Egypt's new tourism minister yesterday championed the free market and said attracting foreign investment would be a top priority, speaking like an economic reformer but indicating political reforms were not a top priority.
"There is a very high level of expectations in the country . . . and I feel the pressure of those expectations," Ahmed El Maghraby said at his .rst news conference since taking of.ce 10 days ago.
He declared the meeting with reporters as a sign in and of itself that the new Egyptian government would be more open and accountable.
Maghraby is among the cadre of men seen as close to President Hosni Mubarak's reform-minded son, Gamal, and his appointment to the new Cabinet sworn in July 14 raised hopes among Egyptians that they would soon see longawaited economic and political change.
Mubarak has been president since 1981, elected every .ve years after being nominated by a Parliament controlled by his National Democratic Party and then approved in national referendums in which he is the only candidate.
The economy relies heavily on tourism, which has been hurt by the perception the Middle East is dangerous. Unemployment is high and entrepreneurs complain the bureaucracy -- riddled with corruption and bloated by years of socialist- style policies -- sti.es growth in this country of 70 million.
To add to his economic challenges, Mubarak faces pressure from the United States as well as from Egyptians to usher in democratic change. Speculation that he is grooming his son to succeed him was only increased by the appointment to the Cabinet of a halfdozen men linked to Gamal Mubarak.
Maghraby is on the board of Gamal Mubarak's Future Generation Foundation, a charity devoted to preparing young Egyptians for the 21st-century global economy.
Both Mubaraks reject the idea they are a planning anything so undemocratic as father-to-son succession, but the president's son has said he cannot stop people from nominating him for the country's top job.
Asked whether Egypt's leaders would embrace political reforms such as easing limitations on opposition parties or allowing Egyptians to directly elect their president, Maghraby said change would have to be weighed against the need to maintain stability.
"Change for the sake of change or at a pace that might affect stability may not be the best remedy for Egypt at this period," he said.
Maghraby said he came to the news conference after a meeting with the Italian ambassador to Egypt to discuss bringing Italian companies to invest in Egypt's tourism infrastructure.