Egypt’s Prosecutor To Investigate Missing African Cup Saga

A file photo of a court gavel.

 

The sports ministry said Wednesday it has referred a probe into a missing African Cup of Nations trophy which Egypt has possessed since 2010 to the prosecutor general after a string of explosive allegations.

“The ministry of youth and sports has referred the file of the loss of some important silverware from the warehouses of the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) to the prosecutor general,” it said in a brief statement on its Facebook page.

The investigation was launched last week when celebrated ex-national goalkeeper Ahmed Shobair said the EFA found that the gold trophy, along with other awards from previous tournaments, had gone missing.

Officials were preparing to inaugurate a museum showcasing Egypt’s football memorabilia in time for the EFA’s centenary when the loss was realised, Shobair said on his popular talkshow.

Another former football hero Magdy Abdelghani, along with the EFA, waded into the debate suggesting ex-national team players and coaches Ahmed Hassan and Shawky Gharib knew of the 2010 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophy’s whereabouts.

But former football officials said it was looted during a fire in 2013 caused by protesters, known as the Ultras, at the EFA headquarters in Cairo.

The accusations prompted the sports ministry and EFA to kick off investigations that have been closely monitored by Egypt’s legions of fervent football fans.

Hassan and Gharib have both dismissed any link to the disappearance.

The continent’s football governing body, the Confederation of African Football, said Sunday it had “learnt with shock reports of missing AFCON trophies from the Egyptian Football Association secretariat”.

“Our doors are open and the @EFA can count on our support in the search for the priceless memorabilia,” it tweeted.

Egypt was allowed to keep the trophy on a permanent basis — with a new cup made — after the dominant run of the “Pharaohs”, as the national team is known, winning three titles in a row, in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Egypt is the most successful country in Africa Cup of Nations history, having won the trophy a total of seven times since 1957.

But the Pharaohs were knocked out at the last-16 stage last year when Egypt hosted the biennial tournament.

AFP

Egypt COVID-19 Cases Top 100,000 – Ministry

A health worker wearing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit tests a swab sample for COVID-19 at a primary health centre in Hyderabad on September 3, 2020. NOAH SEELAM / AFP

 

Egypt has detected more than 100,000 Covid-19 infections and reported 5,541 deaths from the virus disease, the health ministry said Tuesday.

The North African country of more than 100 million people had imposed a night-time curfew from March to June to curb the spread of the illness but since eased restrictions.

Daily life has since returned in the largest Arab country, with cafes, restaurants and tourist sites again open to the public.

Prayers in mosques and churches have also resumed, with social distancing and mask-wearing enforced.

The new school year is set to start in October with a mix of classroom and online teaching.

The total number of reported cases reached 100,041 Tuesday, including 79,008 recoveries, the ministry said.

AFP

African Leagues: Moroccan, Egyptian Clubs Hit By COVID-19

 

More than 20 positive tests for coronavirus at several clubs led to the postponement or cancellation of league matches in Morocco and Egypt at the weekend.

Three matchday 22 fixtures were called off in the Moroccan Botola Pro 1 with Ittihad Tangier worst affected as 23 of the staff tested positive.

Wydad Casablanca and Rapide Oued Zem were also hit by a COVID-19 outbreak and could not play.

Egyptian club Al Masry said 22 of their staff tested positive and the Port Said outfit did not turn up for a fixture against Ismaily.

EGYPT

With runaway leaders Al Ahly set for a record-extending 42nd title, arch rivals Zamalek improved their chances of coming second thanks to a 1-0 win over lowly Misr Lel Makkasa.

Forward Hossam Ashraf scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time to secure three points for Zamalek, whose rivalry with fellow Cairo club Ahly dates back to 1911.

Third-place Pyramids FC had to come from two goals behind to draw 2-2 against relegation-threatened El Gaish with Tunisian Amor Layouni levelling eight minutes from time.

Ahly have 53 points, Zamalek 38, Pyramids 36 and Al Mokawloon Al Arab 34 in the strongest league in the continent judged by Confederation of African Football (CAF) titles.

MOROCCO

Raja Casablanca won 2-0 at lowly Hassania Agadir and extended an unbeaten run to six matches since play resumed last month after a suspension since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The leaders needed just three minutes to break the deadlock in southern Morocco with Soufiane Rahimi scoring and Hamid Ahaddad added a second goal soon after half-time.

Raja have won four matches and drawn two since the resumption, and the 14-point haul has propelled them to the top of the table with nine rounds remaining.

