It was with a sense of optimism that Egypt's minister of planning and international cooperation, Fayza Abou el Naga, summed up the mood in her country as she talked about the many challenges ahead for the economy. "We are now in the tenth month of our revolution and we can say that the worst is behind us," she said.
She was speaking at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's Transition to Transition (T2T) Initiative event, in Cairo. The conference was an opportunity for the Egyptians to share their experiences of change with representatives from countries in central and eastern Europe - the EBRD's existing countries of operations - which have already gone through dramatic economic and political turmoil.
The conference was organised with the help of the Federation of Egyptian Industries and the Egyptian Junior Business Association. Former Czech Prime Minister and current EBRD vice-president, Jan Fischer, told the audience that transformation is a complex issue: "After 20 years, my country is still in a transition. The process involves intertwining economic and political issues, legal changes, as well as social aspects." He also said that a lean civil service was a prerequisite. Mrs.Aboulnaga replied by admitting that Egypt had six and a half million civil servants but only fifteen per cent worked effectively.
A former Polish prime minister, Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, told the meeting that you have to accept that transition brings instability - that was his country's experience and governments had to find time for strategic thinking, even in the midst of daily chaos. EBRD Chief Economist, Erik Berglof, believes this sharing of experiences between the EBRD's current and new regions can really help all countries understand the challenges of transition.
During the discussions, many of the participants from Egypt's business community said that their priority would be help for small and medium sized enterprises. This is a sector which finds it hard to access loans, and there was support for the EBRD to get involved to make it easier to find funding.
The EBRD's Director of Communications, Jonathan Charles, said that the Bank was listening intently as it drew up its strategy for Egypt:" We want to know exactly what it is that you want us to do and that is why we are listening so closely."
Apart from examining the general issues of how to stimulate growth, there were additional working sessions on promoting employment through small and medium enterprises, investing in food security, preparing for a sustainable future and driving competitiveness through innovation.
Senior EBRD staff also met representatives of Egyptian youth organisations. They explained that they wanted to see swift change and that governments had to see the people as stakeholders whose voices must be heard.
The EBRD has said that it has the capacity to invest, eventually, as much as a billion euros a year in Egypt, and two and a half billion euros a year across the southern and eastern Mediterranean region. It is now planning to hold similar listening exercises in Tunisia and Morocco in the coming months.