US senators push private sector growth in Egypt

An improved Egyptian economy is the key to a successful transition to democracy, former US presidential hopefuls John Kerry and John McCain said yesterday in Cairo.

The senators were part of a delegation promoting business interests. After ringing the opening bell at the Egyptian stock exchange, they spoke to the media at a Coca-Cola bottling plant. Business leaders representing the multinational firms Boeing, Coca-Cola, Dow, ExxonMobil, General Electric and Marriot accompanied them.

In sync with US President Obama’s 19 May speech outlining US foreign policy in a rapidly changing Middle East, the senators emphasized economic growth and job creation as vital for democratic change in Egypt.

“Success or failure of the revolution will be directly related to the ability to find jobs for the Egyptian people,” said McCain, a Republican.     

Although they both advocate private sector growth in Egypt, they also see a role for the US government.  

Kerry and McCain are both sponsors of a Senate bill that would establish Enterprise Funds for Egypt and Tunisia.  A similar bill has been introduced in the US House of Representatives. 

The Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund would provide monies to finance and technologically support small- and medium-sized Egyptian businesses. The bill states that according to the Egyptian government, such businesses are responsible for nearly 75 percent of private sector employment in Egypt. 

While the bill does not offer exact dollar figures for these enterprise funds, it cites the US$1.2 billion used to foster economic growth in the former Soviet Union and its satellite states after the Cold War. 

Senator Kerry, who was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said that Enterprise Fund financing would be in the hundreds of millions of US dollars, should the bill pass. “But it will take billions,” he admitted.     

McCain urged passing the bill quickly and stated that it has bipartisan support because successful democracy in Egypt is in “US national security interest.”  

Kerry, a Democrat, mentioned Egypt’s historical role in regional stability and added that a democratic Egypt would be “important for the quest for peace in this region."

Before arriving at the Coca-Cola factory, the senators met with the current Egyptian head of state, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces chairman Hussein Tantawi.

According to McCain, Tantawi expressed his “absolute commitment to transition to a civilian government at the earliest possible time.”

McCain said that the group had spoken about ensuring free and fair parliamentary elections in the fall. He said that Tantawi had pledged to “seriously consider international observers,” one of the senators’ recommendations.

While the senators sought to reassure Egyptians that the US would not waver in its support for Egypt’s transition to democracy, both men made it clear that it is only Egyptians who will determine the path Egypt takes.

McCain said that the US was prepared to “assist, not dictate.”

Kerry reiterated the thought: “The people of Egypt will decide the future. Not any outside country.”

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