CAIRO: Egyptian economic gurus seem to have a pretty good grasp on the fact that the global economic structure as we know it has changed. What they seem less sure on, though, is exactly how it has changed.
At the Euromoney Egypt Conference’s first panel session Tuesday, a number of the country’s top business minds gathered to mull the crossroads at which Egypt finds itself.
The name of the panel, “Rejoice! It’s not as bad as we thought, seemed appropriate as many of the panelists offered unbridled optimism about the year ahead. Most answered moderator Richard Banks’ question about performance over the next 12 months, saying they would be better than the last 12.
Only Marwan Elaraby, managing director at Citadel Capital, qualified his optimism, saying that 2010 would be stronger than 2009, thus delaying his hope for improved conditions.
“We may have avoided the financial meltdown at the global level, said Taher Helmy, a senior partner at Helmy, Hamza & Partners, “but there is no doubt in my mind that the world has changed.
With that, the panel’s collective brainpower made various recommendations as to what the new model for economic growth might be and how Egypt can engage with it.
“The business model has to be revisited, Hisham Ezz Al Arab, chairman of Commercial International Bank, said. “We want to focus more on Egypt. We have limited resources, and those resources have to be well utilized.
Ezz Al Arab echoed a common sentiment that the growth through exports model is no longer viable. Turn inward, some of the panelists said, to lay the basis for stronger growth.
In terms of domestic investment, Elaraby said he believes Egypt is heading for a boom in investment in infrastructure and industry. Information technology, he thinks, will also see an uptick.
“In order to reach [Egypt’s] potential, I would say infrastructure is the key, said Marc Franco, the new European Union ambassador to Egypt.
In the case of Vodafone Egypt, the new model seemed to be doing more with less. The new CEO, Hatem Dowidar, said that the economic crisis has slowed down its recruitment practices but that infrastructure growth was plowing ahead at the same rate.
Ezz Al Arab seconded the sentiment, saying that no growth is sustainable in Egypt without development of infrastructure, telecommunications, transportation, etc.
One audience member asked Ezz Al Arab about wage hikes as a means of spurring growth. The CIB chief demurred on the issue, saying that wage increases were not the solution.
“Increasing wages is not the solution, he said. “Raising production is the solution.
Speaking to the press ahead of the conference Monday, head of Euromoney Conferences for the Middle East Richard Banks said he would press panelists to spell out a way forward in the new economy.
This panel, with some of the top business minds in the country, put forth the seeds of thoughts on where to take Egypt in this altered economic landscape.