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May 20, 2016

Lord Howard and Alistair Darling address CBI on EU referendum

Lord Howard and Alistair Darling address CBI on EU referendum

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Friday, May 20, 2016

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Lord Howard, the former United Kingdom (UK) Conservative Party leader, and Alistair Darling, the former UK Chancellor, set out their opposing views regarding the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union at the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) annual dinner on Wednesday.

Logo of the CBI.

The dinner was held as the UK is expected to vote on the matter in next month’s EU referendum. Lord Howard encouraged those in attendance to vote for the UK to leave the EU, while Mr Darling was speaking in favour of a vote to remain.

Responding to the CBI calling for the UK to remain in the EU, Lord Howard referred to the organisation’s previous calls to become a full member of the European Monetary System and the Euro, saying these calls had been wrong, and suggesting that this reduces the credibility of the CBI’s current stance. Lord Howard also said that if the UK left the EU with no trade deal, which he described as “inconceivable”, then the UK’s exports would face EU import tariffs of 2.4% on average. He compared this to the UK’s net contribution to the EU’s budget, which he said was equivalent to a seven per cent tariff.

Mr Darling reminded the audience of warnings from Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, and Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, that leaving the EU could lead to a recession in the UK. Mr Darling said this “would be disastrous for working people’s life chances and living standards”.

The referendum is expected to take place on the 23 June.



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  • “IMF says UK leaving the EU will lead to negative economic consequences” — Wikinews, May 13, 2016

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Lord Howard and Alistair Darling address Confederation of British Industry on EU referendum

Lord Howard and Alistair Darling address Confederation of British Industry on EU referendum

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Friday, May 20, 2016

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Lord Howard, the former United Kingdom (UK) Conservative Party leader, and Alistair Darling, the former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, set out their opposing views regarding the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union at the Confederation of British Industry‘s (CBI) annual dinner on Wednesday.

Logo of the CBI.

The dinner was held as the UK is expected to vote on the matter in next month’s EU referendum. Lord Howard encouraged those in attendance to vote for the UK to leave the EU, while Mr Darling was speaking in favour of a vote to remain.

Responding to the CBI calling for the UK to remain in the EU, Lord Howard referred to the organisation’s previous calls to become a full member of the European Monetary System and the Euro, saying these calls had been wrong, and suggesting this reduces the credibility of the CBI’s current stance. Lord Howard also said if the UK left the EU and didn’t replace it with some trade deal, which he described as “inconceivable”, then the UK’s exports would face EU import tariffs of 2.4% on average. He compared this to the UK’s net contribution to the EU’s budget, which he said was “equivalent to a seven per cent tariff.”

Mr Darling reminded the audience of warnings from Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, and Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, that leaving the EU could lead to a recession in the UK. Mr Darling said this “would be disastrous for working people’s life chances and living standards”.

The referendum is expected to take place on June 23.



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  • “IMF says UK leaving the EU will lead to negative economic consequences” — Wikinews, May 13, 2016

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May 13, 2016

IMF says UK leaving the EU will lead to negative economic consequences

IMF says UK leaving the EU will lead to negative economic consequences

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Friday, May 13, 2016

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Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), today said the United Kingdom (UK) voting to leave the European Union (EU) would have negative consequences for the country’s economy and the wider financial system.

File photo of Christine Lagarde, 2010.
Image: Marie-Lan Nguyen .

An IMF report released by Lagarde said voting to leave the EU would cause “a protracted period of heightened uncertainty”, created by the UK needing to negotiate a withdrawal from the EU. Agreements with 60 other countries who currently have trade agreements with the EU would also need to be reached if the UK was to continue trading with them on the same terms. The IMF has also identified the UK’s large current account deficit, the difference imports and exports, as a factor increasing the risks of a vote to leave.

These comments follow similar ones made by Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, who also warned that leaving the EU could lead to a fall in the value of the pound sterling. The Bank also estimated half of the currency’s recent fall in value was caused by the uncertainty created by the referendum.

Vote Leave and Leave.EU, campaigning to leave the EU, responded by pointing out shortcomings in the IMF’s previous predictions, such as the effect of the Greek financial crisis. Former UK Chancellor Lord Lamont commented, “There are plenty of respected individual economists, plenty of respected professional investors, and plenty of entrepreneurs who take a very different view from Christine Lagarde”.