The three-time African champions have 42 points, arch-rivals Wydad Casablanca 40, Renaissance Berkane 39 and FUS Rabat and Mouloudia Oujda 36 each.

TUNISIA

Leaders Esperance snatched a 1-1 draw at Etoile Sahel in the biggest matchday 20 attraction of the Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1.

Karim Aribi gave fourth-place Etoile a 19th-minute lead they held until the third minute of additional time when Taha Yassine Khenissi equalised.

Ivorian Chris Kouakou netted after 14 minutes to earn second-place CS Sfaxien a 1-0 home victory over mid-table Soliman.

Esperance have 50 points with six rounds remaining as they chase a fourth straight title, Sfaxien 40, Monastir 39, Etoile 34 and Club Africain 33.
ZANZIBAR

Mlandege have been crowned champions in the semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, garnering 68 points from 30 matches to finish one point above Zimamoto.

It was the seventh title for the club, but the first since 2002, and success qualifies them for a maiden CAF Champions League appearance next season.

Zimamoto trounced Kapinga 4-0 in the final round while JKU came third after drawing 1-1 with Malindi.

Defending champions KMKM had to settle for fourth spot, 12 points adrift of Mlandege, after a 2-2 draw against Mafunzo.

AFP

Egypt-Gaza Crossing Opens For First Time In Months

Palestinians prepare to leave Rafah border crossing with Egypt after months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 11, 2020 . (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

 

The only crossing between Gaza and Egypt opened on Tuesday for 72 hours, allowing people to leave the Palestinian enclave for the first time since the novel coronavirus outbreak began.

The Rafah crossing in southern Gaza was closed in March, as Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the strip, sought to guard against a major virus outbreak in the densely-populated territory with weak health infrastructure.

Rafah was opened for three days in April, but only to allow Gazans stranded abroad to return home. The crossing re-opened for limited two-way movement on Tuesday.

Gaza’s interior ministry spokesman Iyad Al-Bazam said people who hold foreign passports, foreign residency permits or emergency medical needs “will be allowed to leave”.

Hundreds of Gazans had assembled before dawn at a waiting room preparing to exit, AFP reporters said.

Gaza resident Hatem al-Mansi told AFP he needed medical care, but voiced concern about infection risks in Egypt, which has registered 95,000 COVID-19 cases, compared to just 81 in Gaza.

“There is a fear of being infected with COVID-19 in cars or buses in Egypt,” he told AFP. “In Gaza, we don’t have that problem.”

Gaza, under an Israeli-enforced blockade since 2007, was uniquely protected against the coronavirus since access was already tightly controlled before the outbreak.

But the dire economic conditions and a poor healthcare system, partly caused by the blockade, also made Gaza especially vulnerable to the virus.

Hamas has maintained tight restrictions throughout the pandemic.

Anyone returning from Egypt will be placed in a dedicated quarantine facility for three weeks, said the head of infection control at Gaza’s health ministry, Rami Al-Abadala.

“Every returnee will be given a mask and will be tested upon entry,” he said.

A large contingent of police, doctors and nurses were stationed at Rafah early Tuesday to accommodate the returnees.

AFP

Egyptian Woman Jailed For 3 Years Over TikTok Videos

Egypt has in recent years enforced strict internet controls through laws allowing authorities to block websites seen as a threat to national security and to monitor personal social media accounts with over 5,000 followers. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP) 

 

 

An Egyptian court Wednesday jailed the sixth woman in a week over TikTok videos, deeming the clips in which she dances and lip-syncs to popular songs to be “inciting debauchery”, a judicial source said.

The sentencing of Manar Samy to three years imprisonment is the latest in a string of such rulings against popular female social media users in Egypt over content posted to the image-sharing apps TikTok and Instagram.

Samy was arrested earlier in July on charges of “inciting debauchery, immorality and stirring up instincts” through her online videos, according to a prosecution statement.

Prosecutors found her videos — in which she dances and lip-syncs to popular music — to be “offensive to public decency” and to have been posted “with the aim of committing prostitution”.

According to the judicial source, the verdict can be appealed and “includes a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds ($19,000)”.

Her bail was set at 20,000 pounds, the source added.

Samy’s lawyer Hani Basyoni later told AFP the “bail has been paid but her release could be postponed until after the Eid al-Adha holiday ends on Monday”.

The court scheduled an appeal hearing for August 15, he added.

