Egypt's Brotherhood, business and the state – a budding partnership?

Marwa Hussein, Monday 25 Jun 2012

Egypt's two main business lobbies were controlled by the state for decades, how they'll deal with a Muslim Brotherhood president remains to be seen

Mohamed Morsi
How will Egypt's first freely elected president deal with business? Some are optimistic, some less so (Photo: Reuters)

During Hosni Mubarak's 30-year reign, businessmen, government officials and senior members of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) were closely linked, with the government appointing the head of Egypt's state-run business lobbies.  

The Egyptian Federation of Industry and the Federation of Chambers of Commerce were flagrant examples of these state-controlled lobbies. Now the NDP has been dissolved, government officials who don't belong to the ruling party – yet – will find themselves in a strange position.

Some of the Muslim Brotherhood's ideas are worrying for businessmen, especially concerning tourism and banking. In both lobbies, businessmen were familiar with the former regime, even those who were not overly close to the centres of power. They had ways to discuss, or even overturn, government decisions that went against their interests.

In a small-scale poll of businessmen conducted by the Federation of Industry, 11 out of 13 respondents said they would prefer Amr Moussa or Ahmed Shafiq as president to the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi. Five regarded Morsi as "a huge risk to the business climate."

Ahram Online spoke to two businessmen to get their views on a potential Morsi presidency – both said they were not worried by such an eventuality.

Speaking last week, Mohamed Abul-Enein, owner of Ceramica Cleopatra and a Mubarak-era MP, said he welcomed Morsi or Shafiq as president.

"We have to support the new president, whether it is Morsi or Shafiq. We need the country to be stronger, investments to grow and closed factories to reopen. Everybody will lose if we don't cooperate in the coming phase," said Abul-Enein, who is also head of the investors' division at the Federation of Chambers of Commerce.

Ahmed Al-Zeini, head of the Chamber of Building Materials at the Federation of Industry, was optimistic about the future.

"People who say that candidates other than Shafiq won't be adequate are using the same scarecrow tactics as the old regime. We have laws and investment incentives that will encourage serious investors," he said, adding that Shafiq would only benefit businessmen close to the old regime.

The Egyptian Federation of Industry is quietly controlled by the government, with one third of its 21 board members directly nominated by the minister of industry and commerce, including the president and two vice presidents.

The president can be returned for as many terms as the government deems appropriate, and the incumbent, Galal El-Zorba, is in this third consecutive term.

At the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, the minister nominates half the board members and their directors at the various chambers. In addition, he selects six of 34 members who sit on the Federation's board of directors.

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