Officials urge US investment in post-crisis Egypt

Washington–Coca-Cola is helping to stabilize the Middle East and Egypt and US officials want more American companies to do the same, they said Thursday.

The maker of the brown fizzy drink has been in Egypt for half a century, Egyptian Finance Minister Samir Radwan told US business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, insisting that the time was right for more US companies to invest in the country on the cusp of the Middle East and Africa.

"I want to reassure you that we are doing something right," said Radwan, who was appointed to the Finance Ministry post in late January, a week into the massive protests that eventually brought down long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak.

"The political turmoil is subsiding, the country is back to work and we are planning for post-crisis management," he told the gathering of more than 100 US business leaders.

"We need to stimulate the economy, but what we really need is partners," he said.

"Coca-Cola has been in Egypt for about 50 years. You are most welcome, too, ladies and gentlemen. I assure you, Egypt is back to work," he said.

US companies that invest in Egypt open the doors to doing business in the two worlds the country straddles, said Faiza Mohamed Abul Naga, Egypt's minister of planning and international cooperation.

"Investing in Egypt does not stop at the borders but opens horizons to the whole Arab world and Africa, and the whole world is flirting with Africa because it has energy, water, and land in abundance," Abul Naga said.

She also called on the United States to forgive what she said was Egypt's $3.6 billion dollar debt, even though Washington is tightening its belts.

US lawmakers said ahead of meetings with Abul Naga and Radwan Wednesday that it would be hard to forgive Egypt's debt.

"You know what the climate is like here: It's very hard. We have to take a look at that and see if there is money," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat.

But Abul Naga warned that failing to help Egypt now would create insecurity and instability in the Middle East and North Africa that would ripple around the world.

"If, God forbid, we go wrong in Egypt, then the whole region will go wrong," and the instability would quickly affect Europe and US strategic interests, she warned.

Egypt's deficit has ballooned since the uprising against Mubarak began in January.

A month into the massive street protests, the deficit was $3 billion, according to Abul Naga.

"Today, as we speak it is $5 billion and we estimate that by June 30 it will be $8 billion," she said.

Lionel Johnson, vice president of Middle East Affairs at the Chamber of Commerce, said debt relief "should be looked at very seriously" because it would help to shore up Egypt's infant democracy.

"Debt relief… would provide liquidity, provide some breathing room in the case of Egypt for its balance of payments and things like paying its public sector, which in a couple of months will be difficult for them to do," he told reporters.

"That would create a different set of problems for this fledgling transition."

Myron Brilliant, senior vice president for international affairs at the chamber, said US investments will help stabilize Egypt and other countries in the Middle East that have taken steps to become more democratic.

It "will help countries respond to the needs of their people and help the people in that region to have a better life," he said.

"The government's and private sector's voices need to be heard in the region, not just because it's the right thing to do but also because there's commercial opportunity in this region, and if we don't get there, the Chinese and Russians will."

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