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IMF Spins Egypt's Need, Half Answer on Unelected Military SCAF, Pledge

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 23, updated 11:36 am -- Even as criticism of the International Monetary Fund grows in Egypt and for not living up to its so-called Arab Spring pledge of $35 billion, the IMF at its biweekly briefings refuses to take or answer questions in this regard.

  As it did on Feburary 9, Inner City Press as soon as Thursday's briefing began asked, "How much of the $35 billion 'Arab Spring' pledge has the IMF disbursed, given the criticism from, among others, UAE's Younis Haji al-Khouri?"

  This time, Inner City Press added this specific: "On Egypt, what is the IMF's response to public calls that the new Egypt cannot be bound by IMF contracts with an unelected military government, and that all or some of Egypt's $36 billion in debt should be forgiven?"

  Christine Lagarde's spokesman Gerry Rice took a full half hour of questions about Greece, then online questions ranging from the Dominican Republic and Italy to Argentina and a single question on Egypt. But it was not about debt relief or loans to unelected military governments, but rather a softball, what does the IMF suggest?

  Rice began "we don't yet have a program with Egypt so I won't get into details" -- then said that "growth has stalled" and "foreign exchange reserves dropped."

  The pitch, then, is that Egypt needs the IMF, even if its the SCAF taking out more debt on top of the $36 billion run up under Mubarak.

Update of 11:36 am -- an hour after embargo deadline, these answer were provided and we publish them in full:

Dear Mathew,  Sorry we could not take up your questions during the press briefing, but I can offer you the following responses on the Arab Spring and Egypt.

On the Arab Spring: As we said in the context of the Deauville initiative and as the Managing Director of the IMF repeated in her interview with Asharq Al Awsat recently, the IMF can make available $35 billion in loans for the MENA region’s oil- importing countries upon request. Such loans would be in support of the governments’ and the central banks’ macroeconomic policy programs and at their request and, like elsewhere, are provided on favorable terms to help countries transition to where they can once again secure financing from the market. At the moment, we are in discussions with the Egyptian authorities on a possible IMF-supported program to help stabilize Egypt’s economy, restore confidence, lay the foundations for job-creating growth, and ensure that vulnerable households are protected during the transition. And we stand ready to engage in similar discussions with any country that requests it.

Egypt: As we said repeatedly, we clearly want to support a program that addresses Egypt’s economic challenges, is designed and fully owned by the Egyptian authorities, and enjoys broad political support. The latter is essential to ensure the success of any economic reform program.

   We'll have more on this.

Footnote: Because the IMF under Lagarde has become even less responsive than under DSK -- who recently spent a night in jail during an ongoing police investigation of a prostitution ring -- Inner City Press killed off a recent UN lunch hour at an event by the IMF's Special Representative to the UN Elliott Harris.

Inner City Press asked Harris, what about the criticism of the IMF not spending Lagarde's Arab Spring pledge? What about the charge that the IMF's austerity bailout in Greece is meant to help countries (and banks) other than Greece?

Harris genially replied that Lagarde's pledge represented only lending "capacity," and emphasized that Egypt hasn't accepted an IMF program. He said he "regrets" Greece. Don't we all. Watch this site.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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