There has not been such a sense of optimism in Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Last week’s Egypt Economic Development Conference at the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh saw billions of dollars in aid and investment promised by nations across the world.
The hall where the event took place was packed with top government and private sector leaders. It was certainly good news for the country. Above all, it signaled that the international community trusts the new course being charted by the Egyptian leadership to lift and stabilize the country’s economy.
The Gulf countries have always supported Egypt, well before this conference took place. In his speech, Crown Prince Muqrin, deputy premier, called on the world to properly analyze the realities on the ground in Egypt and the region. He pointed out that there is currently a great deal of misunderstanding about events taking place in the country, and that stability was the most critical requirement.
Western countries, he said, had finally realized that they had to take action to support Egypt. It either did this or risked having groups such as the Islamic State increasingly bring the conflict to their doorsteps, as it did in Syria and Iraq, which necessitated the formation of an international coalition to counter that threat.
Egypt is clearly important to the region and the world. In addition, the conference was a slap in the face for the Muslim Brotherhood that had tried to politicize the event by accusing the country’s leaders of putting the country up for sale.
Sitting next to me in the hall, a Western journalist remarked that the conference exceeded his expectations and would be a catalyst for Egypt’s economic transformation. Multinational companies, having made billions of dollars in pledges and deals, which are based on calculated risks, clearly indicate that they believe Egypt is politically stable enough for this to happen.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman have pledged more than $12.5 billion. The Kingdom and the UAE, as Egyptians are well aware, have previously given billions of dollars in support to prevent the economy from imploding. Payments into the Central Bank of Egypt rescued the Egyptian pound from losing all value.
However, many agree that Egypt needs to overhaul the way its administration functions, reduce bureaucracy and corruption, and introduce flexibility into its financial system. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi, to his credit, has recognized these shortcomings and set up a working group at the Ministry of Investment to deal with these issues.
The ambitious project to build a new capital city that would house the presidency, ministries and parliament would change the country’s economic and political landscape. However, it requires the Egyptian government to be nimble in its decision-making.
The project promises a great deal for the country, including thousands of permanent jobs, and a higher standard of living for many people. It is a citizen-centered approach, which if carried out, would virtually guarantee the country’s long-term prosperity.
The main goal of politicians everywhere must be to build a stable country for citizens, and not manipulate by using emotive religious and nationalistic discourse. Seeing many young people helping to organize the conference is a positive sign that Egyptians are ready to get down to business and avoid cheap politicking.
When historians look back at this period, Sharm El-Sheikh may very well be identified as a major milestone in the country’s move toward a bright and prosperous future. The road is long and winding, so the hard work for Egyptians begins now.
MOHAMMED FAHAD AL-HARTHI