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Sisi tells conference Egyptian stability is vital for region

Egypt's leader unveiled ambitious economic targets during his speech at the Sharm El Sheikh summit, report Sean Cronin and Mahmoud Kassem.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi is pictured speaking at the Egypt Economic Development Conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh on March 13, 2015. Egyptian Presidency/Handout/AFP Photo
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi is pictured speaking at the Egypt Economic Development Conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh on March 13, 2015. Egyptian Presidency/Handout/AFP Photo

SHARM EL SHEIKH // Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi on Friday pledged a raft of reforms to boost economic growth and help drive down unemployment that will spearhead efforts to draw billions of dollars of international investment to the North African country.

He was addressing an audience of global business leaders, diplomats and investors attending the keenly awaited Egypt the Future conference, which started on Friday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh.

“Egypt’s population represents a quarter of the population of the Middle East and the country’s stability is important for stability in the region, “ Mr El Sisi said.

He stressed Egypt was a country “which renounces violence, terrorism, and extremism; a country which supports regional peace and security, protects and does not attack, accepts and respects other points of view”.

Egypt’s leader unveiled ambitious targets, forecasting that economic growth would exceed 6 per cent annually in the next five years and that unemployment would be reduced to less than 10 per cent.

To achieve that plan, the government will focus on slashing the budget deficit, collecting taxes, and removing bureaucratic obstacles to foreign investment, he said.

The Egyptian economy grew by about 2.2 per cent last year according to the International Monetary Fund.

Several major infrastructure projects and other spending commitments are expected to be announced over the weekend as the country targets as much as US$60 billion (Dh220.4bn) in foreign investment over the next four years. That investment is needed to help kick start economic growth back to the levels achieved in the years before the political protests that led to the removal of president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Arabian Gulf countries have been among the first to give aid and invest in Egypt but the country also wants to attract Western multinationals that bring technological know how as well as cash.

Four years on from the start of the Arab Spring, Egypt’s economy remains beset with urgent challenges that include chronic unemployment, stifling bureaucracy and double digit inflation. More than 15 per cent of the population is out of work, it can take months to set up a company and consumer prices have been rising by more than 10 per cent annually.

A highly visible police and army presence around the resort underscored the security concerns of organisers following bombings in both the capital and on the Sinai peninsula.

The conference, unprecedented in its scale for Egypt, is aimed at assuring potential investors that the rewards of investing in the country will outweigh the risks.

A key challenge will be assuring investors that repatriating funds out of the country will be unhindered amid a desire to attract and retain hard currency within the economy.

While the central bank of Egypt has in recent months moved to reduce the gap between the official US dollar exchange rate and the black market one, many companies here still complain of an inability to source foreign currency to buy essential raw materials and equipment.

scronin@thenational.ae

mkassem@thenational.ae

Updated: March 13, 2015 04:00 AM

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