Despite upheaval, Egyptian economy continues to grow

Last week the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt (AmCham) and the Egypt-US Business Council (EUSBC) lead the first joint economic mission to the United States. Our message to U.S. policy-makers and business leaders and investors is that despite the upheaval of the past three years in Egypt, our economy is strong and ready to grow.

We carry a message of hope for a better future and the private sector’s strong commitment to supporting Egypt’s economic transition.  Our delegation seeks the support of Egypt’s long-time friends in the U.S. and their patience as we navigate the coming years. We believe the United States can make a major contribution to the democratic development and economic prosperity of Egypt.

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You get no arguments from us that Egypt’s transition to democracy has been an experiment fraught with difficulties and disappointment for the past three years. But history teaches us all that transitions from authoritarian rule to democracy are a messy and imperfect process requiring patience and time.

Egypt’s transition is further complicated by ongoing terrorist attacks against internal security and political targets, generally being carried out by groups desiring instability. Egypt must confront these attacks, while simultaneously charting its course to establish a democratic state.

Last month we completed an important first step in our transition with the successful vote on a new constitution. Soon Egypt will embark on elections for the presidency and a new parliament to follow.

Achieving security and political stability is a priority that will take time, and it is up to Egyptians, and Egyptians alone, to navigate a path toward a democracy that works for them. Democracy is more than just an election or two – it requires strong institutions, rule-of-law, political stability and, of equal importance, a strong economy.

Strengthening Egypt’s economy is where we would hope the United States policy toward Egypt could be primarily focused. Policy-makers and analysts are understandably absorbed with America’s longstanding military relationship with Egypt to achieve joint objectives with respect to security. However, in the current situation, attention and resources should also be brought to bear on Egypt’s critical asset – its people. Egyptians are a diverse population with a desire to work and given opportunity, have the potential to build a productive and strong economy.

History consistently demonstrates that economic investment and job creation are critical for fostering stability and security. Despite three years of instability and insecurity, Egyptians are committed to work, to create opportunity and to build a lasting economic future for their families. We must stand by them.

Those of us who work in the private sector know that foreign investment opportunities in Egypt offer vast reward potential and the Egyptian workforce is ready, willing and able.

During the past three years, Egypt’s private sector and US companies operating in Egypt have continued to make profits, create jobs and grow. Recent evidence includes the Fitch Ratings Agency’s upgraded economic outlook and the Egyptian Stock Market’s 45 percent rise.

American business success stories in Egypt abound. For example, Coca Cola’s Egypt-based operation now exports to 38 countries and Procter & Gamble is building the third largest Pampers Diapers plant in the world, designed to export 60 percent of its production.

With Egypt’s strategic location near markets in Asia, Africa and Europe, significant resources, growing youth population, and local market of 90 million consumers, businesses in Egypt are confident in the country's future and are moving forward; many are re-investing and trade is growing.

All stakeholders in Egypt have jobs to do moving forward, including foreign investors and Egyptian entrepreneurs. We urge our partners around the world to recognize Egyptians’ need to work through this transition themselves, and we ask for patience and support for the Egyptian people. We must diligently work to foster sound economic policies that encourage foreign direct investment and job growth. We believe that economic opportunities must go hand-in-hand with efforts to restore political stability and the rule-of-law.

There is much need for a constructive dialogue between the US and Egypt – one geared toward achieving the aspirations of the Egyptian people for security and stability. At the same time we hope US policy-makers will put American business ingenuity and investment savvy first and foremost in an effort to partner with the Egyptian people as we rebuild the economy.

Fahmy, based in Cairo, serves as CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt and is a member of the Egypt-US Business Council.

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