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June 9, 2013

Job market in France suffers as unemployment rate hits fifteen year high

Job market in France suffers as unemployment rate hits fifteen year high

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

François Hollande, the President of France, has vowed to reverse unemployment trends by the end of the year.
Image: Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Last Thursday, the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) announced the French job market continued to struggle as unemployment rose to 10.8%, the country’s highest recorded unemployment rate since 1998. The 0.3% rise in the first quarter of 2013 had increased doubt around French President François Hollande’s promise to reverse the trend by the end of 2013.

According to INSEE data this had been recorded to be the 24th uninterrupted month of unemployment increases, leaving 3.25 million people jobless. France’s economy was predicted to marginally retract overall this year and had experienced a minor recession this quarter due to deteriorating economic activity.

The news came as the European Central Bank (ECB) planned to meet to discuss interest rates. It was assumed that the ECB would reveal plans to encourage lending in the eurozone, a significant outcome for small and medium sized business, who employed around three quarters of the eurozone.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had advised France that they may fall behind surrounding European economies if they do not take action and introduce new economic reforms. The IMF has suggested a decrease in labour costs and stopping tax increases could help to improve the country’s economic competitiveness and increase growth.



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April 3, 2013

Cyprus Finance Minister Michael Sarris resigns amid bailout talks

Cyprus Finance Minister Michael Sarris resigns amid bailout talks

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

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Members of Committee for a Radical Left Rally protesting against austerity measures outside the House of Representatives in Nicosia, Cyprus in November 2012.
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Cypriot Finance Minister Michael Sarris resigned yesterday due to public discontent with his handling of the negotiations over a bailout from international lenders and a state investigation into the circumstances that pushed the country close to a financial collapse. According to Cyprus based media organizations, Sarris has been succeeded by the current Labor Minister Haris Georgiades

Sarris attributed his resignation to the probe announced earlier today, admitting that he may also be targeted by judges as they try to find out why the country was forced to seek a bailout. “I believe that in order to facilitate the work of [investigators] the right thing would be to place my resignation at the disposal of the president of the republic, which I did,” said Sarris, who was appointed as minister only in February.

Sarris’s resignation came shortly after he signed a 10 billion (US$13 billion) rescue deal with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund that could see depositors with €100,000 lose up to 60% of their savings. An earlier version of the deal, which called for all Cypriot bank depositors to sacrifice part of their savings, was later scrapped following a wave of popular outrage.

The bailout deal includes measures that strip Cyprus of its status as a financial hub and force the local government to impose limits on cash transfers lest depositors try to channel their money to banks abroad.



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March 20, 2013

British Chancellor George Osborne downgrades growth forecast in annual budget

British Chancellor George Osborne downgrades growth forecast in annual budget

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

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Image: HM Treasury.

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivered the budget today, an annually-held audit of the country’s finances deciding how taxpayers’ money should be spent. He set out plans to boost the housing market in his fourth budget, as well as stating the economy will grow by 0.6% — half his prediction four months ago.

George Osborne revealed plans to improve the housing market, including a “Help to Buy” shared equity scheme which would offer buyers who can place a 5% deposit on a new house, a 20% loan to buy it. He said: “This is a budget for those who aspire to own their own home”. He also offered a new Mortgage Guarantee, created in conjunction with mortgage lenders — the scheme would allow them to offer loans to homeowners without the need for a large deposit and offer guarantees to support up to £130bn of lending for three years beginning in 2014.

As a measure to attract investment to the British economy, he announced to reduce corporation tax from 21% to 20% taking effect from April 2015. The rate of corporation tax has fallen from 28% in 2010 to the current level of 21%. The United Kingdom is to have lower rates of corporation tax than the USA at 40%, France at 33%, and Germany at 29%.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) stated the government debt reduction programme to reduce the budget deficit will miss its targets. The government has forecast the total public sector debt will begin to fall by the financial year 2015/2016, while OBR says national debt will reach a high of 85.6% of GDP, £1.58 trillion, in 2016/17. Osborne defended the government efforts to reduce the deficit and said: “Our judgement has since been supported by the IMF, the OECD and the Governor of the Bank of England.”

In response to the Budget speech, the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband said: “At the worst possible time for the country. It’s a downgraded budget from a downgraded Chancellor […] Debt is higher in every year of this Parliament than he forecast at the last Budget. He is going to borrow £200 billion more than he planned.”

The Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls said to The Independent, “They are borrowing £245bn more in this Parliament, we said all along …said this two years ago, if they had moved more quickly with a sensible, targeted package of measures to kick-start the economy, which would have meant at that time more borrowing for a VAT [Value Added Tax] cut to bring forward housing investment, then we would have got the economy growing and the deficit coming down.”

The Business Secretary Vince Cable told the BBC in an interview, the “age of austerity” would probably end within the current decade, but made no more definite forecast.

The head of the British Federation of Small Businesses, John Walker, said: “The Budget opens the door for small businesses to grow and create jobs. The Chancellor has pulled out all the stops with a wide ranging package of measures to support small business. […] [W]e are pleased to see the scrapping of the 3p fuel duty due in September”.

Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite the Union, criticized the budget for not helping working families. He said: “This is a Budget for the few by the few that attacks the many. Millionaires are days away from getting a £40,000 tax cut from the Tories, but George Osborne is using the budget to attack hard-working public sector workers. The worst chancellor in British history has gone further by giving big business another tax cut while staff caring for the sick get pay cuts. […] [H]e should have raised the national minimum wage by £1 and drop the senseless plan to give millionaires a tax break in a few days’ time”.



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February 25, 2013

Britain loses AAA credit rating due to poor economic growth and continued austerity

Britain loses AAA credit rating due to poor economic growth and continued austerity

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Monday, February 25, 2013

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George Osborne: “Far from weakening our resolve to deliver our economic recovery plan, this decision redoubles it”.
Image: HM Treasury.

The US-based credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service announced on Saturday their decision to downgrade their rating of the United Kingdom economy from AAA to AA1 – stating that lack of economic growth and austerity continuing into 2016 are to blame.

Moody’s Investors Service said in a statement: “The main driver underpinning Moody’s decision to downgrade the UK’s Government bond rating to AA1 is the increasing clarity that, despite considerable structural economic strengths, the UK’s economic growth will remain sluggish over the next few years due to the anticipated slow growth of the global economy and the drag on the UK economy from the ongoing domestic public- and private-sector deleveraging process”.

George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the move to lower the credit rating was a “stark reminder” of the debt problems that the country is facing and that the government is planning to stick to it’s original deficit reduction plan. He went on to say “Far from weakening our resolve to deliver our economic recovery plan, this decision redoubles it”.

The British economy shrank by 0.3% in the final quarter of 2012 and output remained flat throughout last year – the economy would have to grow in the first quarter of 2013 in order to avoid a recession. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned George Osborne last month that he should slow down the rate of his deficit reduction and austerity programme if Britain entered a triple-dip recession.

The Labour Party has said that the government must reduce the number of spending cuts and focus on growth. Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: “This credit rating downgrade is a humiliating blow to a Prime Minister and Chancellor who said keeping our AAA rating was the test of their economic and political credibility.”



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  • “UK economy shrinks by 0.3% in fourth quarter of 2012” — Wikinews, January 25, 2013

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February 23, 2013

European Commission warns Eurozone economy to shrink further

European Commission warns Eurozone economy to shrink further

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

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A map of the Eurozone as of 2013.
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The European Commission has warned that the Eurozone economy will remain in recession for longer than expected and will not return to growth until 2014, reversing its previous forecast. In its winter forecast, the European Commission stated the economy of the Eurozone, which consists of 17 countries, is projected to shrink by 0.3% this year. This comes after a 0.6% contraction last year and marks a reversal from the committee’s previous prediction of 0.1% growth in 2013.

Unemployment in the Eurozone is set to reach 12.2% in 2013, an increase from the 2012 level of 11.4%. Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, said that “decisive policy action undertaken recently is paving the way for a return to recovery”. He went on to say: “We must stay the course of reform and avoid any loss of momentum, which could undermine the turnaround in confidence that is underway, delaying the needed upswing in growth and job creation.”

The International Monetary Fund stated in January they expected the group of countries to experience a “mild recession” throughout 2013. The extended recession will see millions of people lose their jobs, the European Commision said, with the level of people unemployed across the region expected to continue to rise. The rise in unemployment could reach over 20 million across the Eurozone as the recession persists.



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February 10, 2012

Egypt struggles to recover tourism, investment

Egypt struggles to recover tourism, investment

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Egypt
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The Egyptian pound is currently falling in value.
Image: Mabuhelwa.

Standard & Poor’s downgraded Egypt’s currency rating for the second time in four months based on the country’s shorfall in foreign reserves and shaky political transition. It’s the latest development for a nation facing mounting economic diffuclties.

