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Thoughts on Egypt's recent Investment Conference

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For my good friends from Egypt, I have been following some of your recent Facebook posts with both concern and surprise. As Egypt has just concluded its Investment Forum, I was particularly shocked to read a small number of posts that seemed to imply that it is in Egypt’s best interest to have its economy collapse even further. Some posts showed outright scorn for the recently concluded investment conference, others joked about the creation of a new capital city for the country, a major point of discussion in the conference, and many ridiculed everything about the conference down to the selfies taken with the President.

For all of those that wish Egypt to fail further still, and I hate to disappoint you, we are pretty much at rock bottom. If the country cannot generate new investment, if it cannot find new opportunities for employment, production and export, Egypt is heading towards the abyss.

Are there any of you out there who really want this? Don’t we all love our country and wish it to succeed? Don’t we all want an end to this cycle of non ending poverty, which is in turn causing the strife we are all witnessing today?

So, why are so many of you making such a big deal out of an investment conference? I attend many such events year in and year out. They don’t usually do much more than to market a country, and hopefully get FDI interest in particular sectors.

Egypt’s investment conference claims to have generated about $15 billion in FDI and about $45 billion to build Egypt’s new capital city. In reality, this will do little to turn Egypt’s economy around in the short term, but it’s a start. And as an Egyptian, I find all the cynics out there disparaging the investment conference to be very out of step when it comes to Egypt’s best interest.

We have lived through so much economic failure already, and yes, I know it is incredibly frustrating for all of us to watch our country fail repeatedly, but I cannot accept us not trying to better ourselves no matter what our circumstances. We will all witness one of two things in the coming half decade: the pain of further economic collapse, or the exuberance of beginning to sense that things are beginning to turn around for the better. The extent of our future economic success, or lack thereof, will be measured by the strength of our desire; the size of our dreams; and the level of hard work and commitment we show along the way.

So, we’re expanding the Suez Canal – great. We’re building a new capital city – even better. Wasn’t it Keynes who said in the great depression “get people to dig trenches and have them fill them up again”. A new capital city will be a catalyst for future employment, and this we need desperately. Massive infrastructure projects in a country with endemic unemployment has much less to do with who’s in charge, and more to do with what any economist would propose in a sluggish, let alone failing economy.

When it comes to Egypt, and quite frankly to Egyptians more generally, some recent Facebook posts have shown me so much that I would have never expected. I never expected to see Egyptians so exuberant and celebrating the success of an investment conference. Yes, people celebrated the success of an investment conference, and others mourned that it went off without a hitch. But, it was just an investment conference, no more and no less, so why were so many people polarized by such a non event? In an investment conference there are no sides; there is no one who is right or wrong, because if such a high exposure investment conference goes wrong we all lose. We all lose when investment goes to neighboring countries instead of our own, we all lose when FDI levels drop even further, and maybe for some Egypt’s economic collapse is what they would called winning. But, if you happen to be an Egyptian who champions this form of thinking, this is indeed very sad because who would wish harm to his own country and countrymen?

And, sadly if many of us espouse failure, in economics the desire to fail is a self fulfilling prophecy. The desire to succeed will have the opposite effect. As a collective, we need to decide which direction we want our country to follow, and undoubtedly we must have the desire to wish nothing other than for our country to succeed. Yes, I understand many of you are unhappy with the current government, but ninety million Egyptians need work, they need income, and they need to live. They cannot be asked to endure the abyss because some of us are unhappy with the government in power.

Remember, advancing growth and FDI would have been the objective of any government from any side of the divide. Propelling the country towards prosperity will be the primary agenda of any government in power. This will be a constant no matter who is in charge. We cannot wish further failure to our already fractured economy; we must not wish it more distress. More so, no fellow Egyptian is our enemy, we are all benefactors of the same economic system, and we either benefit together, or we all lose out. And, when it comes to jump starting our economy, from what I am now seeing we have no bigger enemy than ourselves.

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