Wednesday’s ruling came days after another court sentenced five female social media influencers, Haneen Hossam, Mowada al-Adham and three others, to two years each in jail over content posted to TikTok.

In their short videos on the app, the young women appear doing satirical lip-syncs, comedic skits, dance videos and voice-overs — content that is widely popular around the world on the mobile app.

Hossam was arrested in April after posting a short clip on social media saying that girls could make money by working with her, a message that was interpreted as a call for prostitution.

In May, authorities arrested Adham, who had posted satirical videos on TikTok and Instagram.

The targeting of female influencers rekindled a heated debate in the deeply conservative Muslim country over what constitutes individual freedoms and “social norms”.

The clampdown is however not unusual in Egypt, where several belly dancers and pop singers have been targeted in recent years over online content deemed too racy or suggestive.

Last month, an Egyptian court sentenced belly dancer Sama al-Masry to three years in jail for inciting “debauchery” on social media over posts deemed sexually suggestive.

Activists and legal experts have long criticised the crackdown on individual freedoms under loosely worded offences.

“The charges of spreading debauchery or violating family values are very loose… and its definition is broad,” rights lawyer Intissar al-Saeed previously told AFP.

Rights groups say more freedoms have been curtailed in Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who took office in 2014.

Egypt has in recent years enforced strict internet controls through laws allowing authorities to block websites seen as a threat to national security and to monitor personal social media accounts with over 5,000 followers.

 

 

-AFP

Egypt Female Tiktok Influencers Get Two-Year Jail Terms For ‘Indecency’

In this file photo illustration taken on November 21, 2019, the logo of the social media video sharing app Tiktok is displayed on a tablet screen in Paris. –  (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP) / 

 

 

An Egyptian court Monday sentenced five female social media influencers to two years in jail each on charges of violating public morals, a judicial source said. 

The verdict against Haneen Hossam, Mowada al-Adham and three others came after they had posted footage on video-sharing app TikTok.

“The Cairo economic court sentenced Hossam, Adham and three others to two years after they were convicted of violating society’s values,” the judicial source said.

 

A woman watches a video of influencer Mowada al-Adham, who was sentenced to two years in jail on charges of violation public morals, on the video-sharing app TikTok in Egypt’s capital Cairo on July 28, 2020.  (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

 

The ruling, which can be appealed, included a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds ($18,750) for each defendant, the source noted.

Hossam was arrested in April after posting a three-minute clip telling her 1.3 million followers that girls could make money by working with her.

In May, authorities arrested Adham who had posted satirical videos on TikTok and Instagram, where she has at least two million followers.

 

A woman watches a video of Egyptian influencer Haneen Hossam, who was sentenced to two years in jail on charges of violation public morals, on the video-sharing app TikTok in Egypt’s capital Cairo on July 28, 2020.  (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

Lawyer Ahmed Hamza al-Bahqiry said the young women are facing separate charges over the sources of their funds.

The arrests highlight a social divide in the deeply conservative Muslim country over what constitutes individual freedoms and “social norms”.

Human rights lawyer Tarek al-Awadi has previously told AFP that the influencers’ arrests showed how society was wrestling with the rapid rise of modern communications technology.

Internet penetration has reached over 40 percent of Egypt’s youthful population of more than 100 million.

– ‘Dangerous indicator’ –
“The verdict is shocking, though it was expected. We will see what happens on appeal,” said womens rights lawyer Intissar al-Saeed.

 

A woman watches a video of Egyptian influencer Haneen Hossam, who was sentenced to two years in jail on charges of violation public morals, on the video-sharing app TikTok in Egypt’s capital Cairo on July 28, 2020.  (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

 

“It is still a dangerous indicator… Regardless of the divergent views on the content presented by the girls on TikTok, it still is not a reason for imprisonment.”

Egypt has in recent years cracked down on female singers and dancers over online content deemed too racy or suggestive.

Last month, an Egyptian court sentenced belly dancer Sama al-Masry to three years in jail for inciting “debauchery” on social media over posts deemed sexually suggestive.

In 2018, a female singer was detained for “incitement to debauchery” after an online video clip that included sensual oriental dance moves went viral.

The previous year, a female pop singer was sentenced to two years in prison on similar charges, also over a video deemed provocative. Her sentence was reduced to a year on appeal.

 

A woman watches a video of influencer Mowada al-Adham, who was sentenced to two years in jail on charges of violation public morals, on the video-sharing app TikTok in Egypt’s capital Cairo on July 28, 2020. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

 

“The charges of spreading debauchery or violating family values are very loose… and its definition is broad,” said Saeed.