Egypt’s foreign reserves fell by over 50 percent last year to about US$16 billion. Egypt has requested US$3.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund to bolster its reserves and prevent a devalation but that could take months.

Experts say that Egypt’s problem of attracting foreign investment and tourists, which are two sources that would increase reserves, has already caused the Egyptian pound to lose 1 percent of its value and if the country doesn’t solve the shortfall in foriegn currency, it could even lead to a further currency devaluation within the next two to three months.

The long-term solution is to restore tourism and foreign investments but both are suffering because of the continuing unrest.

Tourism

The Sphynx was said to guard the city of Thebes by killing anyone who couldn’t answer a riddle.
Image: Schreibkraft.

Egyptian tourism suffered this past year as a result of a revolution, a transition to an elected government, and continuing signs of unrest and instability.

The Egyptian Revolution began on January 25 last year and President Hosni Mubarak resigned over two weeks later on February 11. The protests have continued as Egyptians grew uncomfortable with the military’s control over the transition. At the start of this month, 79 people were killed at a soccer event in Port Said.

Tourism in Egypt accounted for US$12.5 billion in 2010 but fell 30 percent, or US$8.8 billion, in 2011, according to Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, Egypt’s tourism minister. Tourism accounts for 11.6 percent of Egypt’s GDP.

Tourists visit The Valley of the Kings in Egypt. It holds 63 tombs and chambers for Pharaohs and nobles of the New Kingdom era. The valley is on the west bank of the Nile across from Thebes.
Image: Markh.

Last week, two U.S. female tourists and their Egyptian guide were abducted in the Sinai peninsula by Bedouin tribesmen and released shortly afterward.

The kidnapping took place in broad daylight on a busy road while the tourists travelled after a visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery. Masked tribesmen stopped their bus, abducted the tourists by gunpoint, and escaped into the mountains. Three other tourists of unknown nationalities were left on the bus. Local authorities organized a search which ended in negotiations with local Bedouin tribesmen. The Bedouin demanded the release of recently apprehended tribesmen, who had been detained for drug trafficking and robbery. The US hostages were released unharmed, Abdel Nour said.

As a location, Egypt boasts ancient pyramids, the Nile River, Biblical sites like Mount Sinai, museums, and Red Sea coastal resorts. Last year the number of tourists plunged from fifteen million people down to nine million, which is a 40 percent drop.

A camel resting between rides at the Pyramids in Egypt.
Image: Crashsystems.

The low amount of tourism to Egypt has also affected tourism in other countries. Stas Misezhnikov, Israeli tourism minister, said that Israeli tourism is down because the flow of tourism from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort is “almost nonexistent right now.”

Investment

Egypt’s current investment climate is also severely hampered by the perception that the climate is not yet right for investment.

Mulyani Indrawati, managing director of the World Bank, said investors were not ready to get back into the markets of the Arab Spring countries until stability is restored but the situation has also been exacerbated by the precarious state of the regional and international economy.

Egypt’s domestic politics is threatening one of the country’s largest stable sources of foreign investment. The United States’ annual military aid to Egypt accounts for US$1.5 billion. U.S. politicians have threatened to withhold that aid package, however, because of an investigation into pro-democracy NGOs that involve 19 American citizens and more U.S. money. Senator John Kerry said the Egyptian investigation is a “dangerous game that risks damaging both Egypt’s democratic prospects and the U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relationship.”

Faiza Abou el-Naga, who is the Egyptian minister who distributes Egypt’s aid money, a former Mubarak loyalist who survived through the transition, and one of Egypt’s most visible female politicians, claims the NGOs are meddling in her country’s sovereignty. Both the Muslim parties who won the election and the generals in power are backing those hearings. Her argument that foreigners are meddling in Egypt also has a populist appeal.

The military government’s slow transition is also stalling foreign investments. Khaled bin Mohamed al-Attiya, foreign minister of Qatar, said a few weeks ago his government is holding back from making US$10 billion in investments because power has not been transferred to an elected government. The other Middle Eastern countries that pledged investments, such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are also waiting.

The Egyptian government announced this week that it was investigating Yasser el-Mallawany, an investment banker with EFG Hermes based in Cairo, for allegedly paying soccer fans to riot at Port Said, a charge which el-Mallawany dismissed and attributed to gossip.

Meanwhile, investors within Egypt are looking for other investment vehicles such as real estate as they fear holding cash in a period of devaluation.

