UAE-backed Wessal Capital begins work on portion of €530m Casablanca revamp

A UAE-backed investment fund has started work on a €530 million (Dh2.13 billion) project to revamp the Moroccan city of Casablanca as the country taps billions of euros of funding from Gulf states.

Wessal Capital, a vehicle comprising Abu Dhabi’s Aabar, Qatar Holding, the Kuwaiti Investment Authority’s Al Ajial fund and the Saudi Public Investment Fund alongside the Moroccan Fund for Tourism Development, said it had begun construction work on a plan to revamp the Old Medina area of the city.

The project, which will involve a €28m refurbishing of some of the most historic buildings in the ancient city as well as creating a 3.7-kilometre tourist pathway connecting the old medina with a new cruise ship terminal, is part of plans to redevelop the port area of the city.

The ambitious €530m development, which also involves the Wessal Casa-Port scheme, will eventually include a new marina, cruise ship terminal, hotels, science park, scientific library, housing, offices, shops and leisure space. Wessal said work on plans to redevelop the city’s port started on site last week, with completion for the entire project expected to take five years.

Wessal, which was set up in 2010 at the time of the Arab Spring via a memorandum of understanding, is also currently working on a Dh9 billion plan to build tourist infrastructure in the nearby city of Rabat.

The fund has raised a total of €2.5bn for investment into Moroccan tourism projects – making it the largest investment fund in Africa – with each of the oil-rich partners putting in around €500m.

It represents just one of the ways in which Arab states have increased the amount of cash they have poured into North Africa since the start of the Arab Spring, with Gulf nations spending billions on housing, roads, hotels and other projects in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia in an attempt to encourage stability across the region.

At a Sharm El Sheikh economic development conference this month, the governments of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE pledged a combined $12bn in funding to support economic growth in Egypt as Gulf and international companies announced billions of dollars of deals for investment across the country’s energy, property and transport sectors.

As well as the sovereign wealth fund shareholders, partners in Wessal Capital projects include the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

“Wessal Capital invests in projects which develop Morocco’s socio-economic environment and enhance the lives of residents, while attracting international business and tourists,” Wessal said in a statement yesterday.

“Projects are selected on the basis of their social and environmental responsibility and cultural relevance, as well as their potential financial return.”

It added that the project is anticipated to double employment in the Casablanca port area with 2,000 jobs already created and 6,000 more planned.

Separately, a large delegation of Moroccan public and private sector organisations will attend next week’s Annual Investment Meeting in Dubai aiming to attract “multibillion dollar investments” to the country, a statement from the government said yesterday.

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Lucy Barnard

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