Egypt ‘committed to free market’ after investor fears

Egypt's deputy prime minister said on Sunday that his country was committed to a free market economy, after the ownership of three companies was returned to the state, sparking fears among investors.

"The government will not backtrack on a free market economy," said Hazem al-Beblawy, who is also the interim government's finance minister.

On 21 September, the Cairo Administrative Court suspended the privatization contracts of three companies, returning them to the public sector.

The sale of the companies – Shebin Textile Company, Tanta Linens and Al-Nasr for Steam Boilers – had been contested in court by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR).

The ECESR had argued that the companies were sold illegally under the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak for prices far lower than their real value.

The September court ruling raised fears among foreign investors that Egypt was heading towards a policy of nationalization.

Beblawy told reporters that the government "respects all its previous agreements and contracts with the private sector, as long as the deals were conducted within the law."

He said that the 25 January uprising – which toppled Mubarak in February – "worked to restore Egypt as a country of law, so all the court rulings will be implemented."

"This is the first step in restoring trust in Egypt's investment climate," Beblawy said.

The country's political and economic outlook has been mired in uncertainty since Mubarak was ousted and power passed to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which is led by Mubarak's long-time defense minister.

Heightened frustration at the military rulers' handling of the transition has led to protests, strikes and sporadic clashes.

Last week SCAF laid out the timetable for the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections which will start on 28 November and take place over four months.

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