Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor/Egypt revs-up to race in the fast lane


Egypt revs-up to race in the fast lane
Sunday, 22 March 2015 /Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor /Al Arabiya

As someone who is seriously looking at investment possibilities in Egypt, I took a close interest in the country’s three-day-long Economic Development Conference, recently held in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. Such events tend to be dull, dry, and flavourless, but this one was anything but on so many different levels. In fact, it kept me riveted to the edge of my seat.
“With 22 heads of state and 3,500 delegates, it’s the largest summit of CEOs and world leaders I’ve ever seen, said the summit’s organizer, Richard Attias, whose company has organized tens of major conferences worldwide. I’ve never come across anything like it before, either; it was more results-oriented than most United Nations or G8 summits, which are all-talk and little action – and vastly more good-natured.

Permeated with positivity, often from unexpected quarters, and punctuated with genuine emotion, standing ovations and hearty laughter, it was a phenomenal triumph, resulting in US$ 32.6 billion contracts signed, US$ 90 billion in MOUs as well as US$ 12.5 billion in grants and investments from Gulf States.

I’m so proud that our leaders have once again joined hands to support the Arab World’s backbone, Egypt, now under the leadership of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi – a true Arab patriot who has not only gained the respect of his people during some of the most challenging times the nation has ever endured, but also their love. The young ushers, he invited to join him on stage at the start of his inspirational closing speech, could hardly contain their exuberance at being up-close and personal with their hero, a spontaneous and somewhat boisterous display of affection for the president, delighting all in attendance.

Just as iconic was an emotive address delivered by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, who was so overflowing with happiness and gratitude, particularly towards the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman, that he fought back tears throughout and was later mobbed with hugs from his own cabinet ministers. Both he and President El-Sisi expressed their gratitude to the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for coming-up with the idea of a summit in the first place.

Another factor that made the conference exceptional in our part of the world was that there was no attempt on the part of the organisers to kowtow to western powers. Indeed, the order of speakers exemplified the Egyptian government’s independent outlook with priority given to heads of state and representatives of countries that Cairo considers to be true friends and partners in the Middle East and Africa.

And nobody was left in any doubt as to the strength of not only their economic support but also their political backing, beginning with Saudi’s Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, who called upon the world to recognise Egypt’s historical and cultural importance, while urging the international community to abandon its double standards vis-à-vis the Egyptian government.
Likewise, the speech of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, emphasised the ironclad relationship between the Emirates and Egypt. “Egypt is the home of peace, the heart of Arabism,” adding that the UAE’s stand with Egypt “is simply out of our affection towards the people of Egypt…Our stand is not a favour to anyone but a duty in its own right and not for a quick return, it is an investment in the future of our nation. What we are doing in Egypt today is an investment towards stability of the region that we shall see in the near future, God willing.”

Kuwait’s Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah praised Egypt’s new economic reforms and investment legislation as being positive. Passed just one day before the start of the conference on the President’s executive authority, the overhauled investment laws cut burdensome red tape, grants rights to non-Egyptians to own land and buildings, allows for foreign labour, offers taxation incentives – and most of all provides security to foreign investors. The cutting of fuel subsidies and increased taxation was applauded by the IMF and galvanised ratings agencies to upgrade their outlooks for Egypt to stable.

Firm eye on the future
Following years of upheaval, Egypt is not only open for business the government has its eye firmly on the future. Its new Suez Canal project and associated industrial zones furthers ambitions to turn the waterway into a major logistical, commercial and industrial hub between Europe and the Arab region attracting revenues anticipated to make-up a third of the economy.
“A strong, stable and secure Egypt capable of reassuming its traditional leadership role in partnership with GCC States will quicken the pulse of the entire Arab world”
Even more ambitious is a mega project unveiled at the conference – a new administrative and financial capital city, approximately the size of Singapore, to be sited 45 kilometres east of Cairo on over 7,000 square kilometres, with the first phase slated to emerge from the desert sands within five-seven years. It will have an airport bigger than London’s Heathrow and a theme park four times larger than Disneyland.

Also on offer to investors are various projects in the fields of oil, gas, petrochemical and mineral wealth. There are great opportunities in the IT and telecommunications sectors. Moreover, the Tourism Ministry has announced projects, including hotels and entertainment venues, in areas on the Red Sea. Tourism is expected to be boosted with Chinese, Russian and Algerian tourists; around 1.5 million Algerians are expected to visit Egypt annually beginning this year.

With growth expected to reach or surpass 4 per cent by the end of the fiscal year ending in June, a bourse recording record highs and a stable currency, kudos must to the government. But I would also salute our GCC heads of state, notably the UAE’s President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, the Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad as well as Oman’s Sultan Qaboos. I am proud of you for standing strongly with Egypt and President El-Sisi and for energising the GCC’s investment and business communities in Egypt’s direction.

Egypt’s Economic Development Conference is now scheduled to be an annual event. I can’t wait to see the country’s progress and what the government has in store for investors this time next year!
A strong, stable and secure Egypt capable of reassuming its traditional leadership role in partnership with GCC States will quicken the pulse of the entire Arab world, whose heart has been in intensive care for many years. Now, at last, there is real hope that we can come together to overcome those who threaten us. Welcome back, Egypt! You’ve been truly missed.