Egypt has in recent years enforced strict internet controls through laws allowing authorities to block websites seen as a threat to national security and to monitor personal social media accounts with over 5,000 followers.

 

 

 

-AFP

Ethiopia Says Rising Waters At Mega-Dam A ‘Natural’ Part Of Construction

In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

 

Ethiopia on Wednesday acknowledged that water levels behind its mega-dam on the Blue Nile River were increasing, though officials said this was a natural part of the construction process. 

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it in 2011, with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan worried it will restrict vital water supplies.

Addis Ababa has long intended to begin filling the dam’s reservoir this month, in the middle of its rainy season, though it has not said exactly when.

Cairo and Khartoum are pushing for the three countries to first reach an agreement on how it will be operated.

The latest round of tripartite talks overseen by the African Union has so far failed to resolve the dispute.

“The GERD water filling is being done in line with the dam’s natural construction process,” Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s water minister, was quoted by state media as saying Wednesday.

He did not, however, say whether Ethiopia had taken steps to store the water in the reservoir, which has a capacity of 74 billion cubic metres.

Ethiopia is in the middle of its rainy season, and an official at the dam site told AFP this week that heavy rains meant the flow of the Blue Nile was exceeding the capacity of the dam’s culverts to push water downstream.

“We didn’t close and nothing is done. It looks like, when you see some photos, it looks like the river is getting higher and higher because of the amount of water coming from upstream, which is above the charging capacity of the culverts,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A separate official, an adviser at the water ministry who also insisted on anonymity, stressed that water continued to flow downstream.

“As the construction progresses, the water level behind the dam also will rise, so that’s what’s happening, nothing more,” said the adviser.

Ethiopia has long insisted it must start filling the dam’s reservoir this year as part of the construction process, though filling will occur in stages.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reiterated the point in an address to parliament earlier this month.

“If Ethiopia doesn’t fill the dam, it means Ethiopia has agreed to demolish the dam,” he said.

“On other points we can reach an agreement slowly over time, but for the filling of the dam we can reach and sign an agreement this year.”

270 Stranded Nigerians To Return From Egypt

The evacuees at the airport in Cairo. Photo: [email protected]

 

Two hundred and seventy Nigerians stranded in Egypt will arrived the country today from Cairo.

This is according to the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) in a tweet on its handle on Friday.

The agency said the evacuees who had tested negative to COVID-19, will arrive at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja by 6:00 pm Nigeria time.

It also explained that there are two foreign nationals aboard the Egypt Air bringing the Nigerians homes.

READ ALSO: China Bans Some Food Imports After Coronavirus Detected On Shrimp

 

Their return comes exactly one week after eighty six Nigerians arrived the country from Sudan.

The Chairman of NIDCOM, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, disclosed this in a tweet on her handle where she said they arrived the country via Air Sudan.

According to her, the returnees will go on a 14-day isolation, in line with the guidelines set by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as well as the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.

Also, NIDCOM tweeted on its handle that the returnees had tested negative to COVID-19.

On Wednesday the same week, 172 Nigerians citizens arrived Abuja from Uganda and Kenya at around 10:20 am via Air Peace flight from Nairobi.

While some of the evacuees disembarked in the nation’s capital, others proceeded to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.

VIDEO: Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, has explained how the ministry is working to ensure the safety of passengers as airports reopen for domestic flights.

Nile Dam Dispute Spills Onto Social Media

 In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

As Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan struggle to resolve a long-running dispute over Addis Ababa’s mega-dam project on the Nile, some of their citizens are sparring online over their rights to the mighty waterway.

For nearly a decade, multiple rounds of talks between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum have failed to produce a deal over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Anxiety has mounted in downstream Sudan and Egypt, which fear for their vital water supplies after upstream Ethiopia declared plans to start filling Africa’s largest dam reservoir in July.

As tensions have run high in the political arena, they have also amped up online.

In one widely viewed video originally shared on TikTok, an Ethiopian woman pours water from a pitcher into two cups representing Egypt and Sudan.

She fills Sudan’s cup to the brim but only pours a trickle of water into Egypt’s, before emptying the water back into the pitcher.

“This is my water. When I give you water, it’s my call, not yours,” she says.

In response, an Egyptian woman created a compilation of the video and one of her own in which she knocks down a dam-shaped block structure with the Ethiopian flag superimposed on it before triumphantly downing a cup of water.

The video had been viewed more than 55,000 times on Instagram by Wednesday.

Social media “platforms are powerful,” said Wubalem Fekade, communications head at the intergovernmental ENTRO-Nile Basin Initiative.

“People on the social media platforms aren’t accountable, so it’s easy to disseminate unverified, incorrect, false, even conspiracy theories,” he said.

But, he added hopefully, “when used creatively and judiciously, they can help defuse tensions”.

-‘Psychological war’-
The online row over the dam has been particularly heated between Egyptian and Ethiopian social media users.

Egypt has long enjoyed the lion’s share of the Nile water under decades-old agreements that were largely viewed by other Nile basin countries as unfair.

On Twitter, Egyptians echoed authorities’ fears that Ethiopia’s dam would severely cut their country’s supply of water from the Nile, which provides 97 percent of the arid nation’s water needs.

“We will never allow any country to starve us” of water, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris wrote on Twitter.

“If Ethiopia doesn’t come to reason, we, the Egyptian people will be the first to call for war,” he threatened.

Egyptian cartoonist Ahmed Diab has weighed in with a drawing of an outsized Egyptian soldier, rifle slung over his shoulder, facing a diminutive Ethiopian man with the dam in the background.

“You idiot, try to understand that I care for you… ever heard about the Bar Lev Line?” the soldier tells the Ethiopian, alluding to Egypt’s military strength in referring to the Egyptian destruction of an Israeli defence line along the Suez canal in 1973.

Diab called the cartoon part of a “psychological war”.

“Besides a show of military might and strong media discourse, arts can boost people’s morale,” he said.

For their part, Ethiopians have rallied behind their country’s mega project, set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric installation.

On social media, they have rejected any conditions of reaching a deal before filling the dam.

Filling the dam should not be held “hostage” to an agreement with Cairo, Ethiopian activist Jawar Mohamed wrote on Twitter.

“If agreement is reached before the filling begins in the coming days, it’s great. If not, the filling should begin and the negotiation shall continue,” he said.

Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, insists the dam will not affect the onward flow of water and sees the project as indispensible for its national development and electrification.

– ‘Healthy discussions’ –
Khartoum hopes the dam will help regulate flooding, but in June it warned that millions of lives will be at “great risk” if Ethiopia unilaterally fills the dam.

In a letter to the United Nations Security Council, Sudan raised concerns that water discharged from the GERD could “compromise the safety” of its own Roseires Dam by overwhelming it and causing flooding.

Omar Dafallah, a Sudanese artist, depicted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overseeing the water flowing from the dam through a faucet to fill a jug held by Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The drawing also shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with a large water container, waiting in line.

Last month, Egypt also appealed to the UNSC to intervene in the crisis — a move Sisi said underlined his country’s committment to a political solution.

Egyptian lawmaker Mohamed Fouad views the online debate as a way to “break the stalemate” in the diplomatic talks, “so long as they remain within the boundaries of healthy discussions”.

 

AFP

Egypt Agrees $5.2bn Aid Package – IMF

 

An IMF team has agreed on a one-year, $5.2 billion financing package for Egypt.

This will help the country alleviate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fund announced Friday.

The IMF board must still approve the financing from the fund’s Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI), which allows nations to circumvent the lengthy negotiations usually needed to secure a full economic assistance program — time most countries do not have as they struggle to cope with the coronavirus crisis.

IMF Approves $2.77bn Emergency COVID-19 Loan For Egypt

) In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC.  Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

The IMF board approved $2.77 billion in emergency aid for Egypt on Monday, to help the country deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but said the government will need more financial help.

The country had seen a “remarkable turnaround” prior to the COVID-19 shock, under a fund-supported economic reform program, but that progress is now threatened, the IMF said in a statement.

The emergency funding will help finance “targeted and temporary spending, aimed at containing and mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic,” First Deputy Managing Director Geoffrey Okamoto said.

However, he cautioned that Cairo will need “additional expeditious support from multilateral and bilateral creditors … to close the remaining balance of payments gap, ease the adjustment burden, and preserve Egypt’s hard-won macroeconomic stability.”

The emergency funds come from the Washington-based crisis lender’s Rapid Financing Instrument, which has been ramped up to get aid quickly to developing nations most vulnerable to the economic effects of shutdowns to contain the outbreak.

IMF Managing Director Kristina Georgieva said the fund has received over 100 requests for aid from its members, and that developing countries will need about $2.5 trillion to deal with the impacts of the pandemic. Last week the fund said it had approved 50 such loans.

Egypt has suffered over 500 COVID-19 fatalities with nearly 10,000 cases, according to John’s Hopkins University’s tally.

The country has gradually started to reopen after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has loosened a strict curfew for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in an effort to kickstart North Africa’s largest economy.

Having shuttered shops and cafes in late March and forced millions of civil servants to stay home, it is slowly reversing some of these measures, bringing back many state workers and extending the trading hours of shops and malls.

 

AFP

Egypt Reopens Slowly To Revive Pandemic-hit Economy

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a view of Bab el-Louk square, one of the generally busy areas near the Egyptian capital Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the central downtown district, almost empty on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP.

 

Egypt’s economy had just started to recover after years of political turmoil and militant attacks when the coronavirus crisis hit, impacting especially its vital tourism sector.

Now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has loosened a strict curfew for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in an effort to kickstart North Africa’s largest economy.

Having shuttered shops and cafes in late March and forced millions of civil servants to stay home, it is slowly reversing some of these measures, bringing back many state workers and extending the trading hours of shops and malls.

The blessing for the emerging economy of more than 100 million people, experts say, is that activity has kept ticking over in agriculture and construction, and especially in the vast informal sector.

“Twenty-five percent of the workforce is in agriculture, which remains unaffected,” said Angus Blair, a business professor at the American University in Cairo.

“Many other businesses continue to remain open, albeit with reduced staff, and construction is continuing.”

Egypt’s main sources of foreign currency have been tourism, remittances sent home from workers abroad, and Suez Canal revenues — which have all dropped sharply during the global lockdown in travel and trade.

But more than half of Egypt’s private sector is made up of the so-called informal economy — ranging from streetside fruit sellers to day labourers on construction sites to one-man auto repair businesses.

READ ALSO: Russia Records Over 10,000 New COVID-19 Cases For Fourth Day In Row

Around four million workers make up this shadow economy comprised of low-paid irregular labourers.

“The large informal sector, while finding conditions slower, will continue to function,” predicted Blair.

– Slow growth, fewer jobs –

The challenge is huge for Egypt, where nearly a third of people live below the poverty line, many more face precarious conditions and social order has traditionally been maintained by a strict military apparatus.

Slow growth and fewer jobs may have “a temporary impact on poverty rates in the country”, warned Alia El-Mahdi, former dean of Cairo University’s faculty of economics and political science.

“The state must encourage the private sector on a macroeconomic scale so that it can overcome the crisis.”

The Sisi government approved a 100 billion pound ($6 billion) aid package to stem the fallout of the coronavirus, which has caused 400 deaths and nearly 7,000 infections according to official data.

This included payments of 500 pounds a month to informal workers who lack any social insurance to fall back on.

Cairo also sought a fresh loan from the International Monetary Fund last month and cut its interest rates in March to encourage lending for individuals and businesses.

The biggest cash-cow, tourism, has however taken a heavy blow as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered travel worldwide.

It was all the more painful after the country famed for the Pyramids, Nile river cruises and Red Sea resorts had last year booked tourism revenues topping $12.6 billion, the highest in a decade.

– Deserted beach resorts –

Mahmoud al-Dabaa, a travel agent in the popular seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, said he was shocked at how the once bustling travel destination had turned into a ghost town with deserted beaches.

“It’s the first time I see Sharm completely empty like this,” he told AFP.

Dabaa had expected this season to also be profitable, but a string of cancelled bookings signals a bumpy road to recovery.

On Sunday, the government announced that hotels may start operating again for domestic tourists, provided they stick to a limit of 25 percent of capacity until the end of May.

From the start of June, this will rise to 50 percent, reflecting the authorities’ confidence they can keep infections under control while jump-starting the tourism sector.

Egypt hopes to get back to the relatively better times of recent years, which saw annual economic growth rates above five percent.

The government has been implementing financial reforms since 2016 when it secured a $12 billion IMF loan, and investors have flocked back in recent years, driving a booming construction sector.

As recently as January, Egypt was ranked among the top ten countries in Morgan Stanley’s Emerging Markets Index.

Planning Minister Hala El-Saeed has estimated that the economy will slow down to about 4.5 percent growth in the third quarter because of the aftershocks of the virus.

But Blair said he was optimistic of a gradual recovery, judging that, if the constraints loosen further in June, a broader revival of commercial activity could “drive economic growth further late in the third and fourth quarters this year”.

AFP