Egypt celebrates billion-dollar deals
Sharm el-Sheikh - An investment conference which Egyptian authorities have been promoting as key to reviving the battered economy closed on Sunday after deals potentially worth tens of billions of dollars were signed.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb said agreements had been signed for investments worth $36 billion over the course of the three-day event, the state-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported.
A jubilant President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi earlier told delegates that the event would be repeated annually.
Al-Sisi called young conference staff up to the podium to stand around him as he delivered his second speech at the conference.
They took selfies with the president and screamed in delight, then joined in chants of “Long live Egypt” and repeated cheering.
But Al-Sisi broke off a chant of “Long live al-Sisi”, saying, “Long live Egypt and nothing else”.
Among the deals announced on the final day of the conference were gas drilling works of the country's north coast, totalling a potential $4 billion, to be undertaken by two Egyptian energy firms.
They join a $10bn package with German engineering and technology firm Siemens to develop new gas and wind-powered electricity generation capacity.
Other major deals announced during the conference included an agreement with oil multinational BP to commence works worth up to $12 billion.
Dubai-based Majd al-Futtaim Group has agreed to increase its real estate investments in Egypt by $5 billion over the next five years, according to the Investment Ministry.
The government has also signed a $45bn agreement with an Emirati company to develop a new administrative capital east of Cairo.
The opening day of the conference, on Friday, saw leaders from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledge $4 billion each in a mix of aid, investments and deposits in the Egyptian central bank.
The three countries have propped Egypt up to an estimated $23 billion since Al-Sisi, as army chief, ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in mid-2013.
Analysts say that while the investments announced will create jobs and boost economic growth, the Gulf aid will help Egypt keep up its foreign reserves and assure its ability to meet its import needs.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) signed a joint declaration with the Ministry of International Co-operation to support priority sectors over the next three years, they said in a joint press release.
The Egyptian economy has been hard hit by the years of turbulence that followed the 2011 revolution against long-time ruler Hosny Mubarak.
The average economic growth rate between 2011 and 2014 has been about 2 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund - just keeping up with population growth.
Increased political stability under Al-Sisi has seen that rise to a projected 3.8 percent, according to International Monetary Fund figures.
Al-Sisi, who was elected to the presidency in May last year, is eager to show that he can improve the standards of living of ordinary Egyptians.
His highly choreographed appearances at the conference, followed at the opening session by a succession of world leaders and ministers, also sends a message to the domestic audience that Egypt has regained what many see as its rightful place in the world as the largest Arab country.
The international investors who attended the conference meanwhile received a message that the government was committed to working with them.
Ministers outlined tax reforms and a new investment law aimed at making Egypt a better place to do business.
A one-stop shop system will expedite the granting of permits to foreign investors, ministers said.
But even in dealings with foreign investors, there was also a show for the domestic audience.
Al-Sisi told delegates that he had bargained with Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive officer of General Electric, to cut the timeframe for a power plant restructuring project from 24-30 months to eight months.
“I said, ‘Why not eight months? If you don't mind’, and he said, ‘Yes, it can be done in eight months’,” Al-Sisi recounted.
“I said, 'let's remove this 100 million. If you don't mind’, and he did!” Al-Sisi added, to applause.