Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Up For Business

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Egypt?s Muslim Brotherhood is campaigning for September?s parliamentary elections on a platform to trim the country?s budget deficit.

The group, which formed the Freedom and Justice party to compete for as many as half of the parliament?s seats, says in its economic plan that it will help bring investors back after an uprising that killed at least 846 people and toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February.

The Brotherhood was the biggest opposition group under Mubarak, who routinely warned its ascent to power would frighten foreign investors.

?It?s always better for any country to build on the basis of investment and not loans,? Khairat el-Shater, 61, deputy leader of the Brotherhood, said in an interview in Cairo.

Nervous Investors

Egypt?s spending on debt exceeds the combined budgets for education, health care and housing. The Finance Ministry estimates interest payments will jump 23 percent in the current fiscal year, even after reducing its budget gap target to 8.6 percent of gross domestic product from about 11 percent.

Founded in 1928, the same year Mubarak was born, the Muslim Brotherhood has influenced Islamist movements across the globe. As conditions change in the Arab world?s most-populous country, the group is emerging from almost six decades of suppression to offer its vision on how to govern.

?A lot of investors have been very nervous of the prospects of a government with a strong Brotherhood representation,? said Elijah Zarwan, a Cairo-based senior analyst at the International Crisis Group research group. ?The Brotherhood is aware of this and they are trying to reassure foreign investors by saying ?look, we are businessmen, we are business owners and professionals.??

El-Shater shuttles between meetings at one of his once-closed offices in a grimy building in the Nasr City district of Cairo. His visitors include bankers and foreign investors from the U.S. to Australia. ?They all have many questions about one issue: What impact will the Muslim Brotherhood have on the investment climate?? says el-Shater.

New Talks

The Brotherhood used to field candidates in elections as independents. In 2005, it formed the biggest opposition bloc in parliament after capturing about a fifth of the seats. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on June 30 that the U.S.was ?re- engaging? with the group in an effort to promote democracy. The group said it was ready for talks based on ?mutual respect.?

Parties formed after Mubarak?s ouster, including one set up by Coptic Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, have been campaigning to delay the elections, saying holding the vote in September will only benefit the well-organized, 83-year-old Islamist group. The military, which has taken interim power from Mubarak, has rejected these requests.

The Brotherhood is also proposing to cut spending, sell state-run media, link subsidies to job creation and slow inflation. Mona Mansour, co-head of research at CI Capital, a Cairo-based investment bank, points out that the government under Mubarak also planned to adjust subsidies. ?What is key is how these goals and objectives will be implemented,? she said.

Sources: Bloomberg, businessweek

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