Remarks at the Opening Plenary of the Egypt Economic Development Conference

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
March 13, 2015

Mr. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, it’s a privilege to be here with you today, and your majesties, your highnesses, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. 

Mr. President, in so many ways, it is clear that your initiatives are already affirming the pivotal role Egypt has played in this region for so long.  We’ve heard a number of the speakers refer to it.  And I want to thank you for your partnership and for your obvious readiness to tackle some very tough issues.  There are an extraordinary number of very thoughtful, very experienced leaders, particularly of the corporate sector but also of government here, and they come from all over the world.  I’m particularly pleased that some of the biggest companies in America are also here and that all of you together represent billions of dollars of investment.

So I come here today, Mr. President, with a very simple message:  The American people are committed to the security and political and economic wellbeing of the Egyptian people, and we will work with you – (applause) – we will work with you to absolutely secure the ambitious and important goals, the vision that you have laid out here today.

There is absolutely no question that the emergence of a strong, prosperous, democratic Egypt is critical for the development of a strong and prosperous region.  And Egypt, as a number of speakers have also alluded to, has historically been the region’s most important incubator of ideas.  And this does go back to the earliest days of civilization.  Egypt constitutes one-quarter of the Arab world’s population.  But we also heard one of our distinguished friends from the Emirates, I think, say that Egypt also is a critical part of the Arab world and the Arab world can’t do without Egypt; it’s symbiotic.  How Egypt fares in the coming years and how it restructures its economy will affect not only the country’s nearly 90 million citizens, but it will also affect millions of others throughout the region who aspire to a better future.  That is why we are gathered here:  We all – all of us – have a stake in Egypt’s success, and all of the Middle East needs to see that what Egyptians struggled to achieve in 2011 was the real birth of opportunity and not an illusion.

That is why the United States is committed to supporting Egypt’s economic reforms, and I think that we can already see from what is happening that those are taking hold.  I’m pleased to tell you also that before this conference was conceived, we in the United States shared the sense of the need for this economic transformation.  And so last year, under the auspices of the United States Chamber of Commerce, 160 CEOs, leading business people representing some 70 countries – 70 companies came here to spend time with President al-Sisi and his administration in order to help define the future.  We are already making progress laying down specific projects that will support economic growth, entrepreneurship, and job creation, especially for the agribusiness and tourism sectors.  We’ve committed some 300 million for the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund and another 250 million for OPIC loans to guarantee to support the development of small and medium-sized businesses.  And just our Qualifying Industrial Zone program has already spurred more than 800 million in Egyptian exports to the United States last year and supported 280,000 Egyptian jobs.  That’s in addition to a billion dollars of loan guarantee, 500 million dollars of recent investment by The Coca-Cola Company, General Electric, others who are deeply committed to this enterprise.

We all know also that there are challenges.  And yet every single one of us are here because through those challenges we see and understand the extraordinary potential.  There is a possibility of innovation, a possibility of attracting investment, a possibility of working together on an agenda of opportunity that literally creates the sustainable economy that President al-Sisi talks about, the open, inclusive, and transparent growth that is critical to attract capital.

So there are about four things that are critical to that, very quickly.  First, Egypt needs to grow sustainably.  And President al-Sisi understands that and he’s already taken important steps on macroeconomic reform.  The United States is very eager to build on this progress by supporting the government’s engagement with international financial institutions, including the IMF; efforts to improve cash management, lower debt, deficits, increase tax revenue, and reduce costly subsidies in a way that protects the poorest citizens.  And as we all know, sustaining and strengthening these reforms will require courage and political will, and it is evident that President al-Sisi has already demonstrated that and is prepared to make those choices.

Secondly, Egypt needs to grow openly and accountably.  President al-Sisi, again, deserves enormous credit for working to improve the basic business climate in Egypt.  He just signed a new investment law, and that will create a one-stop shop for business which eliminates the bureaucracy, reduces the paperwork, streamlines the decision making, and allows capital to take hold and begin to work quickly.  This is a very important step, and I know that it will be followed by the additional work to provide sanctity of contracts, mechanisms for dispute resolution, and protections for intellectual property rights. 

Third, Egypt obviously needs to grow inclusively, and President al-Sisi is committed to that.  A central demand of the revolution of 2011 was a more equal distribution of wealth.  And that requires a commitment to empowering young people to fulfill their dreams, to meet their aspirations, and women also in order to promote a free and active and independent civil society.

And finally, Egypt needs to grow transparently.  We all know that foreign investors require assurance of accountability, certainty, assurance that reforms are both comprehensive and long-term.  And immediately after taking office, President Sisi announced anti-corruption initiatives, and we strongly support his government in that effort.  No one is injured more than companies – and by the way, no one country is immune to – any country immune to any of these challenges.  But no one is more injured because of them than the very companies that we’re trying to attract in order to develop in the ways that we want to.

Ultimately, economic growth and political development go hand in hand, and that is how you build the strong society.  Economic growth, widely shared, can help to ease any disagreements that characterize the openness of governance.  And at the same time, the protection of individual rights and impartial administration of justice helps create the conditions for lasting investment and growth that benefits all Egyptians. 

So, yes, there are challenges, and many of them have been alluded to by other speakers here.  But the road ahead is absolutely clear and so is the United States determination to support Egypt’s progress in any way that we can.  Let me make one statement about that.  (Applause.)  And that includes, in the effort to stand up and fight against extremists and terrorists, the one thing we know is here at this conference we stand in direct contradiction to the nihilism that they present.  They want to destroy and go back in time.  We want to build and go to the future, and that’s what this conference is about.  (Applause.)  And no political philosophy, no ideology, no politics, and certainly no religion can excuse the grotesque, unbelievable descent into chaos that those extremists are willing to provoke.  Nothing excuses the killing of innocent women, children, villagers, people anywhere – nothing.  (Applause.)

So that’s what makes this – frankly, this conference so important, because this is one of the most important tools in our toolbox to be able to embrace that future.  Out of this conference must come a renewed commitment to fully empower Egypt’s entrepreneurs and innovators as well as provide for greater economic opportunity – not just for some Egyptians, but for all Egyptians.  And I promise you, directly from President Obama and from this Administration, the full commitment of the United States in this journey towards security, shared prosperity, and peace that the Egyptian people both desire and deserve.  Thank you.  (Applause.)