Egypt The Future: Nation’s ‘big moment’ to show risk is under control

The Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi will on Friday set out his plan to attract US$60 billion in foreign investment to the country four years on from the start of the Arab Spring.

But he will first need to convince his audience that risk – political, economic and currency-related – is under control.

The Egypt the Future Conference, which starts on Friday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, is the country’s opportunity to deliver those assurances. It takes place against a backdrop of double-digit inflation, stifling bureaucracy and chronic youth unemployment.

“This is Egypt’s debutante ball,” said Jean-Paul Pigat, an economist at Emirates NBD. “After four years of economic stagnation, this is their big moment to come back to the world stage and show investors they are trying to do the right things.”

Global business leaders from corporations such as GE, Siemens and BP are due to attend the event. Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the IMF is also due to speak.

Delegates arrived on Thursday amid tight security and a heavy police presence throughout the resort, following a wave of recent bombings in the restive Sinai peninsula.

One of the largest contingents will be from the UAE, which has already delivered billions of dollars in aid to the country.

The Abu Dhabi conglomerate Senaat, the property developer Emaar, the retailer Majid Al Futtaim and the private equity house Abraaj are expected to emerge as key players among some of the projects being promoted at the event.

“There is support from the UAE government,” Hussain Al Nowais, the chairman of Senaat, said of Emirati participation at the conference.

“The UAE and Egypt have a strategic relationship – our leadership is committed to Egypt. So many projects are going on, on the government and private sides,” said Mr Al Nowais.

An 18-page pamphlet released by UAE authorities in the run-up to the conference describes Abu Dhabi’s deep involvement in engineering Egypt’s economic recovery.

In addition to direct financial aid, the UAE is “garnering economic and political support for Egypt” and providing technical assistance in designing its economic programme, partly by hiring expert consultants from around the world.

Egypt is seeking to attract a fresh wave of foreign direct investment as it weans itself off the $20bn it has received from the governments of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait through central bank deposits, cash grants and project aid, according to World Bank estimates.

Officials in the Arabian Gulf and Cairo say they want to move economic assistance into a new phase, in which corporate capital from the Gulf helps to revive economic growth and create jobs.

The North African country’s cabinet this month approved a much-anticipated draft investment law aimed at slashing red tape and convincing would-be investors that now is the right time to invest in Egypt. More reforms are expected to be announced this weekend to drive the message home.

“We will be there not only to promote Egypt but also to promote ourselves,” said Osama Bishai, the chief executive of the Egyptian contractor Orascom Construction. “We will be there as a contractor and an investor.”

To get to the venue of the conference nestled on the shimmering shores of the Red Sea, delegates will pass through a city in lockdown, where policemen stand behind steel barriers and roadblocks are set up around every important intersection.

This risk is everywhere to be seen. This weekend will be all about the opportunity.

* With Reuters

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