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Is post-revolutionary Egypt a land of opportunity for US investors?

Egyptian finance officials, in Washington to press the IMF and World Bank for debt relief, appeal to US political and business leaders to get off the sidelines and invest in the 'new' Egypt.

By Staff writer / April 15, 2011

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (c.) greets Egyptian Finance Minister Samir Radwan at a meeting on the Middle East and Africa, on Thursday, April 14, at the 2011 Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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The short-term economic picture in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East may seem uncertain at best, with political instability, reforms, and even a war (Libya) shaking the region from Sana’a to Rabat.

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But Egyptian economic officials in Washington this week are encouraging both the international institutional community and the private sector to look beyond the immediate challenges to the longer term opportunities they say a region in transition to democracy presents.

“Go ahead, wait and see, but I tell you, you are missing the opportunity!” says Samir Mohamed Radwan, Egypt’s minister of finance, explaining how he responds to anyone expressing caution about Egypt’s and the region’s prospects.

IN PICTURES: Egyptian protests

For the less purely dollar-and-cents minded, Mr. Radwan also suggests that the public and private worlds should want to lend a hand to help the Arab Spring flourish. “Now we have a president on trial in the Middle East without anyone firing a bullet, so I say, wait for what?” he says. “You should support this democracy, is what I say.”

Radwan and other Egyptian government officials are in Washington for the spring meetings Saturday of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Debt relief and infrastructure development are on their minds.

While they are here, they are also meeting with US government officials, members of Congress, and representatives of the private sector, seeking assistance and investment for a “new” Egypt.

In a speech earlier in the week at the US-Islamic World Forum, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the US will offer Egypt $150 million in economic assistance to help get the country through its political transition.

Arab populations, and especially the young people who sparked the region’s transformative demonstrations, “expect democracy to deliver jobs, sweep out corruption [and] extend opportunities that will help them … take full advantage of the global economy,” Secretary Clinton said. In all, the US plans to make up to $2 billion available to help encourage private-sector growth in the region, she said.

$3.5 billion in debt

But the Egyptians are also looking for something else. “What we are asking for from our American friends is to give us debt forgiveness,” said Fayza Mohamed Aboulnaga, minister of planning and international cooperation, in comments at a forum Thursday at the US Chamber of Commerce.

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