News / Middle East

Election Limbo Keeps Egypt's IMF Loan on Ice

Riot police try to stop clashes and ask protesters, opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, to back away along Qasr Al Nil bridge, which leads to Tahrir Square in Cairo, Mar. 7, 2013.
Riot police try to stop clashes and ask protesters, opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, to back away along Qasr Al Nil bridge, which leads to Tahrir Square in Cairo, Mar. 7, 2013.
Reuters
Once parliamentary elections are out of the way, Egypt stands a chance of securing an International Monetary Fund loan to help address its currency and budget crisis; the problem is that no one knows when that will be.

With face-to-face contact between Egypt and the IMF re-established this week after a two-month gap, both sides are pushing for urgent action, but with strikingly different emphases.

Egyptian men sell bread as they balance the trays on their heads near Al Hussein mosque in Old Cairo, Mar. 17, 2013.Egyptian men sell bread as they balance the trays on their heads near Al Hussein mosque in Old Cairo, Mar. 17, 2013.
x
Egyptian men sell bread as they balance the trays on their heads near Al Hussein mosque in Old Cairo, Mar. 17, 2013.
Egyptian men sell bread as they balance the trays on their heads near Al Hussein mosque in Old Cairo, Mar. 17, 2013.
President Mohamed Mursi's government wants a full $4.8 billion loan, as agreed in principle last November, but based on a gentler reform programme than originally planned, "in light of preserving growth rates, employment and protecting the poor."

By contrast, the IMF's top official for the region, Masood Ahmed, spoke only of "possible financial support" after he met the government and central bank in Cairo on Sunday.

Also, the IMF has vigorous reform in mind to tackle problems such as energy subsidies, which are draining huge sums from the state budget."Egypt needs bold and ambitious policy actions to address its economic and financial challenges without further delay," spokeswoman Wafr Amr said last week.

Such "policy actions," most likely tax rises and subsidy cuts that will send fuel costs soaring, would not go down well at any time with a population suffering from a steady economic slide since the 2011 revolution, let alone before an election.

"The IMF will want to see measures to rein in the budget deficit in order to agree to a package which the government may be loath to implement prior to elections. An imminent agreement seems unlikely," said Giyas Gokkent, Chief Economist at National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

Cairo already had to request a delay in the IMF loan in December during serious street violence, and trouble has regularly erupted since then over a variety of grievances.

In such a volatile atmosphere, matters would be helped if everyone knew when a new lower house of parliament would be installed. Mursi announced last month that the elections would start on April 22, only for a court to cancel his decree on a procedural technicality.

So, at this crucial stage of a turbulent transition to democracy since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has had no lower house for nine months, and nobody, from Mursi down, can say when it will. "Egypt's unstable politics is likely to be the primary concern for IMF officials," said Oliver Coleman, analyst at risk consultancy Maplecroft.

"The judiciary has shown itself more than willing to rescind the decrees of the Mursi government, and a controversial economic reform package may meet the same fate without the mandate of a universally recognised parliament in place to back it up," he added.

Egypt's mounting deficit

Egypt's needs are pressing. In its plan drawn up for the IMF, the government forecast the budget deficit would hit 12.3% of the country's entire annual economic output in the year to June unless it made urgent reforms.

Far wealthier and more stable Portugal, which restored democracy almost 40 years ago, had to take a bailout from the IMF and European Union in 2011 after running a deficit that peaked below 10% of gross domestic product.

Egypt's pound is also steadily losing value, even though the central bank, which spent roughly two thirds of the Mubarak era foreign currency reserves trying to prop it up, is drastically rationing the supply of dollars.

This is crippling many small and medium-sized businesses, which are forced to turn to the black market, where unfavourable exchange rates can wipe out their profits.

On the streets, motorists queue for scarce supplies of diesel and other cheaper fuel, and anger is growing over inflation, which leapt to an annual 8.2% in February from 6.3% the previous month, eating into the living standards of people struggling to make ends meet.

This is creating a sense of helplessness among ordinary Egyptians about the reforms likely to come with an IMF loan.

"Now everything is expensive, and if they remove the subsidies, what will we do?" said Mohamed Shabaan, a 37-year-old driver. "We don't want [the loan], but at the same time I don't think that the country can function without it."

Shabaan, who makes a living chauffeuring visitors and expatriates around Cairo, has much to lose. According to the projections, the most commonly used 90 octane gasoline would leap to 5.71 Egyptian pounds ($0.85) a litre from 1.75 if subsidies go, while diesel would go up to 5.21 pounds from 1.10.

The government has promised limited amounts of subsidised fuel would remain available to some drivers under a smart card system due to start in July, but Shabaan's larger engined car would be excluded from the scheme.

In Tuesday, the government said it also planned to start rationing subsidised bread, a measure that would affect poor Egyptians particularly badly.
        `
No election link

The Islamist-led administration, which is at loggerheads with the liberal and leftist opposition about the very character of Egypt, denies the stalled elections will determine the timing on an IMF loan.

"All the discussion was about financial support or the loan that Egypt aims to obtain from the Fund," government spokesman Alaa El-Hadidi said after Sunday's visit by the IMF official, the first since January. "There is no link between the loan and parliamentary elections."

But officials of the IMF and its biggest shareholder, the United States, regularly stress that the reforms need to win backing, or at least acceptance across Egyptian politics.

Consensus seems a remote possibility. Many opposition parties had already decided to boycott the elections in a series of disputes including over the electoral law, a new constitution written by an Islamist-dominated assembly and a Mursi decree last year when he temporarily gave himself sweeping powers.

Indicating the divide in Egyptian life, Hadidi said the economic programme had been sent to the political parties "some of whom disagree with anything the government presents."

Hadidi spoke of technical-level talks lasting between one and three weeks, but no date has yet been announced for when they would start. Ahmed, who heads the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia Department, gave little away after he met Prime Minister Hisham Kandil and central bank Governor Hisham Ramez.

"We agreed that our discussions would continue diligently over the coming weeks with the aim of reaching agreement on possible financial support from the IMF," said Ahmed.

William Jackson of Capital Economics in London noted the IMF seemed to believe a deal might take some time."This probably reflects the difficulties of passing any reforms with the political situation so volatile and without elections," he said.

The IMF has raised the possibility of a bridging loan to tide Egypt over, an idea rejected by Cairo as it pushes for a full loan in return for a full reform programme.

Will Cairo swallow its pride?

But Cairo might have to swallow its pride as the $36 billion in currency reserves that Mubarak left behind had shrunk to just $13.5 billion at the end of last month.

"If there's a sudden deterioration in sentiment and investors wish to take their money out of Egypt, then the pound will come under more pressure," said Jackson. "In this situation, the authorities may agree to a bridging loan from the Fund to prevent a sharp fall in the pound."

Investors have already been shaken by a series of high-profile legal actions against prominent business figures, including travel bans and freezing of their assets, over issues ranging from tax demands to insider dealing allegations.

This will make it tough to implement unpalatable polices. "No minister or senior government official wants to bear the brunt of taking radical decisions at a stage when mass demonstrations, imprisonment and travel bans are inches away from everyone," said Hany Genena, head of research at Pharos Securities Brokerage.

In the end, the fate of Egypt's reforms and the IMF loan is likely to be sealed on the streets.

Safwat Hassan, a 44-year-old marble trader, said Egyptians would resist sharp price rises resulting from subsidy reform. "The people do not accept this and there will be anxiety and demonstrations," he said. "This issue will not pass lightly."

You May Like

Video Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs