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IMF approves 3bn dollar Egypt loan


A man protests in Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egyptian uprising (AP)

A man protests in Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egyptian uprising (AP)

A man protests in Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egyptian uprising (AP)

The International Monetary Fund has agreed to provide Egypt with three billion US dollars (£1.83 billion) in financing to help the Arab world's most populous nation ease the blow to its economy sustained by the popular uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.

The loan announcement comes days after the government unveiled a draft budget that projects the deficit swelling to nearly 11% of the nation's gross domestic product, as officials look to boost social services spending to meet persistent demands by a population that complained of gross economic inequity under the former regime.

The 12-month standby arrangement spans fiscal year 2011-2012, which begins in July, and carries a 1.5% annual interest rate - a level which Finance Minister Samir Radwan said fell far below the international borrowing costs Egypt would have had to agree to had it turned to the open market for assistance.

The loan, which must still be approved by the IMF's executive board in July, is to be repaid over five years, with the payments due to begin three years and three months after its disbursement.

Officials said the loan was aimed at supporting Egypt's "home-grown" economic plan of supporting social justice after decades under a regime widely accused of enriching the wealthy in a nation where over 40% of the population lived on or below the World Bank's poverty delineation of two US dollars per day.

"We very much welcome the authorities' plans to foster social justice" through increasing spending on health, education, housing and transportation, Ratna Sahay, the IMF's deputy director for the Middle East and Central Asia, told reporters, listing some of the government's current priority programmes.

Finance Minister Samir Radwan said the government, in the wake of the revolution, was faced with the dilemma of meeting growing demands while keeping the budget deficit "within reasonable limits".

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"This agreement is aimed at getting us out of the bottleneck," Mr Radwan told reporters, referring to Egypt's current economic challenges. "It is a result of the increase in demands and the decline in resources."

Since the start of the January 25 uprising, Egypt's key foreign revenue sources have taken a beating.

Tourism is down sharply, as is foreign direct investment. Meanwhile, anti-regime protests morphed into labour unrest following Mr Mubarak's ousting in mid-February, with workers demanding increases in pay, greater benefits and opportunities that matched broader calls for a greater equalisation in the distribution of income, where it seemed the poor seemed to get poorer and the rich, richer.

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