International investors fear anti-market regime in Egypt
International investors fear protests against Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak could spill over to other Arab countries, leading to regimes more hostile to western investment practices in the region and the introduction of more Islamic economic rules. They also express concern about the future role of businesses run by Coptic Christians in Egypt.
“Egypt has long been one of the most tolerant countries toward multiple faiths (in the Muslim world),” said Donald Elefson, co-lead portfolio manager at Harding Loevner Funds, with $210 million under management. “The Coptic Christians are still very powerful, though they are a minority, and there are many large-scale businesses that are owned by Coptic families. The only risk for the business environment would be if Egypt becomes a sharia state.”
Investors and world politicians worry that an immediate resignation by Mubarak will allow opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood to take power and promote an Islamic political and social system, not to mention a reversal in Egypt’s stable relationship with Israel. An economy based on sharia-law would interfere with many Western business practices by restricting leverage, as Islamic law bans interest, and stipulates that deals must be based on tangible assets.
Analysts say it is impossible to judge the real popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has an overwhelmingly lay leadership of professionals — engineers, doctors, lawyers, academics and teachers — and a core membership that is middle-class or lower middle-class.
The 166 funds worldwide that invest in the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt, represent approximately $13.4 billion of equity and bond assets under management in mutual funds and exchange traded funds. That is a tiny fraction of the $23.7 trillion invested in mutual fund assets worldwide by the end of the third quarter, according to the Investment Company Institute in Washington.