Egypt 

 Egypt 

 
EFIC Country profile - map of Egypt

The political transition ushered in by the overthrow of President Mubarak in February 2011 continues.  The transition has not only been long, but bumpy: social, sectarian and judicial tensions have increased, the economy has stalled, security has worsened.  The new equilibrium will only come into sight once a fresh constitution is drafted and parliamentary elections are held, most likely some time in 2013.  With the country so polarised both events could cause significant unrest.  If the transition falters, a crisis could result.

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Contact: Dougal Crawford, Senior Economist EFIC - dcrawford@efic.gov.au

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Overview

November 2012

The political transition ushered in by the overthrow of President Mubarak in February 2011 continues. The transition has not only been long, but bumpy: social, sectarian and judicial tensions have increased, the economy has stalled, security has worsened. The new equilibrium will only come into sight once a fresh constitution is drafted and parliamentary elections are held, most likely some time in 2013. With the country so polarised both events could cause significant unrest. If the transition falters, a crisis could result.

Egypt country profile - Chart 1

Egypt has several attractions for investors and exporters – a large domestic market, high potential economic growth, significant natural resources; and an advantageous location – close to Europe, Africa and the Gulf.

Egypt country profile - Chart 2

Political uncertainty has hurt growth and investor confidence. External and fiscal deficits raise the risk of currency, balance of payments and sovereign debt crises, particularly in the event of further political shocks, or an early termination of the IMF program. Some Mubarak-era contracts are at risk of being revised or cancelled.

Interpreting Chart 2

Business cycle risk. A volatile business cycle can be a special headache for exporters and investors, because it means that downturns will be steep – and corporate casualties will be high.

Currency risk. In today's world of widely floating exchange rates and sophisticated currency hedging techniques, some degree of currency volatility is quite acceptable, and presents little risk. But where a country has a weak balance of payments or is prone to wide swings in capital flows, it can suffer sudden and dramatic currency moves that can bankrupt large swathes of its corporate and banking sectors.

Currency inconvertibility risk. If the country suffers from a weak balance of payments, not only is it prone to steep currency depreciation, but there is a temptation for the government to impose exchange controls that prevent importers from converting local currency into foreign currency in order to make trade payments.

Systemic banking risk. Weak balance sheets and poor lending practices can sometimes trigger sector-wide banking crises.

Sovereign default risk. Fiscal mismanagement can put governments under financial strain to which they respond by running up arrears with, or defaulting on, overseas suppliers and creditors. With the sovereign cut off from credit, a sovereign default also increases the likelihood of sharp downswing in the economy, currency inconvertibility and a systemic banking crisis.

Difficulty/cost of enforcing contracts. If you get into a contractual dispute, will the country's legal and judicial system help or hinder you in pursuing a claim? Drawing upon World Bank data on the cost and time involved in enforcing contracts (at www.doingbusiness.org) we seek to measure the degree of help or hindrance.

The measure scale runs from negligible to extreme.

Economy

November 2012

Despite all the political instability, economic prospects have improved over the past few months. A US$4.8b IMF loan, agreed in November 2012, combined with substantial financial support from other multilateral and bilateral partners, will lower financing strains and the risk of a disorderly devaluation of the pound.  By providing an anchor for economic policies the IMF program will hopefully boost business confidence and crowd in private capital, which has largely deserted the country since the political transition began. 

However, large risks remain. The lengthy political transition has left Egypt with much reduced economic buffers if the transition stalls or if the IMF program is terminated.  FX reserves have slumped to below 3 months of imports, the fiscal deficit is 11% of GDP, and growth has slowed to a crawl.  Moreover, attempts to rein in the fiscal deficit and boost private investment will have to be carefully balanced against popular demands for ‘social justice’ and income re-distribution.

Egypt country profile - Chart 3

The economy has weakened sharply since the start of the political transition. Over the 18 months to June 2012, GDP grew by just 2% pa, and unemployment increased from 9% to 12½% ― though unofficial estimates are much higher. Investment has been weak as businesses have put plans on hold, and in some cases withdrawn capital, while exports and Suez canal dues have been hurt by downturn in the EU. Growth is expected to accelerate in 2013 and 2014, but this requires political stability. Egypt is very sensitive to weak growth, because per capita income is low, the labour force is expanding rapidly, and the budget deficit is large.

Egypt country profile - Chart 4

Most industries slumped sharply during Mubarak’s overthrow. The subsequent recovery has been tepid, held back by political uncertainty, security problems and regional economic weakness. Tourism arrivals are still 25% below previous peaks due to the downturn in the EU and persistent fears about domestic security.  Meanwhile, industrial production rebounded quickly through 2011, but has eased through 2012 as labour unrest and weak export markets discouraged production.

Egypt country profile - Chart 5

Investors withdrew large amounts of capital from Egypt in response to the political turmoil, slump in growth, and uncertain investment climate. All up, net capital outflows were US$20 billion from March 2011 to June 2012.  To offset the outflow, the central bank has run down its reserves rather than allowing a sharp fall in the pound. The fears that this would end in a balance of payments crisis have faded in recent months, as multilateral and bilateral partners begin to fill financing gaps. Egypt has been offered US$14.5b on favourable terms from its bilateral and multilaterals partners. FX reserves have stabilised at around US$15b, or 2½ months’ imports.

