By Asma Alsharif
CAIRO Feb 21 Egypt plans to invite an IMF
mission to Cairo within a week, the government said on Thursday,
signalling an imminent resumption of negotiations over a $4.8
billion loan as it struggles with an acute foreign currency
Planning Minister Ashraf al-Araby said foreign investment in
Egypt had all but dried up and announced grim economic data,
exposing the depth of the country's financial crisis before
elections expected in the spring.
Analysts had expected the government of President Mohamed
Mursi to try to delay a deal with the International Monetary
Fund until after the elections, as the loan's terms will demand
highly unpopular austerity measures. Parliamentary polls are
expected to begin in April or May.
However, Araby said he expected rapid movement. "God
willing, we expect to invite the IMF delegation within days," he
told a news conference. Asked to be more specific, he said:
"Within days, no more than a week."
Cairo reached an initial agreement with the IMF on the loan
in November but postponed final ratification in December because
of political unrest. This followed Mursi's move to push through
a controversial new constitution completed by his backers in the
Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties.
Araby announced that foreign investment in Egypt was almost
non-existent in the six months to the end of December,
reflecting the political and economic uncertainty besetting the
Arab world's most populous nation.
He added that Egypt needed strong investment to reach seven
percent annual economic growth - the rate economists believe is
needed to lower unemployment and soak up the waves of young
Egyptians entering the labour market.
However, he said growth had been just 2.2 percent
year-on-year in the three months to the end of December.
Egypt's pound has tumbled 8 percent against the dollar this
year as its international reserves fell to $13.6 billion, less
than the $15 billion needed to cover just three months' worth of