The executive board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $5.2 billion loan to Egypt on 26 June. A statement made on this occasion reiterated that the loan’s intention was “to help the [Egyptian] authorities preserve the achievements made over the past four years, support health and social spending to protect vulnerable groups, and advance a set of key structural reforms.”
The loan was approved despite a campaign undertaken by eight NGOs that signed a letter addressed to the IMF urging it to delay the vote on making the loan available to Egypt. Even after the IMF had ignored their efforts, voted on the loan and approved it, the letter continued to circulate, this time with add-ons like the loan should not be made available “until robust anti-corruption requirements are included in the programme and the loan terms are made public” and “check back with us as we work together to ensure that this loan is the last blank cheque that [President Abdel-Fattah] Al-Sisi receives.”
Such hatred is so puzzling as to be incomprehensible. The role of an NGO is to support a country, not to halt aid allocated to it or to dictate demands while using an authoritative tone. According to Carolyn A Islam, a scholar of NGOs, these “are not meant to act in lieu of the government, but rather to work in concert with them.” However, NGOs also rely on donors and must align their projects to their donors’ satisfaction. In essence, NGOs work to gratify their donors, and, in so doing, they may forgo their integrity. As Islam says, “by giving donors excessive power, NGOs sacrifice autonomy, credibility, and in some cases their core mission and values.”
The NGOs’ letter to the IMF, the embodiment of delusion, arrogance and insolence, does not once mention the aim behind the loan to Egypt, which is to alleviate the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It intentionally skirts that aim so that the signees can elevate themselves to the position of “good doers” while hiding what they really are. This is enough to prove their actual intention of working against Egypt.
The letter asked the IMF to delay its vote until it had ensured that all the funds made available under the loan would be “used for their intended purpose of supporting inclusive growth, improving fiscal transparency and increasing health and social spending.” The letter also went further, saying that a “lack of transparency itself raises concerns, as does the lack of sufficient and well-implemented measures in previous loans [to Egypt], including a three-year $12 billion Extended Fund Facility approved in November 2016.” This implies that previous loans were squandered, which is a delusion.
Before we go any further, it should be said that transparency goes both ways. As donors manipulate NGOs to carry out their own agendas, their identities often remain a well-kept secret. Shouldn’t we and the IMF know who these NGOs’ donors are? Where is the transparency here?
Earlier, during the negotiation of the 2016 IMF loan of $12 billion, Egypt provided the IMF with enough information to show that it would be used with integrity and expertise and that Egypt would fully comply with the guidelines set out by the IMF.
Managing Director of the IMF Christine Lagarde later said in April 2019 that “the Egyptian authorities embarked on an ambitious economic reform programme in 2016 that is being supported by an IMF financial arrangement. Since then, Egypt has made substantial progress as evident in the success achieved in macroeconomic stabilisation. Its growth rate is now among the highest in the region, the budget deficit is on a declining trajectory, and inflation is on track to reach the Central Bank of Egypt’s target by the end of 2019. Unemployment has declined to around 10 per cent, which is the lowest since 2011, and social protection measures have been expanded.”
Yet, the NGOs in their recent letter have demanded that Egypt and the IMF provide not only details on how the current loan will be used, but also on how the recent $2.8 and earlier 2016 US$12 billion loans were used. When the NGOs “have had the opportunity to engage with Fund staff and the Executive Board,” only then will any new loan be considered transparent enough for them. Bizarre as it may be, they are effectively asking for those who are in dire need in Egypt to put their lives on hold until these almighty NGOs have given their consent to the new loan.
The letter haughtily flags what the NGOs consider to be weaknesses in Egypt’s governing system, naming corruption, a weak judicial system, an abusive security apparatus and the military’s intervention in the economy. The letter also mentions the dismissal of Hisham Geneina, the former head of the Central Auditing Agency, who had said that Egypt had lost LE600 billion between 2012 and 2015 to official corruption. The message here is that Egypt did in fact lose LE600 billion to corruption and misconduct, though there has been not a shred of proof to support such allegations.
The outlandish demands made by the NGOs prior to approval of the new IMF loan were the following: first, that the decree that allows the president to dismiss the heads of regulatory agencies and the Central Auditing Agency be revoked – in other words, that NGOs should be allowed to decide the Egyptian constitutional order; second, that IMF funds be kept in a separate account and be subject to a public and independent audit every six months – in other words, that the Egyptian government is not trustworthy, and it is up to NGOs to check up on it; and third, that all contracts made under the loan, including their English translations, be made publicly available.
Why should the English translations be made available, one might ask. Don’t these NGOs have any Egyptian staff, or are they all staffed by non-Egyptians? Having fulfilled the NGOs’ demands, only then should Egypt be assisted in its war against Covid-19 through the new IMF loan, the NGOs said.
Most people in Egypt ignore disinformation about Egypt because it is not worth the effort to rebut it. But this time round, “Egyptian lives matter,” and these NGOs and their letter must be exposed for what they are. Though we must continue to welcome NGOs to Egypt, we must distinguish between those who are here to benefit the country and those who are here to carry out hidden agendas.
The recent NGOs’ letter to the IMF is proof that Egypt must scrutinise further, and even curb, the operations of some NGOs in Egypt. They should never be allowed to work against Egypt’s vital interests with impunity.
The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly