Egyptian prime minister Essam Sharaf has urged foreign companies not to delay investing in the "new Egypt", in an exclusive interview with fDi Magazine.

"We have had major changes with the revolution and there will be ups and downs, but what I can say is that whoever wants to invest in Egypt now is investing in the future," Mr Sharaf told fDiin a meeting at his Cairo office.

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"I know these are difficult times, but I travel a lot and what I am hearing is that people are still thinking very highly of Egypt. Investors in Arab, African and European countries, and even the US, understand very well the value of Egypt. We must get through this bottleneck of the transition, but the future is very bright."

Country in transition

The three-decade rule of former president Hosni Mubarak ended in February after mass protests. The country is now in transition from dictatorial rule to popular democracy, and the current government is in a caretaker role at the behest of the military council until elections take place, expected in a few months.

Mr Sharaf stressed that "all the inputs for the industrial future of Egypt" are intact, regardless of political fluidity and short-term uncertainty.

He added: "The location of Egypt within the Middle East and Africa means that the country can play a major role – and of course with the US and Europe, there is an old and close relationship as well."

Religious tension

His message comes as clashes between Coptic Christians, a minority religion in Egypt, and some Muslim factions raise tensions on the streets of the capital and spark fears of sectarian conflict in the Arab world's largest and most influential country. Government officials have been at pains to insist that such fears are overblown. Mr Sharaf himself had to cut the interview short to attend meetings with the military council to address the violence.

A former transport minister before resigning from the Mubarak government five years ago, Mr Sharaf was appointed by the country's ruling military council in early March. In his interview with fDihe was cordial and spoke in fluent English. His predecessor, Ahmed Shafiq, was forced to step down to appease protesters who felt he was too closely tied to the previous regime. Mr Mubarak had appointed Mr Shafiq days before the collapse of his regime. 

Mr Sharaf, a US-educated engineer from Purdue University, had been a vocal opponent of the Mubarak government in recent years and supported the street protests that toppled the old guard. He is also a staunch opponent of normalising ties with Israel and considers the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict to be a precondition to co-operation between Israel and Egypt.

FDI into Egypt saw large increases in 2008 and 2009, with greenfield project numbers rising 57% and 21%, respectively, according to greenfield investment monitor fDiMarkets but declined by more than a quarter in 2010.