A property firm owned by a Saudi businessman from the bin Laden family plans to spearhead a $200 billion project next year to connect Africa to the Arabian Peninsula with a bridge across the Red Sea, the region's largest infrastructure project by far.
Dubai-based Middle East Development, in which Osama bin Laden's half brother Tarek owns a majority stake, will begin work in 2009 on the project to build two cities in Djibouti and Yemen and a 28.5-kilometre bridge, a company official said.
"The bin Laden family is originally from Yemen... they want to fight poverty, unemployment and connect the Gulf Arab region with Muslim Africa," Issam Halabi, vice president for technical affairs, told reporters on the sidelines of a Meed conference in Dubai on Monday.
The group will invest at least $10 billion in the project and seek to raise the remainder from other investors and financial institutions.
The bridge, to be the development's centrepiece, will carry vehicles, trains, natural gas and water, Halabi said.
The bridge aims to provide a safe route between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa region as the waterway between them is highly dangerous due to Somali pirates.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since the 1991 toppling of a military dictator, allowing anarchy and violence to flourish.
Denmark's Cowi, the consultant on the world's longest, planned causeway linking Qatar with Bahrain, is advising on the bridge.
The bridge will cost $14 billion, with construction of the entire scheme completed in phases over seven to 15 years, Halabi said.
"We will have seed capital of at least $10 billion... and $190 billion in project finance," Halabi said, adding that private investors would also participate, primarily through build-operate-transfer contracts.
The project has attracted interest from companies including US firms Bechtel and Hewlett-Packard, Sweden's Ericsson and Veolia Environnement of France, according to Halabi.
The company aims to house as many as five million people in Yemen and 1.5 million in Djibouti under the project.
The "Noor" cities will include residential, commercial, healthcare and entertainment areas, Halabi said, and would create about one million jobs.
Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries, has faced unrest over unemployment and rising prices in the south and renewed fighting between government forces and Shi'ite Muslim rebels in the north.
Middle East Development Singapore is a unit of Middle East Development.
The firm has projects in Syria, Dubai and Yemen, according to its website. (Reuters)For all the latest construction news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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