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Despite record lending from the World Bank and years of rapid economic growth in Egypt, the proportion of Egyptians living in absolute poverty has steadily increased.
As the World Bank shifts its attention and resources to privatizing state institutions, the rising gap between rich and poor demands that civil society hold donors to their poverty reduction mandates.
As Egypt faces a number of pressing development challenges, including high unemployment, severe food price hikes and rising poverty, the IFIs are encouraging Egypt to lower government subsidies on energy, expand the retrenchment of civil servants, and increase the regressive sales (VAT) tax. Aimed at reducing government expenditure, these reforms would disproportionately affect the poor and raise the cost of living.
Considering the extent of IFI lending in the country, BIC’s Middle East & North Africa (MENA) Program has identified Egypt as one of the key countries in the region where civil society engagement is necessary to monitor the activities and projects of the World Bank and other IFIs.
Since 2007, BIC has worked with local civil society organizations in monitoring and engaging the World Bank to make their voices and demands heard. These interactions have led to some early successes in ensuring access to documents at local World Bank offices and strengthening local consultation processes.
Read BIC’s review of the World Bank’s 2006-2009 (extended to 2012) Country Assistance Strategy its impact:Impact of World Bank Policy and Programs on the Built Environment in Egypt, Bank Information Center, March 2013
See BIC’s latest list of projects the IFIs are currently preparing in Egypt:World Bank Current Portfolio in Egypt, BIC, May 2015
IFC Current Portfolio in Egypt, BIC, September 2015
Multitude of lenders
Egypt represents the largest recipient of international financial institution (IFI) lending in the MENA region and provides an interesting example of the confluence of different multilateral lenders. A number of these institutions are active in Egypt, including:
- World Bank
- International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector lending arm of the World Bank
- International Monetary Fund (IMF)
- African Development Bank (AfDB)
- European Investment Bank (EIB)
- Islamic Development Bank (IsDB)
While Egypt has consistently received the highest proportion of IFI lending in the region, the past few years have seen a sharp increase in borrowing following Egypt’s reclassification by the World Bank as a “middle income” country. Combined with its willingness to implement business-friendly reforms (see “World Bank applauds Egypt’s pro-investment reforms as workers go on strike”), this has heralded a major influx of IFI lending to private companies investing in Egypt.
The European Investment Bank in particular has significantly increased its involvement, becoming the largest multilateral lender in the country and investing over €2.3 billion in private companies over the past five years alone, much of it for natural gas production.
The number of multilateral donors operating in the country presents a significant challenge for civil society. Though the overall goals of these varied institutions may be similar – trade liberalization, deregulation of state institutions and the push for an investor-friendly “business climate” – it can be difficult to navigate the broad array of donor interests. Considering the serious lack of transparency and consultation about their activities, it can be difficult to hold these institutions accountable.
Read more about the activities of each of these institutions in BIC’s Egypt country study:The International Financial Institutions and Egypt, Bank Information Center, October 2007 (Acrobat PDF 277 KB)
The World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral donors are pursuing an ambitious economic reform agenda in Egypt rooted in the privatization and restructuring of national institutions and services. While the privatization of over half of Egypt’s banking assets has perhaps received the most attention, the IFIs have encouraged the government to introduce private sector participation into a number of other sectors as well, such as the railways, ports, and the water, sanitation, and irrigation sector. Similar initiatives have proven highly controversial in other countries, and the purported development benefits are by no means clear.
Egypt’s privatization process has been plagued by a lack of transparency. In the case of banking reform, the parliament reportedly did not know about the sale of several public banks under the government’s $8.7 billion program to liberalize the finance sector. The World Bank and African Development Bank each has loaned $500 million for this financial sector privatization process; in the case of the AfDB, the contribution represented the single largest loan in the Bank’s history. However, the persistent lack of transparency raises questions about the legitimacy of the decisions to privatize those public assets.
Similarly, issues stemming from the World Bank-backed sale of Egypt’s pension system under the financial sector reform program could result in crisis down the road. Credible evidence suggests that the government-run pension system was privatized without adequate preparation and oversight, and that the financial structures now responsible for maintaining the system lack the capacity to manage it properly. The impact of these major shifts in public management may not be felt in the near term, but significant concern remains that the situation could boil over in 20 or 30 years.
Meanwhile, the World Bank’s private sector arm, the IFC, came under pressure last year for its participation in privatizing the national department store chain, Omar Effendi. Critics charge that the sale price of the lucrative business to Saudi investors was too low. The World Bank typically plays an oversight role over such procurement processes, and it remains unclear why the process was allowed to proceed despite being fraught with irregularities. Last year, the IFC invested $40 million in expanding the company’s operations, and also purchased a 5 percent equity stake.
While the issue of climate change is often eclipsed by more immediate concerns such as the high unemployment rate and the food and energy crises that plague the country, Egypt’s vulnerability to climate-related impacts represents a looming challenge with major implications for Egypt’s poor. Already, rural farmers in the Nile Delta have suffered from salt water encroaching from a rising Mediterranean Sea and affecting their crops, and recent studies predict massive displacement resulting from rising sea levels in the densely populated Delta in the longer term.
Meanwhile, the World Bank has indicated that it intends to play a major role in crafting and implementing Egypt’s approach to address the anticipated impacts of climate change. This comes as no surprise, since the World Bank is seeking to reposition itself as the premier institution in dealing with climate change globally. However, the Bank’s efforts to consult Egyptian civil society have been negligible, and there is little evidence that the Bank’s interventions on combating climate change to date have been effective. In the case of Egypt, for example, the Bank reportedly assisted the government in qualifying for carbon credits for reducing pollution, despite failing to demonstrate that the project actually reduced the promised emissions.
Civil Society Analysis
- Impact of World Bank policy and programs on the built environment in Egypt, March 2013 (Acrobat PDF 5598 KB)
- IFC Current Portfolio in Egypt, Bank Information Center, September 2015
- World Bank Current Portfolio in Egypt, May, 2015 (Acrobat PDF 362 KB)
- The International Financial Institutions and Egypt, Bank Information Center, October 2007 (Acrobat PDF 277 KB)
- IFIs and the Middle East & North Africa: A Primer for NGOs, Bank Information Center (Acrobat PDF 617 KB)
- BIC’s Middle East & North Africa Program, Bank Information Center (Acrobat PDF 56 KB)
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