Egypt campaigners launch new salvo against IMF loan

Ahram Online, Sunday 9 Sep 2012

As the new Egyptian government finalises a $4.8bn loan, anti-debt campaigners warn that relying on overseas borrowing will revive the worst practices of the Mubarak era economy

Drop Egypt Debt
Panellists at Saturday's conference (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Egyptian campaigners launched a fresh salvo against government plans to borrow from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Saturday, claiming further foreign loans would mean repeating the "economic disasters" of the Mubarak era.

Calling for a full audit of Egypt's debt bill, campaigners took aim at the ousted president's economic legacy -- privatisations, soaring public debt, delapidated services and corruption -- for which they hold the previous policies of the IMF and several major development banks jointly responsible.
"We have seen an ongoing catastrophe destroying Egyptian society through health and education," said Reda Eissa, an economist and member of the Popular Campaign to Drop Egypt's Debt (PCDED).
"This is what Hosni Mubarak has done to our economy and what will be done [in future] ... If we follow the same policies then how can we expect better results?"
Eissa was speaking at a Saturday afternoon session of talks organised by the PCDED at Cairo's Press Syndicate headquarters.
Egypt has had on-off negotiations with the IMF since last year when a popular uprising toppled Mubarak and sent shockwaves through the economy. Prime Minister Hisham Qandil this week said his government expects to conclude a $4.8 billion borrowing deal with the fund within two months.
Speakers on Saturday were unanimous in rejecting such a loan, pointing to the stringent austerity package, including selling-off state assets and subsidies cuts, which Egypt would likely have to follow in order to qualify for loan installments.
"The IMF loan is not just money that will be spent just like any other loan, but will be used in the same ways as before, to enact certain policies," Wael Gamal, a prominent economic journalist, told the audience of around 100, including rank and file from the Social Democratic Front and the Freedom and Justice Party. 
"We have the confidence that we changed a dictatorship that went on for 30 years. If we want loans [they should be] for the interests of the people and the development of the country," Gamal added.
He described a global trend of embattled countries, including Greece and Jordan, standing up to austerity measures dictated by the IMF.
No firm details have yet been released of the economic programme Egypt will enact in order to attain IMF funding.
Egypt's interim government drafted a brace of proposals during the last round of negotiations with the fund in early 2012, including a shake-up of sales taxes as well as plans to cut the budget deficit through rationalising fuel subsidies to industry. In the 2012/13 state budget, approved by Egypt's military, fuel subsidies were cut by some LE25 billion, mainly through switching industrial facilities to use natural gas rather than fossil fuels.
Anders Lustgarten, a UK-based playwright and campaigner with Bankwatch, told Saturday's conference that the Arab uprising represented a "great Middle East beanfeast" for development banks looking to make profits.
The IMF, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, World Bank and International Finance Corporation, all of which have pledged assistance to a democratic Egypt, were "deeply involved in Mubarak era policies," Lustgarten said.
"They are not designing programmes to meet your needs, it's to meet their own ideology," he claimed, citing numerous examples of privatisation intiatives in post-Soviet Eastern Europe which pledged development yet seemingly specialised in "transferring public wealth into private hands."
Proponents of the loan say it is essential to ease the pressure on Egypt's balance of payments and bolster state finances. 
They also claim an agreement with the international body will act as a guarantee that Egypt has economic support and give confidence to foreign investors.
Speakers at Saturday's event sharply disagreed, with several delegates ridiculing the idea that borrowing billions could be taken as a sign of economic strength.
Samer Atallah, assistant professor of economics at the American University in Cairo, said the case for the loan was being based on several 'myths', namely that the loan was urgently needed and will be granted immediately in a lump sum.
He also attacked the idea there was no alternative to borrowing. Truly progressive taxation and a full scale shake-up of subsidies to ensure they only benefit the poor, could both help turn Egypt's fortunes round, Atallah said.
The Campaign to Drop Egypt's Debt also responded to recent reports that the US administration is preparing to extend Egypt $1 billion in debt relief. 
The plans have been reported in the New York Times and by Reuters, but the Egyptian PM has claimed ignorance of the details and negotiations.
"What does the US want in return to drop debts? What are the conditions that will be made by the US?" asked Noha El-Shoky from the stage.
"No-one knows, because the Egypt government has not given the people any details. The economy is not just for the economists, the people are paying this debts - they have to take part in making the decisions," she said.
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