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Egypt’s Economy Not the Priority for Candidates, or Voters

There always is a plethora of questions any stakeholder has for a presidential hopeful. For both local and foreign investors, those will often pertain to economic policies that will help the Arab world’s most populous nation out of its slump. But for most Egyptians and as a corollary the 13 presidential candidates in this month’s election, it’s not.

AP

”The economic programs of all the candidates are rather lighter than I think should be the case. There is no one candidate who really stands out. Given the structural problems, I would like to see more depth,” Angus Blair, Founder of the Signet Institute, a Cairo-based think tank, told CNBC.

Economic decision-making has largely taken a backseat amidst persistent quarreling between political factions and the ruling military council, against a backdrop of violent clashes with protestors and a new constitution that remains unwritten. Still in doubt is the $3.2 billion aid package from the International Monetary Fund(IMF) , money needed urgently to help finance the budget deficit.

Sharp falls in tourism revenues and foreign direct investment (FDI) weigh heavily, with the IMF now expecting economic growth to only amount to 1.5 percent this year. Meanwhile, the Central Bank has used its foreign reserves to prevent a substantial depreciation of the local currency; a strategy that has drawn sharp criticism and remains controversial.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Osama Mourad, CEO of Arab Finance Brokerage, who said he had yet to see any candidate “with real economic programs”, doubting any of them would “do step changes empowering Egypt’s economy”. While many of Egypt’s voters remain undecided, most opinion polls have shown a strong backing for two candidates.

Among the frontrunners is Amr Moussa, a man well-known in international circles as a statesman, following a 10-year tenure as Egypt’s Foreign Minister under former President Hosni Mubarak, and another decade as Secretary General of the League of Arab States. When CNBC last spoke to him before the revolutionat the World Economic Forum in Marrakech in 2010, he made no secret of his presidential ambitions.

The other contender is Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was ousted due to views that were deemed too liberal for the party. He then decided to run as an independent candidate, and in late April, won the endorsement of parliament’s second largest party, the radical Nour Party.

Some voters remain skeptical of the two, for Moussa, due to his association with the old regime, and for Aboul-Fotouh, his link with Islamist political movements in the past. Both candidates have promised the standard cocktail of reviving economic growth, reducing unemployment and encouraging foreign investment, but their programs offers little details. Analysts will be closely watching the two when they face each other in a televised debate later this week, a contest expected to shed more light on how exactly they plan to fix the economy.

“At this stage, investors will be sitting back and watching. I don’t think they’re plumping for any particular candidate,” Blair added.

Mourad also saw no reason to fret over the possibility of surprises in economic decisions.

“I don’t expect major changes in ideologies as former regime associates will continue on the same path, Islamists would take the liberal path with an Islamic flavor, while leftists would have to face the reality of funding their promises,” he pointed out.

Egyptians head to the ballot boxes on May 23 and 24. If no one candidate secures at least half the vote, a run-off will be held between the top two finishers on June 16 and 17. The name of the new president is to be announced on June 21.

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Yousef Gamal El-Din is CNBC's Middle East Correspondent and contributes to the channel’s flagship shows, as well as analysis for CNBC.com.

Stay in touch with him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/youseftv @youseftv

Contact Europe: Economy

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