“In 2 weeks, the largest ever American business delegation will visit #Egypt w/over 100 people from more than 40 companies,” the US Embassy proudly tweeted this afternoon.
Hurrah! Egypt is saved!
Or is it?
“We are here to begin a practical and concrete dialogue,” said a jubilant Robert Hormats, US State Department Economic official and former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, speaking to a few hundred business people at a meeting sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce.
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. government’s development finance institution, took centre stage, with its Vice President, Robert Drumheller, among the panellists.
It has committed $250 million to an SME Loan Guarantee program for Egypt, and will support up to $700 million in small SME lending by local banks and other institutions.
OPIC has also approved $125 million in financing for Cairo-based Citadel Capital to provide loans to medium-sized Egyptian companies into which Citadel has already invested equity – in the transportation, finance, information and communication technology, and consumer food sectors.
Sounds grand, until you refer back to President Obama’s pledge last year to allow up to a billion dollars of OPIC financing to support infrastructure and job creation in Egypt.
As is often the case with the US foreign policy approach to the Middle East, this breakfast meeting was not really about Egypt, but a US-centric and condescending affair.
After name-dropping companies such as Apache and Dairy Queen (apparently they’ve opened four outlets in Egypt, Hormats gleefully told the audience) and speaking at length about investment opportunities for US companies in Egypt, little mention was made of Egypt’s majority – i.e., its working class, the vulnerable, the labourers – or those that make the economy tick.
Instead Hormats emphasised the role of US companies, improving regulatory reform to boost the number of goods passing through Egypt’s borders and how “Egypt could benefit from more franchise agreements”. This isn’t really benefiting normal Egyptians.
Let’s not obsess about the US’s image and role in Egypt, as Eric Trager, a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy writes in Foreign Policy.
Ashraf Khalil, the Cairo-based journalist and author, summed it up succinctly:
Let’s also not kid ourselves about the aim of this breakfast meeting. It’s clear that in this changed world the US is no longer the saviour in Egypt, with even this small sum of money geared towards the nation partially an effort to open up investment for American companies.
Rebel Economy is much more interested in what deals will be struck up with China, the Gulf and other countries that could actually make a material difference in the way Egypt’s economy runs.