Egypt's long-awaited economic reform programme should take the protection of the country's economically "vulnerable groups" as one of its central planks, the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday.
Reforms, currently being drafted by the Egyptian government to qualify for a $4.8 billion-plus IMF loan, should "take account of social dimensions and in particular the protection of vulnerable groups," said the fund's spokesman Gerry Rice.
The "broadly important elements [of the programme] are the objective of macro-economic stability and that it be homegrown and have broad popular support," Rice added, confirming that Egypt had asked for more time to "advance those preparations."
Rice's comments seemed a nod to a frequent criticism made in Egypt about IMF funding. Opponents
of the fund say the fiscal conditions placed on Egypt by lenders have historically exacerbated social inequalities and hit the poor the hardest.
Egypt's prime minister said on Wednesday that an IMF team will visit Cairo in the last week of October to resume negotiations.
An Egyptian delegation will also hold talks with the fund during the annual IMF and World Bank conference in Tokyo on 9-14 October in preparation for the Cairo visit.
Rice, responding to questions from Ahram Online during a web-streamed press briefing, confirmed that the IMF was "looking forward" to discussing ways to support Egypt.
A recent opinion poll
shows Egyptians divided over the prospect of further IMF borrowing. Just one third of Egyptians actively approve of the potential loan while a third know nothing about it. Of the remainder, 23 per cent oppose borrowing and 8 per cent are undecided.