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Oil and Egypt: a difficult balancing act

The new government of Egypt has a difficult task in balancing the social wellbeing of its people alongside its plans to turn around its economic fortunes, according to one country's most prominent businessmen.

Ahmed Heikal, the chairman and co-founder of Qalaa Holdings, told CNBC Friday that this issue was especially important in the oil industry. Speaking to CNBC at the Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) in Sharm el-Sheikh, he said oil subsidies in the country should slowly be lifted but Egyptians should be provided with a "social security net" to counteract that loss.

"When you lift energy prices, you are going to get inflation and you need to protect the majority of Egyptians who need this subsidy," he told CNBC on the outskirts of the event.

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Ahmed Zakaria | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Political turmoil over the last four years has meant Egypt has now has become a net importer the commodity. The country's refinery output declined by 28 percent between 2009 to 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), which says that Egypt must import petroleum products to make up for the shortfall.

Heikal detailed his plans for a $3.7 billion refinery facility that is being built outside of Cairo. He predicts that his project would cut Egypt's oil imports by 60 percent, which he said was substantial for the current account and balance of payments for the Egyptian government.

Fuel subsidies in Egypt provide a boon to citizens and businesses but the government has signaled that they could be coming to an end. The oil ministry said in December that it expects to cut its energy subsidies bill by 30 percent in this current fiscal year, according to Reuters, but only if global prices remain low.

The price of oil has seen a dramatic drop since last June of around 60 percent and despite a recent uptick analysts from Goldman Sachs believe that there might be more pain ahead for the price. The cutting of subsidies could help the government's economic plan and bolster its cash strapped finances.

However, Ahmed Heikal sees this as the delicate balancing act that Egypt is working through and hopes that a series of social security programs would mean that subsidies would be gradually lifted. He spoke of plans by the government to provide money to families to keep their children in education. He also highlighted reforms to ration cards and the raising of pension schemes.

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"(These will) cushion the inflationary pressures that will happen on the most needy of Egyptians," he said.

Egypt, a country of 90 million, has seen a tumultuous four years. In 2011, the country was plunged into mayhem during the Arab Spring uprising in the region and it's easy to see why this is such an important for the Middle Eastern nation.

Firas Abi Ali, the head of Middle East forecasting for research firm IHS, told CNBC via email that key for Egypt is going to be redistributing the benefits of economic growth, and ensuring that the poor and middle class are also benefiting. Failing to do this will make it easier for opponents to form a narrative that the elite than run the country before 2011 are now back in control of the economy, he added.

The new regime received some good news ahead of this weekend's economic get-together with the announcement from BP that it is making a $12 billion investment in the country over the next few years to develop gas resources.