Finding the way out
A group of business leaders are getting together to find ways of improving the country's economic conditions, Ahmed Kotb reports
An initiative to help forge effective solutions for Egypt's economic difficulties was launched Saturday with the participation of many Egyptian figures from various fields.
The forum, called "Ahl Masr", or the people of Egypt, aims to provide decision-makers, political parties and non-governmental organisations with a package of ideas, mechanisms and proposals for improving various vital sectors of the economy, including tourism, agriculture and employment.
"Our goal is to deliver durable and practical solutions for the most important challenges that hinder Egypt's growth," said Amr Khaled, chairman of the board of trustees of the forum. He highlighted employment, tourism and agriculture as the main fields that the forum will focus on.
Co-founder of the forum, Ahmed El-Sweidy, chief executive officer of El-Sweidy Electric Company, said that unrest in 2011 caused a loss of some 400,000 jobs.
"Many investors pulled out of the Egyptian market after the revolution amid the absence of proper security and economic uncertainties," he said, adding that the last five years prior to the revolution were strong in terms of employment figures.
"We should now strive to create a better investment environment for investors and sustain current investments," El-Sweidy said.
El-Sweidy added that the important role of the private sector as Egypt's main employer, should be recognised. Some 17 million people work in the private sector compared to only six million in the government sector. "The private sector is essential for Egypt's economic growth," he said.
Hossam Arafat, head of the Chamber of Tourism Companies, spoke about the importance of tourism as a main source of foreign currency and a pillar of Egypt's economy.
"The fastest way to help Egypt's growth is through tourism," he noted, adding that security and stability are essential for that to happen. "Every mass protest in Tahrir Square costs the tourism sector about LE1 billion. Tourists leave out of fear, and many countries impose a ban on travel to Egypt and cancel reservations until the streets restore their calm."
Arafat stressed that Egypt, with its prominent and unique tourist attractions, can easily attract 40 million tourists per year without any need for additional government or private investment. The highest number of tourists visiting Egypt -- at about 14 million -- was recorded in 2010.
Arafat mentioned that there are three million employees in the tourism sector, representing 13 per cent of total employment in Egypt. About 50 per cent of the tourism sector's employees were laid off since the 25 January Revolution erupted last year, according to Arafat.
He also mentioned that the forum has some suggestions that can help boost tourism. These include the development of some governorates that host tourist attractions, facilitating entrance to Egypt, reconsidering duties and tax burdens imposed on the tourism sector, and -- most important of all -- restoring robust security to Egypt's streets.
For the agriculture sector, Samir El-Naggar, head of the Agricultural Businessmen Association, said the problem lies in the fact that Egypt only exploits six per cent of its total land space.
"The agricultural area should be doubled in a few years, and it is not so difficult to achieve with all the capabilities that Egypt possesses," he said. El-Naggar added that Egypt has some of the best-equipped farms in the world.
"We will try through this forum to find ways to help the agriculture sector to overcome its difficulties without bringing additional financial burdens on the government," El-Naggar stated.