Egyptians hit by soaring food prices as crisis bites

Amid the crisis, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has been looking for foreign currency where it can.

Starting in January, tourists will have to pay for train tickets in US dollars, said Transport Minister Kamel al-Wazir.

Many banks have limited foreign currency withdrawals and tripled credit card charges.

Even the pro-government TV talk show host Amr Adib voiced fury when he urged banks to allow Egyptians abroad to at least “withdraw enough money to take a taxi to the airport, so they can come home”.

Egypt has in the past decade tripled its foreign debt to US$157 billion. It has US$33.5 billion in foreign reserves, of which US$28 billion are deposits from its wealthy Gulf allies.

The IMF loan programme, worth US$3 billion over 46 months, is a drop in the bucket for Cairo, whose debt service in 2022-2023 alone amounts to US$42 billion.

Ratings agency Moody’s ranks Egypt as one of the five countries most at risk of defaulting on its foreign debt.

Egypt’s economy has long been dominated by powerful state and military-led enterprises.

“The Egyptian military, on whose support President Sisi is dependent, is the main beneficiary of the debt policy,” said Dr Stephan Roll of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

External debt has helped “to finance major projects in which they could earn significant money, namely large development projects entrusted to military engineers”, he said.

Therefore, Egypt’s foreign debt policy has served to “consolidate the authoritarian regime”, Dr Roll said.

Under IMF pressure, Egypt is now seeking to make headway on some long-delayed privatisation schemes.

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A recent move to create a sovereign fund tied to the Suez Canal raised public fears that Egypt would lose sovereignty over the waterway, a major source of national pride.

The authorities were quick to reassure Egyptians that the canal is “not for sale”, while a fund overseen by Mr Sisi himself aims to leverage the canal’s revenues to draw in foreign investment.

“When it comes to money, stay out of it,” Mr Sisi said recently. “I know how to handle it.” AFP


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