News / Economy

Gulf Billions Buy Egypt Economy Breathing Space

A boat passes buildings under construction and the two towers of the Bank of Egypt building (R), overlooking the river Nile in Cairo, June 7, 2013.A boat passes buildings under construction and the two towers of the Bank of Egypt building (R), overlooking the river Nile in Cairo, June 7, 2013.
x
A boat passes buildings under construction and the two towers of the Bank of Egypt building (R), overlooking the river Nile in Cairo, June 7, 2013.
A boat passes buildings under construction and the two towers of the Bank of Egypt building (R), overlooking the river Nile in Cairo, June 7, 2013.
Reuters
Twelve billion dollars in aid from Egypt's wealthy Gulf allies have bought Cairo a window of several months to try and stabilize its politics and repair its state finances - or face fresh economic turmoil.

The massive packages of grants and loans unveiled by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait on Tuesday and Wednesday should boost Egyptian foreign reserves enough to avert a balance of payments crunch that was looming this year.

By replenishing state coffers, they will keep government departments running and may help authorities end fuel shortages that have caused immense public anger and contributed to last week's military overthrow of elected president Mohamed Morsi.

John Sfakianakis, chief investment strategist at MASIC, a Riyadh-based investment firm, estimated the $8 billion in aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE could give Egypt a breathing space of four to six months. On top of that, Kuwait has since pledged a further $4 billion.

But the aid will not by itself solve two key problems in the Egyptian economy: a ballooning budget deficit and political instability that is scaring away foreign capital.

If major progress is not made in these areas by the end of this year, Egypt could again risk an economic crisis and be forced to seek large amounts of additional aid from the Gulf, putting itself deeper in debt to governments there.

“Unless there is a resolution of the politics/social schisms, private capital flows will remain elusive and capital flight risks high,” Raza Agha, chief economist for the Middle East at VTB Capital in London, wrote in a report.

The aid from the Gulf “buys time,” he said. “But key at present is whether anything will get the Muslim Brotherhood off the streets.”

Morsi's Islamist supporters continue to protest at his removal by the army. Dozens were shot by troops on Monday.

The Gulf money may also ease pressure on Cairo to finalize a $4.8-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Securing it might impress other would-be lenders and investors, but its conditions might prove too politically painful within Egypt.

Finances

The country's foreign reserves totalled $14.92 billion at the end of June. Excluding inflows of aid, they have been falling by around $1-2 billion every month, so the latest aid may cover Egypt's external deficits into early 2014.

The speed with which Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait announced packages - less than a week after Morsi was deposed - is as important to financial markets as their size. The three Gulf states, which mistrusted Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, signaled they are determined to keep a post-Morsi Egypt afloat.

The confidence created by that signal will help Egypt roll over about $5 billion in dollar-denominated Treasury bills maturing by the end of 2013, and could limit or halt further depreciation of the Egyptian pound in coming months.

Cash grants totalling $3 billion from Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait - a quarter of their combined $12 billion in loans, grants and donations of oil products - dwarf the $250 million in annual civil aid on offer from Washington.

The European Union has been giving some $190 million annually. Late last year, the EU said up to $6.4 billion in loans and grants was on offer - but that is tied to reforms and would include the European share of the potential IMF loan.

Egypt's military also receives an annual $1.3-billion direct subsidy from the United States. The arrangement, dating from the 1980s, is related to Cairo's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

The appointment as interim prime minister of Hazem el-Beblawi, an international economist who ran Egypt's Export Development Bank for 12 years, may increase the chances of Cairo obtaining the long-delayed loan from the IMF.

“They need the IMF stamp of approval, given the IMF has criteria regarding economic reforms,” said Sfakianakis. “That will give far greater confidence that the government is addressing the financial reform area, which will unlock further financial aid from the European Union and other agencies.”

But to satisfy the IMF, the government would have to commit to deep cuts in its budget deficit, which nearly doubled from a year earlier to 113.4 billion Egyptian pounds ($16.2 billion) in the first five months of 2013.

It remains unclear whether any Egyptian government - either the interim administration, or the government that would take power after parliamentary elections scheduled in about six months - can muster the will to make the politically explosive cuts in subsidies required to reduce the deficit.

For that reason, an IMF loan may never materialize, said Farouk Soussa, chief Middle East economist at Citigroup: “An IMF deal seems unlikely to me in the current political environment and until a new permanent government is put in place,” he said.

“In fact, a populist, anti-IMF platform is more likely to win votes, so I am not optimistic on a deal in the long run either.”

Politics

In addition to healthier state finances, Egypt needs private capital to revive its economy. Foreign direct investment was just $1.4 billion in the nine months to March, compared to annual levels above $10 billion a few years ago; political stability is vital to lure private money back.

The size of the Gulf aid packages may give the post-Morsi government room to launch spending programs designed to buy social peace, as Saudi Arabia itself did successfully after the 2011 uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

Soussa said he expected the new Egyptian administration to focus on restoring law and order through a combination of tougher policing and raising standards of living.

“I'd therefore expect to see a ramp-up in public services, a raise in salaries, and an increase in imports of key products such as fuel and food,” he said.

But it is not clear whether an end to shortages and better living standards could paper over political divisions that have widened since Morsi's removal, with many Islamists outraged by the army's intervention and this week's bloodshed in Cairo.

While Brotherhood leaders insist they will not take up arms, others may. Attacks on tourists in the 1990s hit Egypt's income hard. When Algeria canceled a 1991 election that Islamists were winning, a decade of civil war ensued, crippling development.

Emad Mostaque, strategist at Noah Capital Markets, said there was a risk that polarization on the streets could develop into general strikes and militant violence, which would seriously damage the Egyptian economy.

“We remain concerned about attacks against tourist centers by splinter groups,” Mostaque said, “With our key takeaway from Algeria being that groups can quickly re-radicalize and it doesn't take many people to cause an almighty mess.”

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

US Urges Taliban to Remain Engaged in Afghan Peace Talks

US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Daniel Feldman recently met with Pakistani and Afghan officials as talks were disrupted by news of Taliban chief Mullah Omar's death More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9066
JPY
USD
123.75
GBP
USD
0.6394
CAD
USD
1.2954
INR
USD
63.904

Rates may not be current.