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Egypt's president boisterous after major economic conference

  • Brian Rohan

    The Jakarta Post

Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt | Mon, March 16, 2015 | 07:30 am

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Sunday boisterously marked the final day of a major economic conference that has injected billions of dollars' worth of aid and investment in his country, while still acknowledging that Egypt's road to recovery will be long and costly.

A jubilant el-Sissi invited young Egyptian organizers to join him at the podium before he addressed a packed auditorium at the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Several seized the opportunity to take selfies with the Egyptian leader and joined him in what has become his customary slogan of "Long live Egypt!"

But the president swiftly stopped a chant of "long live el-Sissi."

"Long live Egypt and no one else," said el-Sissi, who in the 35-minute address let out several hearty laughs and joked about how he drove hard bargains with top multinational executives to reduce prices, deliver ahead of schedule and allow longer grace periods for loan repayments.

He singled out Germany's Siemens and the United States' General Electric for special praise.

Addressing the delegates seated in the massive conference hall, the general-turned-politician said: "You have no idea how much joy you have given the people of Egypt."

El-Sissi has staked his legitimacy on fixing the economy and restoring security, and the three-day conference has been seeking a sign of international confidence in the country's political stability. Egypt faces a persistent Islamic militant insurgency, while the government's fierce crackdown on Islamist opponents, which has killed hundreds, landed some 20,000 people in prison, has brought heavy criticism over the last 20 months.

"Some people thought my country has died, but Egypt is a country that God created so it can forever live," El-Sissi said. "Egypt was there 7,000 years ago and taught the entire world."

"This nation is awakening now," he declared.

As military chief, el-Sissi led the July 2013 military ouster of the elected but divisive Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Nearly a year later, el-Sissi himself was elected.

El-Sissi said Egypt needed as much as $300 billion in investments to rebuild and give the country's 90 million people a genuine hope to live well.

"Loving Egypt cannot just be words," he warned. "We are behind, and those who are late must either speed walk or run," he said. "Even running will not be enough in our case."

The three-day gathering is meant to show the world Egypt is open for business again, and to draw investors scared off by four years of instability and turmoil that followed the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Investors committed $10.7 billion to projects on Saturday, a day after Gulf Arab nations announced a $12.5 billion aid package, continuing the largesse they have shown Egypt since Morsi's ouster.

The agreements include a $6.5 billion deal with Egypt's Orascom group and the Abu Dhabi-owned International Petroleum Investment Co. to build a coal-fired power plant over four years, organizers said in a statement. The deals were signed a day earlier.

Of Saturday's agreements, Cairo Financial Holding, formerly led by Investment Minister Ashraf Salman, had the second-largest investment '€” $1 billion into a tourism fund.

Preliminary engineering and finance agreements amounting to $5.8 billion were also signed, along with a further $5.4 billion in loans and grants from international partners and organizations.

The statement did not mention the billions of dollars in agreements signed with Germany's Siemens AG or Italy's Eni SpA on Saturday.

Organizers say more agreements will be announced later Sunday. (***)