Florence Eid, who is an expert on Middle Eastern economies at U.K. Arabia Monitor, said the situation throughout the Middle East could get worse. “People are frustrated because the reasons that they revolted against to begin with, are still there,” Eid said. “Whoever said this was going to be smooth was naive.”

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“One year on: Egyptians mark anniversary of protests that toppled Mubarak” — Wikinews, January 25, 2012

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January 25, 2012

One year on: Egyptians mark anniversary of protests that toppled Mubarak

One year on: Egyptians mark anniversary of protests that toppled Mubarak

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

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Across Egypt hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets for the day, marking exactly one year since the outbreak of protests leading to 83-year-old longstanding ruler Hosni Mubarak’s downfall. The country’s decades-long emergency rule was partially lifted this week; meanwhile, a possible economic meltdown looms and a newly-elected parliament held their first meeting on Monday.

Protestors in Tahrir Square during the revolution.
Image: Jonathan Rashad.

Protestors in Tahrir Square today.
Image: Gigi Ibrahim.

Despite the new parliament, military rule introduced following Mubarak’s fall last spring remains. Echoing the demands from a year ago, some protesters are demanding the military relinquish power; there are doubts an elected civilian leader will be permitted to replace the army.

The brief unity against Mubarak has since fragmented, with Secularists and Islamists marking the revolution’s anniversary splitting to opposing sides of Cairo’s famed Tahrir Square and chanting at each other. Initial demonstrations last year were mainly from young secularists; now, Islamic parties hold most of the new parliament’s seats — the country’s first democratic one in six decades.

Salafis hold 25% of the seats and 47% are held by the Muslim Brotherhood, which brought supporters to Cairo for the anniversary. Tahrir Square alone contained tens of thousands of people, some witnesses putting the crowd at 150,000 strong. It’s the largest number on the streets since the revolution.

Military rulers planned celebrations including pyrotechnics, commemorative coins, and air displays. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces took power after last year’s February 11 resignation of Mubarak.

Alaa al-Aswani, a pro-democracy activist writing in al-Masry al-Youm, said: “We must take to the streets on Wednesday, not to celebrate a revolution which has not achieved its goals, but to demonstrate peacefully our determination to achieve the objectives of the revolution,” — to “live in dignity, bring about justice, try the killers of the martyrs and achieve a minimum social justice”

Alexandria in the north and the eastern port city of Suez also saw large gatherings. It was bitter fighting in Suez led to the first of the revolution’s 850 casualties in ousting Mubarak. “We didn’t come out to celebrate. We came out to protest against the military council and to tell it to leave power immediately and hand over power to civilians,” said protestor Mohamed Ismail.

“Martyrs, sleep and rest. We will complete the struggle,” chanted crowds in Alexandria, a reference to the 850 ‘martyrs of the revolution’. No convictions are in yet although Mubarak is on trial. Photos of the dead were displayed in Tahrir Square. Young Tahrir chanters went with “Down with military rule” and “Revolution until victory, revolution in all of Egypt’s streets”.

If the protestors demanding the military leave power get their way, the Islamists celebrating election victory face a variety of challenges. For now, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi — whose career featured twenty years as defence minister under Mubarak — rules the nation and promises to cede power following presidential elections this year.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, pictured whilst he was still Mubarak’s defence minister, is now ruling the country.
Image: Helene C. Stikke, US DoD.

The economy is troubled and unemployment is up since Mubarak left. With tourism and foreign investment greatly lower than usual, budget and payment deficits are up — with the Central Bank eating into its reserves in a bid to keep the Egyptian pound from losing too much value.

Last week the nation sought US$3.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF insists upon funding also being secured from other donors, and strong support from Egypt’s leaders. IMF estimates say the money could be handed over in a few months — whereas Egypt wanted it in a matter of weeks.

The country has managed to bolster trade with the United States and Jordan. Amr Abul Ata, Egyptian ambassador to the fellow Middle-East state, told The Jordan Times in an interview for the anniversary that trade between the nations increased in 2011, and he expects another increase this year. This despite insurgent attacks reducing Egyptian gas production — alongside electricity the main export to Jordan. Jordan exports foodstuffs to Egypt and has just signed a deal increasing the prices it pays for gas. 2011 trade between the countries was worth US$1 billion.

