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Meet Egypt’s new finance man: Can el-Beblawi move the economy beyond military constraints?

Meet Egypt’s new finance man: Can el-Beblawi move the economy beyond military constraints?

74-year-old Hazem el-Beblawi will attempt to woe the military and satisfy reform demands at a time when Egypt’s economic identity is almost completely wiped clean.

July 18, 2011 1:19 by

Egypt’s Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s new cabinet is expected to take the oath of office on Monday after a reshuffle that protesters said had partially satisfied their demands for deeper political and economic reforms.

A core of protesters, who have camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square since July 8, said they wanted further measures, including a quicker trial of Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted as president on February 11 in a popular uprising.

Mubarak’s lawyer said the former president, who has been in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since April, had slipped into coma, but hospital officials and the deputy health minister denied the report.
Protesters in Tahrir, the centre of uprising, unfurled a huge banner on Sunday that read: “Mubarak must stand trial.”

He is due to appear in court on Aug. 3 charged with abuse of power and killing of protesters. Many Egyptians think the military wants to find ways to avoid humiliating their former commander in public.

Among the new ministers is 74-year-old Hazem el-Beblawi, an adviser at the Abu Dhabi-based Arab Monetary Fund, who replaces Finance Minister Samir Radwan.

Radwan told Reuters the policy-making situation had become “confused” and he believed it best to “leave the way for somebody to handle it in a consistent and coherent manner”.

“People don’t know what they want. Do they want increased expenditure and no borrowing from abroad? Everybody has suddenly become an expert on financial policy. That is not an atmosphere conducive to efficient work,” Radwan said.

Egypt's Former Finance Minister Samir Radwan

He had negotiated a $3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to help cope with a spiralling budget deficit. But after he signed the deal, the military council scrapped it.

El-Beblawi could find policy initiatives vetoed by the army as his predecessor, Radwan, found when he secured a loan from the IMF only to have the plan shot down, economists said.

Beblawi told reporters after his appointment that his aim was “restoring as much confidence as possible to Egypt’s economy” and said there should be a cap on higher paid state employees, Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported on its website.

“It is unacceptable that one employee’s salary is a thousand times bigger than another’s,” he said.

The new minister also said he did not intend to amend the general budget set by his predecessor. “This budget had been approved based on the law, it would be dangerous to change or amend it –that would lead to more tension,” he said.

Beblawi, who studied in Paris, worked as professor of economics at the University of Alexandria until 1980. He was then chief executive of the state Export Development Bank of Egypt and executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

“The first thing Beblawi needs to do is to reflect some confidence in his decisions, empowered by the legitimacy of the military council, and he has to think a bit like investors,” said Mohamed Seddiek, head of research at Prime Securities.

Alongside Beblawi, Sharaf appointed Ali al-Silmi of the liberal Wafd party as deputy in charge of political development and democratic transformation.

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