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Posted at 12:40 PM ET, 02/17/2011

Egypt's appeal for emergency economic help

By David Ignatius

[UPDATE, 8:40 P.M. Later in the day Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went a modest way toward meeting Aboul Gheit's ambitious request, but if his account of Egypt's financial needs is accurate, the $150 million gift would amount to just more than half Egypt's prospective debt payment this year.]

CAIRO -- As young protesters continue to clear away debris from the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Egypt's top diplomat warned that the country faces a severe post-revolutionary economic crisis and appealed for urgent U.S. help.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in an interview Thursday morning that the West, in its enthusiasm for supporting Egypt's new democracy, should not ignore the severity of the economic squeeze here. "If the Americans really want to help they should see how they can alleviate pressure on the Egyptian budget," he argued.

The numbers show a scary deterioration in the Egyptian economy. Economic growth had been forecast at 6 percent for this year, but Hossam Zaki, spokesman for the foreign ministry, said it will be about half that. Since the anti-Mubarak demonstrations began Jan. 25, he said, the country has lost more than $15 billion in output. Investment has slowed because of uncertainty, and the tourism industry, which employs 1.8 million people, has all but stopped.

Aboul Gheit proposed that the United States should either write off Egypt's debt service, which he said totals $350 million annually, or provide $1 billion in emergency economic assistance to stabilize the country. He was making these proposals, he said, in advance of a visit by Undersecretary of State William Burns, who will be coming here next week to assess Egypt's needs.

"The message is, give Egyptians the ability to eat bread while they focus on the democratic future," he said.

Aboul Gheit, a holdover from the government that just fell, may lose his job in a cabinet reshuffle that he said is coming in several days. He's a classic product of Egypt's foreign service: smooth, urbane and skilled in the court politics that were part of Hosni Mubarak's 30-year regime. In a sign of the times, he deferred often to two younger colleagues, who may be around the foreign ministry longer than their boss.

Asked whether Egypt was taking steps to recover money that had been looted by corrupt cronies of Mubarak, Aboul Gheit said his ministry had asked foreign governments to freeze assets of five people -- four former cabinet ministers and a businessman who was close to the deposed president. He said Egypt's prosecutor general will decide how to proceed in cases involving alleged corruption, including any matters involving Mubarak's family. "This is a very sensitive issue," he said. "You have to verify the facts."

Aboul Gheit said the military commission that holds power wants a transition to democracy like the one that took place in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. But he cautioned: "This country cannot sustain shock therapy" of the sort that accompanied the post-communist transformation there.

As for internal security, Aboul Gheit said "it will take time," with four to six weeks needed for the police to rebuild after their collapse during the Tahrir protests. He said 99 police stations had been burned and about 15,000 prisoners had escaped.

Aboul Gheit also confirmed reports that there had been an assassination attempt this month against Vice President Omar Suleiman, who was also deposed with Mubarak a week ago. "I have seen the car with the bullets," he said, adding that one of Suleiman's bodyguards had been killed in the attack and that his driver had died later in the hospital.

By David Ignatius  | February 17, 2011; 12:40 PM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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Comments

Chalk that up to the cost of freedom, Egypt. Our country can't afford to help your economy (3% growth?) when our own is not as robust.

Now if Americans want to help, they can send their own donations.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | February 17, 2011 1:47 PM | Report abuse

We're broke. Maybe the Chinese can help out.

Posted by: hz9604 | February 17, 2011 4:53 PM | Report abuse

This is the same country that is attacking and gang raping news reporters in streets and chanting anti-American slogans. Let's see we give Egypt four billion a year in foreign aid. So is Egypt going to become a 52nd State? And a hostile one at that? We have been essentially bribing Egypt with billions of dollars of aid to keep the peace with Israel. Time to cut the dependency.

Posted by: kschur1 | February 17, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

this minister is not acceptable from Egyptians. We are not beggars. we formed the human history in the past .We form our history today.

Posted by: maher88maher | February 17, 2011 5:10 PM | Report abuse

USA to Egypt: take care of yourself, we are too busy taking care of Mexicans. And, by the way, attacking Americans is not the way to get foreign aid. Morons.

Posted by: rusty3 | February 17, 2011 5:18 PM | Report abuse

USA to Egypt: take care of yourself, we are too busy taking care of Mexicans. And, by the way, attacking Americans is not the way to get foreign aid. Morons.

Posted by: rusty3 | February 17, 2011 5:25 PM | Report abuse

I assure you that American help for the treaty with Israel is not important for Egypt and we do not feel it .It Israel which is happy for the treaty and America is concerned with the security of Israel

Posted by: maher88maher | February 17, 2011 5:26 PM | Report abuse

you Americans talk as if you determine our life you are wrong

Posted by: maher88maher | February 17, 2011 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Israel, the richest per capita in the region should come forward to help the Egyptian people become a democratic friendly neighbor. Israel should ask the US to redirect the Israel aid package to Egypt. And, that they, and on top of it, due to their economic success as trumpeted around the world, would begin to provide economic assistance and support people to people development (like the peace corps)on behalf of Egypt and neighbors.

