CAIRO, Egypt, (AP) – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak promised Saturday to push ahead with economic reform and step up efforts to combat poverty, despite the impact of the international financial crisis on Egypt’s economy.
In a speech to his ruling National Democratic Party convention, Mubarak also ordered the government to develop strategies to mitigate the effect of the crisis on Egypt’s two main sources of income — tourism and exports.
The convention is being held amid increasing skepticism of the government, political uncertainty and worsening economic woes in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
“I want to stress the party’s and government’s commitment to economic reform and our determination to continue that without hesitation,” Mubarak said in an hour-long speech.
“But, at the same time, I want to stress that social development and combating poverty is part and parcel of this vision,” said Mubarak to almost 3,000 party members.
He said the government will earmark the equivalent of about $660 million in the next three years to help “break the cycle of poverty.”
In a recent report, the World Bank estimated that the number of Egyptians living in poverty reached 20 percent by 2005, and the U.N. Population Fund said recently that the figure was now double that.
Mubarak dismissed calls by the opposition to roll back the pace of reform to protect the economy from the international crisis.
“We will continue opening our doors to local and foreign investment and there will be no return to the past,” said Mubarak, referring to the socialist-oriented economy he inherited from former regimes.
He said the government should focus on attracting investment in tourism and exports — the two sectors that generate most of Egypt’s national income.
Yet, economic hardships are expected to worsen for Egypt’s 78 million people, as the global financial crisis threatens to slow growth, expand unemployment and boost inflation.
In April, violent protests over the cost of food resulted in three deaths. Others died during fights in lines for subsidized bread.
Critics blame the government, accusing it of mismanagement, cronyism and corruption. Mubarak did not tackle the issue of corruption in his speech.
However, Mubarak did urge the government to pass new laws to increase the number of women in Egypt’s 454-seat parliament. There are only nine women currently in parliament, some of them appointed by Mubarak.
Mubarak did not elaborate, but Kamal el-Shazili, a leading NDP member, told the conference earlier that Egypt should have two female lawmakers for each of the country’s 26 provinces.
During their three-day meeting, party members are expected to review political strategies, including plans for a parliamentary election in 2010.
Opponents say the party will do nothing to bring real change — and that the meeting is another bid to consolidate the power base of the president’s son, Gamal, expected to step in after his aging father’s term ends in 2011.