government signed a deal with French aerospace companies Airbus Defence & Space and Thales Alenia Space for a military communications satellite.

Then, in late July 2016, the Egyptian government signed a contract with Russian satellite manufacturer RSC Energia for the construction and launch of EgyptSat-A, a high-resolution remote sensing satellite that will replace EgyptSat-2 that failed in orbit in April 2015 only a year after it was launched.

Both contracts are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and are likely part of a military modernization drive that has been promoted by President Sisi to keep Egyptian military support for his leadership, as well as encouraged by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and bolstered by France and Russia.

Despite all this, there is still no date for the establishment of a national space agency, nor is there any indication as to the role of the Egyptian National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (NARSS).

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