Egypt govt reshuffle sends negative message to IMF: Economists

Marwa Hussein, Deya Abaza, Tuesday 7 May 2013

Economy experts say Tuesday's cabinet reshuffle could have negative impact on Egypt's loan talks with IMF, which may perceive frequent post-revolution cabinet changes as sign of political instability

Fayad Abdel-Moneim
Minister of Finance Fayad Abdel-Moneim (Photo: Ahram)

Tuesday's partial cabinet reshuffle included the replacement of four economic ministers, three of whom are involved in Egypt's ongoing talks with the International Monetary Fund for a proposed $4.8 billion loan. 

The reshuffle saw the replacement of Finance Minister El-Morsi El-Sayed Hegazi, Planning Minister Ashraf El-Arabi and Investment Minister Osama Saleh. 

Cabinet spokesman Alaa El-Hadidy said the ministerial changes would "not affect" the course of Egypt's loan talks with the IMF.  

"A change of some individuals in the government does not at all mean a change in government policies or its financial and economic reform plan," which, El-Hadidy said on Tuesday, would remain on the track set by the government in February. 

Economists, however, are likely to see things differently. Many of them believe the reshuffle – the second cabinet change within five months – will send a negative message to the IMF and potential investors.

"IMF officials have told me that each time they get used to a minister, he disappears", Samir Radwan, Egypt's first post-revolution finance minister, told Ahram Online. "We now have our fifth finance minister since the revolution; this is a sign of instability."

The change of finance minister is particularly puzzling, since El-Morsi Hegazy was only in office for five months after being appointed in the last cabinet reshuffle in January. Both the previous finance minister and his newly appointed successor – Fayyad Abdel-Moneim – are specialised in Islamic finance; both were largely unknown among eminent Egyptian economists. 

"It is astonishing that President Morsi would change key figures amid the IMF negotiating process, especially after the mysterious departure of finance minister advisor Hani Kadry Dimian," Hani Genena, head of research at the Cairo-based Pharos Investment Bank, told Ahram Online. 

Dimian, a key Egyptian negotiator, resigned as deputy finance minister late last month. Up until then, he had been seen as the crucial point man in Egypt's protracted negotiations with the IMF. 

"The finance ministry is in charge of executing economic reforms," said Genena. "The timing of the reshuffle, and the fact that none of the new economic ministers are opposition figures, runs counter to the political stability and reconciliation demanded by the IMF as a requirement to implement the necessary economic reforms."

Delays in concluding the IMF loan have partly been an outcome of the IMF's adoption of a new approach to negotiations, which no longer simply rely on government authorities but now involve outreach to opposition groups and the general public to explain the need for certain reforms.

The reshuffle has also failed to satisfy opposition figures. The opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) umbrella group, for its part, described the reshuffle as a "disappointment" to Egypt's political forces, especially in regard to the fact that Prime Minister Hisham Qandil was maintained in his post.  

According to Radwan, Tuesday's reshuffle "failed to respond to popular demands for better qualified ministers, did not satisfy the opposition, and is not helping negotiations with the IMF or restoring investor confidence." He went on to assert that Tuesday's government reshuffle appeared to be merely a cosmetic change. 

Essam El-Erian, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), told Al Jazeera that the reshuffle aimed at "confronting the economic crisis and concluding the agreement with the IMF with new spirit and a new vision, and to confront the energy crises," in reference to recent fuel shortages.

The new ministers, meanwhile, will be expected to implement austerity measures linked to the IMF loan. These include lifting energy subsidies that eat up a fifth of the country's annual budget and raising sales taxes to bolster government revenue. 

Qandil, a technocrat appointed prime minister last year, named nine new ministers on Tuesday, three of whom are known to be Muslim Brotherhood members.  

Yehia Hamed, the new investment minister, is also a spokesman for the FJP, while Amr Darrag, who takes over at the international cooperation and planning ministry, is a member of the Brotherhood’s political bureau and chairman of the FJP's foreign relations committee.

Ahmed El-Gizawi, the new minister of Agriculture is the head of the Agriculture Committee of the FJP.

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