The anniversary also saw a new trade deal with the US, signed by foreign trade and industry minister Mahmoud Eisa and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. President Barack Obama promises work to improve U.S. investment in, and trade with, nations changing political systems after the Arab Spring. Details remain to be agreed, but various proposals include US assistance for Egyptian small and medium enterprises. Both nations intend subjecting plans to ministerial scrutiny.

The U.S. hailed “several historic milestones in its transition to democracy” within a matter of days of Egypt’s revolution. This despite U.S.-Egypt ties being close during Mubarak’s rule.

US$1 billion in grants has been received already from Qatar and Saudi Arabia but army rulers refused to take loans from Gulf nations despite offers-in-principle coming from nations including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. Foreign aid has trickled in; no money at all has been sent from G8 nations, despite the G8 Deauville Partnership earmarking US$20 billion for Arab Spring nations.

A total of US$7 billion was promised from the Gulf. The United Kingdom pledged to split £110 million between Egypt and Arab Spring initiator Tunisia. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development says G8 money should start arriving in June, when the presidential election is scheduled.

The African Development Bank approved US$1.5 billion in loans whilst Mubarak still held power but, despite discussions since last March, no further funding has been agreed. The IMF offered a cheap loan six months ago, but was turned away. Foreign investment last year fell from US$6 billion to $375 million.

Rights, justice and public order remain contentious issues. Tantawi lifted the state of emergency on Tuesday, a day before the revolution’s anniversary, but left it in place to deal with the exception of ‘thuggery’. “This is not a real cancellation of the state of emergency,” said Islamist Wasat Party MP Essam Sultan. “The proper law designates the ending of the state of emergency completely or enforcing it completely, nothing in between.”

One year after the protests that led to his loss of power, Hosni Mubarak faces death if convicted of killing those protesting against him.
Image: 2008 World Economic Forum.

The same day, Amnesty International released a report on its efforts to establish basic human rights and end the death penalty in the country. Despite sending a ten-point manifesto to all 54 political parties, only the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (of the Egyptian Bloc liberals) and the left-wing Popular Socialist Alliance Party signed up. Measures included religious freedom, help to the impoverished, and rights for women. Elections did see a handful of women win seats in the new parliament.

The largest parliamentary group is the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood, who Amnesty say did not respond. Oral assurances on all but female rights and abolition of the death penalty were given by Al-Nour, the Salafist runners-up in the elections, but no written declaration or signature.

“We challenge the new parliament to use the opportunity of drafting the new constitution to guarantee all of these rights for all people in Egypt. The cornerstone must be non-discrimination and gender equality,” said Amnesty, noting that the first seven points were less contentious amongst the twelve responding parties. There was general agreement for free speech, free assembly, fair trials, investigating Mubarak’s 30-year rule for atrocities, and lifting the state of emergency. A more mixed response was given to ensuring no discrimination against LGBT individuals, whilst two parties claimed reports of Coptic Christian persecution are exaggerated.

Mubarak himself is a prominent contender for the death penalty, currently on trial for the killings of protesters. The five-man prosecution team are also seeking death for six senior police officers and the chief of security in the same case. Corruption offences are also being tried, with Gamal Mubarak and Alaa Mubarak accused alongside their father Hosni.

The prosecution case has been hampered by changes in witness testimony and there are complaints of Interior Ministry obstruction in producing evidence. Tantawi has testified in a closed hearing that Mubarak never ordered protesters shot.

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Hisham Talaat Moustafa, an ex-MP and real estate billionaire, is another death penalty candidate. He, alongside Ahmed Sukkari, was initially sentenced to death for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim. A new trial was granted on procedural grounds and he is now serving a fifteen-year term for paying Sukkari US$2 million to slit 30-year-old’s Tamim’s throat in Dubai. Her assassin was caught when police followed him back to his hotel and found a shirt stained with her blood; he was in custody within two hours of the murder.

The court of appeals is now set to hear another trial for both men after the convictions were once more ruled unsound.

A military crackdown took place last November, the morning after a major protest, and sparking off days of violence. Egypt was wary of a repeat this week, with police and military massed near Tahrir Square whilst volunteers manned checkpoints into the square itself.

The military has pardoned and released at least 2,000 prisoners jailed following military trials, prominently including a blogger imprisoned for defaming the army and deemed troublesome for supporting Israel. 26-year-old Maikel Nabil was given a three year sentence in April. He has been on hunger strike alleging abuse at the hands of his captors. He wants normalised relations with Israel. Thousands have now left Tora prison in Cairo.

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