The state-run Egyptian Radio & Television Union (ERTU) currently is studying tenders from international consortia for two of the most ambitious projects it has undertaken since it was established in 1960.

The bids are for Nilesat – the first orbiting bird to be wholly owned and operated by a single Arab country – and the first four soundstages for the giant Media Production City, under construction on a 500-acre tract of reclaimed desert southwest of the great pyramids of Giza.

Total estimated cost of the two projects is in excess of $200 million. Tender awards are expected to be announced this fall.

Nilesat is a go-it-alone project by Egypt, and its rationale is based in large measure on Egypt’s disagreeable experiences with the multinational Arabsat organization.

Egypt was a founding member of Arabsat, but was expelled from the outfit in the wake of much Arab world anger surrounding former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

In the late ’80s, after other members in Arabsat came around to the view that maybe Cairo’s peace treaty wasn’t such a bad idea after all, Egypt was reinstated and the Egyptian Space Channel (Arabic Service) now uses Arabsat for its Mideast broadcasts.

But not for much longer. Egypt’s earlier ostracism from Arabsat convinced ERTU that it needed its own bird, free from the vicissitudes of the internecine squabbles of Arab politics, over which it would have complete control.

Plans are for Nilesat to take to the skies in 1997, by which time Egypt hopes to have as many as four space stations in operation with an additional eight transponders on Nilesat available for rent to other Arab or Mideast satcasters.

Meanwhile, the Media Production City is getting off the ground and its permanent outdoor sets are in use for ERTU-produced soaps and serials. Six international consortia from Europe, the U.S. and Japan have pitched bids for the first four soundstages.

ERTU, which currently produces about 700 hours a year of filmed Arabic-lingo soaps, sitcoms and religious serials, will be at Mipcom on the buying and selling sides of the table.

Of particular buying interest this session are new soaps, according to Zeinab Ezzat of ERTU’s economic sector. “Soaps tend to be the most popular entertainment imports,” she says.

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