Egypt's Islamist leader in reforms pledge


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Egypt's Islamist leader vowed to carry out tough structural reforms to overhaul his country's ailing economy and create a better environment for business and investment, participants in a meeting between corporate executives and the president said.

The move by Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, aimed to assuage fears that an Islamist-led economic programme could dampen investment, particularly in tourism.

Mr Morsi vowed that Egypt would remain a secular state, said Ahmed Ghanim, head of biotech firm Bio Natural America Institute.

Mr Ghanim and two US officials in the meeting also confirmed that Mr Morsi went beyond previous statements he has made about adhering to Egypt's international accords, pledging outright to over 60 US delegates present that he respects his country's landmark peace treaty with Israel.

Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has a decades-old enmity with neighbouring Israel.

The face-to-face at Cairo's presidential palace was organised to introduce companies, many of which already have billions of dollars invested in Egypt, to the new president, who was elected in June.

It is part of a four-day mission to Egypt organised by the US Chamber of Commerce. The 49 companies on the trip are looking to secure their investments and expand profits under the new leadership.

The meeting was also a chance for Mr Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president and civilian to take office, to send reassuring messages that he views foreign investment as a key pillar for development and alleviating widespread poverty.

The Brotherhood has always taken a strong private-sector philosophy, and many of its top figures and financiers are businessmen.

Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, who was among a number of US officials in the meeting, said Mr Morsi laid out a broad vision for Egypt that was "wholesome" and "focused".

"He was impressive and understands the challenges his country faces and understands the importance of Egypt on the world stage," Mr Nides said after the meeting.

Mr Ghanim, an American-Egyptian who founded his business based in Royal Oak, Michigan, said he wants to transfer his technology to Egypt and help the country of 82 million find clean and innovative solutions to its agricultural woes.

Entrepreneurs such as Mr Ghanim who are looking to bring their businesses to Egypt and large corporations already working in the country complain that under the previous regime of long-time US ally Hosni Mubarak, a lack of transparency, bureaucratic red tape, rampant corruption and convoluted laws made opening or expanding a business extremely difficult.

He described Mr Morsi's words as "comforting" and said he was impressed that the president spoke of an "economic overhaul" and a "war on corruption".

"The message he sent was that Egypt is open for business," Mr Ghanim said.