Egypt on Friday opened an international investors’ conference that it hopes will drum up billions of dollars in business and help revive an economy that has been in dire straits for the last four years of political turmoil.
Heavy security surrounded the three-day gathering, which was being held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik. Hours before the conference began, four explosions hit an affluent suburb of Cairo overnight, causing property damage but no casualties.
Such small-scale blasts have been a near-daily feature for weeks now in Cairo and other cities, with the apparent aim of harming Egypt’s security image as the conference approached. Police this week rounded up dozens of suspects and blamed groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
One of the movement’s top leaders, Mohamed Morsi, was elected president in 2012, but was removed from office by the military in 2013 amid widespread protests against his rule. The then defense minister, Abdel Fattah Sisi, is now president.
While Western governments have joined in criticism by human rights groups over Sisi’s sweeping crackdown on Islamists and other opponents of his government, Egypt’s efforts to attract foreign investment nonetheless have broad international support.
Egypt’s economy nose-dived after the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The continual political turmoil hit the tourism industry, one of its mainstays, particularly hard.
While there have been signs of recovery in recent months, Sisi’s government is still heavily dependent on cash from wealthy Persian Gulf allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Visitor numbers have been rising, but are still far below pre-revolution levels.
Sisi has made economic growth the centerpiece of his presidency. But Egypt fears that investors will be put off by signs of disarray such as frequent power outages and a current fuel shortage.
The conference has been heavily touted by Egyptian authorities, with giant banners celebrating it and a “countdown clock” to the start of the gathering featured prominently on state television.
Follow @laurakingLAT on Twitter for news out of Egypt