Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Open for business

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is promoting Egypt as an attractive hub for foreign investment, writes Dina Ezzat

Al-Ahram Weekly

Tomorrow in Switzerland, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi will address the World Economic Forum, an international group of political and business leaders, in Davos. The message the president will convey is that Egypt is getting back on its feet and is open for business.

“What the president will be saying is that Egypt has moved beyond the hard times and has re-established itself as a key regional player and an attractive hub for entrepreneurs,” says a presidential source. He added that in the “many meetings he will be having” the president will promote “investment opportunities, with special attention paid to the Suez Canal area.”

The president will also “reiterate the commitment of the state to encouraging and protecting Egyptian and foreign investments, and will offer details of a new investment law that will be unveiled either ahead of, or during, the international investment conference that we are working to host in mid-March.”

According to official sources, energy, tourism and construction top the list of sectors hoping to attract new investment.

“We of course are looking for a wide range of investments but our immediate priorities are energy and tourism,” said a source at the office of the prime minister.

Al-Sisi was expected to fly to Davos on Wednesday, as Al-Ahram Weekly went to press. Today he is scheduled to meet with international leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Before leaving for Davos, Al-Sisi is expected to issue an amnesty for activists convicted under Egypt’s controversial protest law. Security and political sources say just under 100 detainees are involved.

“It is a good step for President Al-Sisi to use his presidential prerogative to release some of the young men and women detained. We are keen to see an atmosphere of political stability in Egypt,” said one European ambassador in Cairo. “Of course, we don’t intervene in internal political affairs and we are aware that Egypt is going through a war on terror, but we believe that freedom of expression is a key issue.”

Said another European ambassador, “We know the presidency of Al-Sisi is stable and we are not expecting the masses to go out and demand his ouster, but we do not feel confident telling our investors that Egypt is unlikely to go through any further political turmoil during the next three years.

“Al-Sisi has the support of a majority of Egyptians but we are worried about the lack of political participation and reports of human rights violations.”

Last week the European Parliament adopted a resolution deploring the deterioration of human rights and freedom of expression in Egypt. Egyptian officials responded by claiming the resolution was unfair and failed to take into account the security challenges facing Egypt. The European Union ambassador in Egypt said that the position taken by the European Parliament would not influence EU cooperation with Egypt.

A senior Egyptian diplomat says the amnesty the president plans to grant will help shore up rights and freedoms in Egypt. “We are hopeful that this is a beginning and that we will see others being released,” he said.

According to one government source, a second group of detainees is likely to be released ahead of the economic conference, which Egypt will host in March.

A great deal is riding on the success of the economic conference. Both the government and the president hope to secure investments that will help address Egypt’s acute energy problem, and tackle unemployment.

Energy and employment were key issues on Al-Sisi’s agenda while visiting the UAE earlier this week. Addressing an international energy conference in Abu Dhabi, Al-Sisi promoted Egypt as a site for lucrative energy investments and said the country could become a regional hub for generating clean energy.

In Abu Dhabi he held talks with UAE officials and business leaders, the aim of which was to attract enough investment to generate 200,000 new job opportunities over a one-year period.

A member of the president’s delegation says that the results of the trip — an increase in UAE investments in Egypt — will be announced during the March economic conference.

During a quick stopover in Riyadh — to “check on the health of the Saudi Monarch”, according to an official statement — Al-Sisi was met by Saudi Crown Prince Mottei, who promised keen Saudi participation in the March conference in. Earlier this year Al-Sisi received similar assurances while visiting Kuwait.

“The president is working to move Egypt beyond the stage of economic and energy assistance and towards generating foreign direct investments,” says the presidential source.

In statements to the leading UAE daily Al-Ittihad, Al-Sisi said the message he is trying to convey to the world ahead of the March economic conference is that foreign, and especially Arab, investors should feel confident about doing business in Egypt. Acknowledging the unease some businessmen feel about investing in Egypt, Al-Sisi promised to overhaul investment regulations.

In other press statements during his UAE visit, Al-Sisi said that in addition to promoting the economic conference, he is also “explaining to the world developments in the new Egypt so no one isolates the country or denies it its fair share of investment.”

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly — the full text will be printed next week — former foreign minister Nabil Fahmi said that Egypt has a real opportunity to position itself as an attractive hub for investment and as a key regional player in terms of political management and conflict resolution.

Fahmi acknowledged the “direct link between domestic and foreign” affairs. “During the last year and half Egypt has successfully highlighted the challenges and threats of extremism it is facing and underlined that these threats have no borders and can affect all our societies,” he said. “I also believe that developments in the Middle East have reflected the importance of Egypt’s regional role.”

That role, he explained, includes not just facing up to extremism but also providing, with the help of other regional and international players, answers to ongoing political conflicts, including in Palestine, post-Arab Spring Libya and Yemen, and in Syria.

Egyptian diplomats say Cairo is hard at work building bridges with key political players in Syria and Libya. They add that wider Arab consultations are underway in preparation for an Arab Summit that Egypt will host after March’s economic conference.

Meanwhile, Egypt is preparing for parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place between the economic conference and the Arab Summit. The election of a legislative body is the last phase of the three-stage road map announced by Al-Sisi, then the minister of defence, on 3 July 2013, following the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi.

Parliamentary elections were initially planned to be held ahead of presidential elections. The sequence was amended by interim president — now chair of the Higher Constitutional Court — Adli Mansour.

Cairo-based Western diplomats say they view the parliamentary vote as a crucial step to secure “some of the basics of a democracy that Egypt said it wanted after the 25 January Revolution.”

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