Has Egypt's economic conference failed already?

Has Egypt's economic conference failed already?
4 min read
14 Mar, 2015
Comment: Egypt's economic development conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh is about legitimising the regime, and not about attracting investment.
Officials arrive at Egypt's economic development conference in Sharm el-Sheikh [AFP]
"It is war, then, and nothing is more important now than battle. Enemies are conspiring against us to thwart the economic conference. The great people of Egypt, bliss awaits you after this conference - which has exceeded UN meetings in terms of attendees and cost - and its outcomes will exceed those of all other regional and international conferences."

This is what the leaders of the coup in Egypt are saying openly.

It is astonishing to see the country's intractable political crisis reduced to a conference. However, the success of this conference is not measured by whether or not it achieves its aim of drawing investment into well-thought-out projects, and in doing so decreasing unemployment and ridding Egypt of poverty and high prices. Instead, its success will be judged by the number of attendees.

Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that countries like Somalia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Mali and Palestine, were invited, despite being among some of the poorest in the world. They need every grain of rice, another name for the billions of dollars looted from "half-countries" as described by the coup leader.

There have been conflicting numbers of how many delegations are taking part; 60 according to a statement made by the conference's general coordinator to the privately owned Youm Sabea newspaper. A total of 89 according to a statement made by the conference's spokesperson to Hayah satellite channel. Therefore, there is little doubt the conference will not attrack significant revenues, especially in comparison to grants and aid of up to $4 billion that the coup's authorities have received from some Gulf countries, according to previous leaks.
     The conference is not about generating investment, but about the coup and its leaders generating a new way to legitimise their rule.

Regardless of their value, investments cannot do what the billions of dollars in grants failed to do, especially as the purpose of some of the projects proposed are of an entertainment nature in a country where people cannot even find bread or cooking gas.

Among the projects proposed, for example, is the Zayed Crystal Spark, that aims to build Egypt's tallest tower. Perhaps this project can keep pace with the widespread youth suicide phenomenon, and make it more appealing with a final view from the top of the tallest entertainment tower in the country.

The coup leaders are well aware the purpose of the conference is not to attract investment or rescue Egypt from approaching bankruptcy. This is evident by the fact those invited were not only wealthy investors or countries, but also some of the world's poorest countries were invited.

In addition, Egypt's ministries presented their proposals separately, and competed with each other for investment from attendees. This shows the lack of a strategic view of what the country really needs, or any real role for the Ministry of Investments.

This all confirms that the conference is not about generating investment, but about the coup and its leaders generating a new way to legitimise their rule. This is why the focus was the number of attendees, not their financial capabilities.

Holding the conference in Sharm al-Sheikh and turning the resort city into a military barrack is enough to refute the claim the country is stable enough to attract investment. In addition, several laws quickly issued before the conference were based on one man's wishes to send a negative message to serious investors.

A man who can change the country's investment climate with quick laws, delivering contracts and granting privileges to investors under laws issued hours before the conference, can easily amend these laws again without warnings. This threatens investment, especially when state institutions disappear and the state is represented by one man who runs everything through phone calls to his office manager. In addition, the military's failure to run the country is not attractive for foreign investors.

The economic conference failed before it even started. It cost over 100 million Egyptian pounds, while Sisi calls on Egyptians to starve so Egypt can survive. It failed once it begged for catering from 24 sponsoring companies. It failed because it was held despite the bloodshed and murder of Egyptian people in their homes and in front of their families. It failed when the coup leaders could not hold it in Cairo.

If economists think the conference is about selling Egypt, I disagree. Egypt has been sold ever since the coup began, and it continues to be.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.