The Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh is used to catering to holiday-makers and honeymooning couples. This weekend, it will be filled with hundreds of investors, policy wonks and politicians, as Egypt hosts its biggest investment conference since Abdel Fattah El Sisi was elected president.
The Egypt The Future conference places an “open for business” sign across the country. Before the event, a government spokesman said the fundamental message is that the country is “now on solid ground”. Egypt, the country says, is now stable, secure and ready for investment.
That investment is certainly needed. Egypt needs foreign investment to improve its creaking infrastructure, to create new businesses and to assist with mega-projects. New businesses will be vital: unemployment officially stands at 13 per cent, although the real figure is likely to be higher. As well as providing work for the many young people in the country, it will also provide social stability. Too many young Egyptians are unable to marry and start a family.
Egypt also needs to attract talent. Many of Egypt’s best and brightest have left the country, attracted by better prospects in the Gulf, Europe and the United States. It won’t be easy to bring them back, but it is vital to do so. Higher wages, a better standard of living and an end to the crippling corruption of the public sector will help.
The flagship announcements from the conference are likely to be centred on mega-projects. The most important of these has already been announced: a second Suez Canal alongside the current one and a new industrial zone surrounding it. That will soak up a significant amount of labour for the time it takes to build, but Egypt will also need to prepare for what happens after the project is completed.
Reform must accompany investment. Changes to fuel subsidies and the devaluation of the currency have already occurred, along with small tax changes. More must follow, together with reform of the stifling bureaucracy.
This weekend is an important moment in Egypt’s post-revolution story. The country has been made stable again, now it is time to build on that solid ground.