Egypt country profile - Chart 6

The budget deficit for FY2011-12 was 11% of GDP, and public debt-GDP ratio 83% – both extremely high. Under its IMF program, the government will try to put the budget on a more sustainable footing by curtailing subsidies – 25% of total expenditure – and by reforming sales and income taxes. Effective communication will be vital if these reforms are to be implemented. Economic reforms are viewed with suspicion by many, as reforms to liberalise the economy during the Mubarak-era chiefly benefited the elite.  Ratings agencies have downgraded Egypt’s foreign debt over the last two years to well below investment grade ― Standard & Poor's to B, Fitch to B+, Moody's to B2. All agencies have negative outlooks.

Politics

November 2012

The political transition, which started in February 2011, has three more steps to go:  a new constitution, a referendum on the constitution, and finally parliamentary elections. If all goes to plan, the parliamentary elections will be held in first half of 2013. Following the overthrow of Mubarak in February 2011, there was a year and a half of rule by an interim military council, until the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi – elected as President in May 2012 – assumed legislative and executive authority in August.

Over the next year, the drafting of the new constitution and the consolidation of power around President Morsi will be watched closely.

  • The constitution will determine the relative powers of president, legislature and judiciary. Achieving broad agreement on such a document will be difficult.  Secularists and Coptic Christians have already withdrawn from the constituent assembly tasked with writing the new constitution arguing that the process has been dominated by Islamists. Hardline Islamists have also criticised the document, though for different reasons. 
  • On November 23, President Morsi issued a constitutional declaration excluding all presidential decisions from judicial review, and ruled that the courts cannot dissolve the constituent assembly. Some have viewed the declaration as an attempt by the President to ensure the political transition does not become bogged down in the courts.  However, such sweeping powers also create uncertainty around the Muslim Brotherhood’s political objectives and the status of Egypt’s state institutions. The Constitutional Court was to have ruled on the legality of the constituent assembly in early December. 

Egypt country profile - Chart 7

The World Bank ranked Egypt in the bottom quartile of countries for political stability and voice & accountability – below the regional average.

Business

November 2012

Many investors have withdrawn capital from Egypt or put investments on hold until the composition of the post-election government is known. Adding to investors’ jitters is the fact that firms seen to have benefited from the Mubarak regime ― notably in the steel, garments, tourism and property industries ― risk having their contracts revised or assets revoked.  Labour unrest has become more common.  Workers are pushing for higher wages, better working conditions and in some cases the reversal of past privatisations.

Egypt country profile - Chart 8

Before the political turmoil, Egypt ranked middle of the road for regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption. On another World Bank gauge – ease of doing business, which attempts to measure ‘regulation and red tape relevant to a domestic small to medium-size firm’ – Egypt ranks 109 out of 183 countries.

Society

November 2012

Egypt is the most populous Arabic-speaking country, with over 80 million people. Poverty is pervasive ― 40% of Egyptians living on or below US$2 a day.  One factor behind Mubarak’s overthrow appears to have been rising income inequality.

Egypt country profile - Chart 9

Per capita income has risen from 2004 to 2011, but the gains have been unequally shared and per capita income remains well below the regional average.  Unemployment remains high and double-digit inflation is eroding household incomes.  In fact, some estimates suggest that the number of extreme poor has risen since 2004.

Security

November 2012

Security is an issue.

  • Crime has risen. In part this reflects the fact that the police force suffers a credibility problem because of its previous close alignment with the Mubarak regime. 
  • Foreign embassies rate the risk of a terrorist attack as high. The Sinai Peninsula seems particularly troubled, although the terrorist threat is also prevalent throughout the rest of the country.  In October 2012, the government announced that planned terrorist attacks in Cairo had been foiled.  
  • Protests in Cairo and elsewhere occur regularly.  On occasion, turning violent.  The finalisation of the new constitution and election of parliament are flashpoints. 
  • Sectarian tensions between Coptic Christians (9% of the population) and Muslim hardliners have increased. In January 2011 a bomb exploded outside a Coptic church in Alexandria.  In October 2011, clashes between security forces and Copts protesting over the burning of a church – the third since the fall of Mubarak ― left 25 dead.  

 

Egypt - Selected indicators*

November 2012

People
Population (mn) 84
Official language Arabic
UN Human Development Index** Medium

Economic***
GDP ($US bn) 236
GDP per capita ($US) 2,932
Real GDP growth (15 year average, %) 5.1
Fiscal balance (FY2010-11e) 11.0
Public debt (FY2010-11e) 85.0
Foreign direct investment (FY2010-11) 0.8
Current account -3.1
External debt (FY2010-11) 12.7
Foreign reserves (FY2010-11) 15.4
S&P foreign currency debt rating B/Negative
OECD country risk rating 5

Governance
World Bank - Ease of doing business 109/183
Freedom House - Political rights and civil liberties Not free
Transparency International - Corruption Perception Index 112/183

*All 2011 figures unless specified

**The HDI is composite measure of human development: long & healthy life (life expectancy), education (literacy & education enrolment) and income (GDP per capita)

***Expressed as % of GDP unless specified

This report is published for general information and does not comprise advice or a recommendation of any kind. Readers should consider their own circumstances and rely on their own enquiries in relation to matters contained in this report. While EFIC endeavours to ensure it is accurate and current at the time of publication, EFIC makes no representation or warranty as to the reliability, accuracy or completeness of this report. To the maximum extent permitted by law, EFIC will not be liable to you or any other person for any direct or indirect loss or damage suffered or incurred by you or any other person arising from any act or failure to act on the basis of information and/or the opinions contained in this report.

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