Egypt aims to fix its ailing economy and prove an attractive destination for foreign investment despite political turmoil in the region, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Thursday.
In a speech at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr. Sisi said his government was intent on removing obstacles to private-sector development and resolving disputes between investors and the Cairo government. He gave no details on the nature of those disputes.
Creating an economic environment conducive to investment could help the country achieve growth rates of 7% and reduce unemployment to 10% by 2020, the Egyptian leader said.
The International Monetary Fund estimates Egypt’s economy will grow by 3.5% this year.
Speaking just three days before the fourth anniversary of the uprising that toppled longtime President Hosni Mubarak from power, Mr. Sisi noted Thursday that his government plans to host a foreign-investment conference in Egypt in March. At the gathering, he said, “Egypt should reiterate its commitment to open up to the world and to contribute to finding solutions to the shared challenges we all face.”
As head of the army, Mr. Sisi led the 2013 revolt that overthrew Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president. Last year, his government passed a law punishing all unauthorized demonstrations with as much as five years in prison and large fines.
Mr. Sisi, who won election as president last summer against little opposition, has ardently defended his government’s crackdown on political opponents by pointing in part to the need for stability to institute the economic reforms necessary to meet the basic needs of the country’s 90 million people.
Critics say the political environment has contracted severely under his rule. Thousands of his Islamist opponents have been imprisoned and sentenced to death in mass trials that domestic and international rights groups have decried as lacking due process while even secular critics of the regime have been given harsh prison terms for protesting his policies.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Ashraf Salman, Egypt’s minister of investment, said the political climate has been “seen as an impediment to investors…but everybody should think about it from the perspective of the current regime.”
Mr. Salman said Mr. Sisi “doesn’t want to interfere, he really wants institutional independence” in response to questions over several recent court decision that sparked controversy. One of those came on Thursday when an Egyptian court ordered Mr. Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, to be released, pending a retrial on corruption charges.
Mr. Salman characterized Egypt’s “path to democracy” as being on a “learning curve” with fixing the economy at the head of the list of priorities.
“What are the priorities here? Feeding, or medication or education or the right to your opinion?” he said. “This a typical example of a learning curve. People will learn how all these rights will be mutually needed…stability is gained in Egypt step by step.”
At observances on Tuesday in Cairo marking National Police Day, Mr. Sisi expressed similar thoughts, indicating that human rights and freedom of expression were secondary to stability and development.
“Ninety million want to eat, drink, live and be reassured for their future,” he told a room filled with police officers and public figures. “I am not saying protests are rejected, never. But I am saying that we gave the issue of the protest such a space…But those 90 million want to eat.”
In March and April, Egypt is scheduled to hold the parliamentary elections for the first time since a new constitution was adopted last year.
Source: The Wall Street Journal