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Egypt aims to live up to Library of Alexandria’s heritage

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Egyptians gathered near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo to celebrate the Aug. 6 unveiling of a major extension of the Suez Canal. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said the historic achievement was needed to boost the country’s ailing economy.

When the Library of Alexandria opened its doors in the 3rd century B.C., it quickly became the world’s foremost center for scholarship. It celebrated the pursuit of knowledge and the breadth of human ingenuity. The ancient library embodied human progress and intellectual creativity, serving as a gathering place for international scholars and standing as an important symbol of not just Egyptian advancement but common global achievement.

Today, Egypt is embracing the values of that ancient edifice by modernizing our economy and moving forward with our political transformation, while also confronting nefarious forces that seek to destroy the kind of human progress for which the library stood.

Egypt is also battling the roots of intolerance and instability by building an innovative and inclusive economy that extends opportunity and prosperity to all. To provide high-skill jobs for our people, we have embarked on a series of megaprojects that will not only stimulate economic growth but also improve infrastructure and transform Egypt’s commercial landscape.

Chief among these is the dredging of a second lane to the Suez Canal and creation of a new industrial development corridor along the waterway. The new channel will increase shipping capacity, allow two-way maritime traffic for the first time, reduce waiting times and create new jobs and revenue. Meanwhile, the Suez Canal Area Development Project is poised to support nearly 1 million new jobs and 2 million new residents, turning the region into an integrated commercial center with an international reach.

To complement these large economic projects, we are implementing bold policies to stabilize our fiscal future and instill investors with renewed confidence. We have reduced and rationalized Egypt’s energy subsidy that previously absorbed more than 20 percent of the budget. In addition, a new unified investment law will significantly reduce long-standing bureaucratic barriers to doing business in Egypt. This economic strategy encourages private investment by offering projects with strong returns. For instance, the $6.8 billion Suez Canal expansion was financed entirely by the Egyptian people through investment certificates.

Because of these steps, after years of stagnation, Egypt is in the midst of an economic renaissance, one that benefits all Egyptians. Worldwide, Egypt offers the second highest rate of return on investment. Over the first three quarters of fiscal year (FY) 2014/15, Egypt’s economy grew by 4.7 percent. Strong economic gains have increased foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country, which totaled $5.7 billion during the first three quarters of the fiscal year. During this time Egypt also saw a dramatic 30 percent increase in tourist arrivals and revenue. Our goal is 15 million tourists generating $15 billion in revenue by FY 2017/18.

Egypt is the fourth largest export market for U.S. products and services in the Middle East. In 2014, U.S. exports to Egypt were $6.5 billion. Minnesota exports to Egypt were $36 million, led by agricultural commodities and industrial machinery.

The U.S. continues to be Egypt’s largest trading partner and second largest investor. Roughly two-thirds of total U.S. investment is in the oil and gas sector, but also includes investment in areas such as consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, automobile production and financial services.

These economic connections with the U.S. and Minnesota were the subject of a business forum in Minneapolis on Aug. 7 sponsored by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Trade Office in collaboration with Books for Africa (BFA), a St. Paul nonprofit that is the largest shipper of books to Africa. BFA has shipped 43,000 books and a Thomson Reuters human rights law library to the Library of Alexandria.

Finally, we are intent on ensuring responsive, effective governance and providing political stability. We are finalizing plans to hold elections later this year to create a legislative body that reflects and responds to the diverse interests of the Egyptian people. Our newly elected Parliament will play a critical oversight role, determining whether Egypt’s current laws live up to the promises in Egypt’s constitution and drafting new laws where needed. Electing a new Parliament delivers a crucial component of building an accountable, inclusive and democratic political system that fulfills the aspirations of the Egyptian people — and upholds the virtues embodied by the Library of Alexandria and its successor, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

This revival of the Alexandria Library reminds us of both the monumental change occurring in Egypt and the enduring determination of the Egyptian people. We are building a stronger, more viable nation that can serve as an economic and cultural beacon throughout the Middle East and around the world — preserving the values of our past as we look to the promise of the future.

Check this article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune