x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

New Egypt PM Hazem El Beblawi has strong economic history

Handed the task of rescuing an Egyptian economy in dire straits, new interim prime minister Hazem El Beblawi has a long record in economic management – and possibly vital personal contacts in the Gulf.

Hazem El Beblawi, Egypt's Minister of Finance, after a September, 2011 meeting of the Council of Arab Ministers of Finance at the Emirates Palace
Hazem El Beblawi, Egypt's Minister of Finance, after a September, 2011 meeting of the Council of Arab Ministers of Finance at the Emirates Palace

CAIRO // Handed the task of rescuing an Egyptian economy in dire straits, new interim prime minister Hazem El Beblawi has a long record in economic management - and possibly vital personal contacts in the Gulf.

Described as "strong and single-minded" by someone who worked with him during a spell as finance minister in a previous army-backed transitional government, the 76-year-old ran Egypt's Export Development Bank for 12 years and went on to work at regional economic agencies in the Middle East.

Five years from 1995 running the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, a UN body in Beirut which promotes cooperation among 17 Arab states, followed by a decade as an adviser at the Arab Monetary Fund in Abu Dhabi, make Mr El Beblawi a familiar figure to financiers across the region.

The importance of such ties was underlined on Tuesday when, as the appointment of the French-educated economist was announced, the UAE and Saudi Arabia announced a total of US$8 billion (Dh29,3bn) in emergency loans and grants for Cairo.

Kuwait yesterday pledged a further $4bn.

The Arabian Gulf states seem willing to provide a lifeline for the most populous Arab nation now that the army has overthrown Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood - a movement viewed with deep hostility in the region.

Among priorities for Mr El Beblawi's new government is likely to be the conclusion of a long-negotiated $4.8 billion IMF loan.

Having studied law at Cairo University, economics at Grenoble and taken his doctorate in Paris, Mr El Beblawi had an academic career, becoming professor at Alexandria. In 1980, he moved to the Gulf to run the economics department at the Industrial Bank of Kuwait before returning to Cairo as chairman and chief executive officer of the Export Development Bank.

In 2011, during the period of military rule that followed the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Mr El Beblawi served as finance minister for several months before a resignation that he was quoted as saying was motivated by a principled objection to an incident in which the security forces killed demonstrators.

He took office on Tuesday and his government will face a difficult task of overcoming the divisions deepened by the army's overthrow of Mr Morsi.

A founding member of the two-year-old Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Mr El Beblawi has argued for free markets based on the predictable rule of law - two features that are notably lacking in Egypt's economy to date.

In an article published in 2009, he wrote: "One thing seems indisputable in my view. A market economy can only function where the concept of the rule of law prevails."

Those who have worked with him say he is a good listener, but also decisive: "He listens to his staff," the former Finance Ministry colleague said. "Then he makes up his own mind."