Hala Elsaid & Rania Al-Mashat Highlight Change in Egypt at the World Economic Forum

POLITICSAfter a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the World Economic Forum (WEF) convened its 53rd annual meeting in Davos, titled Cooperation in a Fragmented World. Once again world leaders, business moguls, financial gurus and thought leaders gathered from around the world to discuss the state of the world and, of course, to network as they only can in Davos.PoliticsPOLITI

The participation by Egyptian politicians and business leaders at the WEF continued its decline this year, with only a handful of Egyptians as official participants. Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the other hand, were present at the Annual Meeting in full force, with huge political and business delegations that truly made an impact. Yet, despite the fact that only two Egyptian ministers took part at the WEF, namely H.E Minister Hala Elsaid, the Minister of Planning and Economic Development and H.E Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation, the fact that they are two of our most eloquent and well-spoken female ministers compensated for the small Egyptian presence with their energetic participation in some of the key panels at the forum. Presenting the new face of Egypt’s female leaders, ElSaid and Al-Mashat were not afraid to take on high profile roles and to talk to the media. They handled difficult topics and questions with ease and grace, and with informed and knowledgeable comments. Elsaid and Al-Mashat participated in panels discussing a range of issues, including climate, resilience, sustainable development, and the urgency to take meaningful action on all fronts.

This year’s WEF was about bringing new ideas to the table and coming up with new and creative ways to move forward as a global community on several major topics. At the forefront of the exchange of ideas in several panels Elsaid stressed that the series of crises in recent years which led to hyperinflation, were putting particularly excruciating pressure on emerging economies. She noted that the countries like Egypt were heavily impacted by the challenges of the past three years, with rapidly rising debt levels and increasing difficulties in attracting financing.

Stressing the urgency for economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa, Elsaid noted that the expected 5 % economic growth in Egypt in the coming fiscal year would be insufficient to overcome the country’s challenges, and that the private sector absolutely needed to be more heavily involved in the development process. “It follows that it is necessary to create an enabling environment for private investment,” she stated, adding that Egypt was committed to taking corrective measures to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), stabilise markets and make the Egyptian economy more export oriented.

Elsaid spoke a great deal of the growing role of the private sector in Egypt, pointing to the government’s announcement of its plans to hand 62 companies to private investors. When asked about the extent to which these measures could be taken seriously, she stated that these were not simply promises tossed in the air, and that there were state documents ensuring that this hand-down of state ownership to the private companies becomes a reality. Elsaid added that there were many sectors in Egypt that needed private investment. She also noted that Egypt had set a goal for itself to become a hub for international trade and logistics, and that means investing in the ports and expanding the availability of green hydrogen for export. She also stressed that it was imperative to making sure that growth was conducive to increase employment, and to expand social safety nets to mitigate the harmful effect of high inflation on the most vulnerable citizens.

One of the key topics discussed at the WEF this year was the climate crisis and the urgent need for action to address it. Al-Mashat showed immense expertise on the topic, given her heavy involvement in the last COP27 hosted in Sharm El Sheikh. Speaking on the panel titled Rewiring the Globe for Resilience, she indicated that in the past year the climate crisis has become one of Egypt’s core concerns, stressing that the shift towards a greener economy should not be seen as a burden, but rather as an investment. She stated that climate action and resilience were not mutually exclusive, but rather should go hand in hand. Referring to the nefarious consequences of not adapting to climate change, she said, “If you don’t invest in resilience, you get loss and damage.”

Al-Mashat pointed to the general theme that had been adopted for COP27, namely, “From Pledges to Implementation,” because, for far too long, global promises had not been met. She stated that, “those who pollute the least are those who suffer the most and who need the most financing to move forward.” She stressed that financing was a key factor in pushing the transition to a greener economy, adding that participation of philanthropic organisations, side by side with public and private financing was imperative. Al-Mashat also stressed the need to discuss state specificity in global forums, as countries are affected differently by these crises, noting the example of Pakistan where the climate crisis had resulted in devastating floods.

Thus, despite the small number of Egyptian political and business leaders at the WEF this year, it became evident to participants at the WEF, that Egypt’s official delegation were two powerhouse women who were highly qualified for their posts and ready and able to engage on the highest internal level. Together they presented the new face of Egypt’s female leaders, who are making their mark in the country and the international arena at large.