That would be quite a change, from people that only know how to get their way and what they want as suffering victims, to ones who would, for a change, give a little......... even to support their own security.

Well, no way, not even a thought about it, so long as they have the big stumbling stupid uncle with the big credit card (about to expire)following instructions.

Posted by: likovid | February 17, 2011 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I think Egypt should shakedown its own multibillionaire mini top class for the financial support, not the American people. I would support some monies to fund a campaign to respect women. In the meantime, I think that the findings tha 98% of foreign women have been sexually harassed when visiting that country is beyond the pale. Women should hold a worldwide moratorium on travel to Egypt until their men clean up their act and learn the western tradition of honoring the female sex, as they embrace the western concepts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Posted by: maddymappo | February 17, 2011 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Since 1979, US assistance to Egypt has averaged about $2 billion a year, according to a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on US-Egyptian relations. That adds up to $64 billion. We are no readying $150 million in additional aid immediately to help the Egyptians. Furthermore the U.S. has spent $20 million a year in promoting democracy in Egypt. Egypt is a proud and independent country, but it must learn to not be financially dependent upon the U.S.

Posted by: kschur1 | February 17, 2011 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Since 1979, US assistance to Egypt has averaged about $2 billion a year, according to a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on US-Egyptian relations. That adds up to $64 billion. We are now readying $150 million in additional aid immediately to help the Egyptians. Furthermore the U.S. has spent $20 million a year in promoting democracy in Egypt. Egypt is a proud and independent country, but it must learn to not be financially dependent upon the U.S.

Posted by: kschur1 | February 17, 2011 6:16 PM | Report abuse


Gee, I seem to recall a lot of protesting Egyptians chanting anti-US slogans in Cairo.

NOW, they want $$$$$$$$$.

NO!


Posted by: FredChatard | February 17, 2011 6:22 PM | Report abuse

@likovid,

I work with Egyptian doctors in the US and often with Israeli doctors in Israel. Although the Egyptian docs. would love to collaborate with their Israeli colleagues, this is essentially forbidden in Egypt. It is forbidden by both a culture of non-cooperation with Israel and a political forbidding. Israeli docs. would enjoy and say to me that they would welcome collaboration with the Egyptians. But, they go to Egypt at their peril, and they cannot get Egyptian docs. to rotate to Israel (for reasons provided above). The two groups of docs. often meet in the US, but that's about as far as cooperation goes. I think this is awful, but it is a good indication that your idea of Israel helping Egypt out won't work: The Egyptians simply would not accept the help.

Posted by: bert8 | February 17, 2011 6:42 PM | Report abuse

these animals rape and beat an american citizen and now want handouts

drop dead

nuke the country...criminalize islam

Posted by: underboss | February 17, 2011 6:43 PM | Report abuse

As a U.S. citizen the comments from other Americans posted here make me deeply ashamed- after supporting a brutal dictator for 30 years the least we could do is be supportive of the Egyptian people in their revolution.

Many Americans are inspired by the action of the Egyptian people, and I wish Egypt every success in their new future of freedom!

The anger and ignorance of 50% of the US population is dragging the USA down from a shining beacon of hope to a reactionary cesspool of bitterness. It is heartbreaking.

Posted by: sas4 | February 17, 2011 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Egypt needs economic help? so does Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, California, Oregon, Detroit, Illinois, Indiana.............. sorry. america has $14 trillion in debt to service and is too busy bailing out wall street banks and the trillions of dollars in bad derivative bets that they made. check back in 20 years and we will see what we can do.

http://nakedempire.wordpress.com/

Posted by: nakedempire | February 17, 2011 7:32 PM | Report abuse

People in he!! need ice water.

Posted by: mpg515 | February 17, 2011 7:41 PM | Report abuse

As an Egyptian , i am dually offended;
first: that the minister of foreign affairs would expose Egypt to such remarks ,on behalf of the Egyptian people i denounce what he said , if indeed he said it , and claim that the Egyptians have a totally different plan as to how to eat bread throughout this emergency period , and it does not include the USA . And ,not to sound ungrateful , this does not mean that we do not thank the USA for the yearly funds sent to Egypt in order to buy american wheat and weapons .
secondly , i am offended by the replies by the american readers , who i had a notion of being much more informed and well read , this revolution , by the Egyptian people is against all the old regimen with all its faults and crimes , which include plunging the Egyptian economy in such distressed state , so if the readers had read the news last week , or watched TV , or even tweeted or looked up the millions of Facebook comments , they would have realized that a country that wanted to free itself from its dictator and his regime , would never, never , under any circumstance of distress or " economic squeeze " be enslaved by another regime , or indebted to anyone but its own people , and God help us, we will be soon on our feet again , and start paying back the debts of the old regime ,as we know that the american economy is far from strong itself .
so if i had a say , i would tell Clinton , as for the minister's request , please , IGNORE .

Posted by: razaineldinyahoocom | February 18, 2011 12:59 PM | Report abuse

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