September 29, 2016 at 1:20 PM
CAIRO — Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has a solution for Egypt's crumbling economy: taking spare change from its citizens.
In a speech this week to announce a new housing project, Sissi asked why the state could not take the small change left over in bank transactions and place it in an account to fund development projects. Sure, there are charities, he noted. But his way could be a better way, he argued.
"People in Egypt want to contribute, but they don't know what the best mechanism to do so is," Sissi said, according to local media reports. "If everyone leaves the spare change in their bank transactions, 20 to 30 million people, we would be able to collect up to 10 to 12 million" Egyptian pounds.
It was no surprise, of course, that Egyptians reacted to their president's "pocket-money initiative" with mockery and doubt on social media.
After all, inflation is rising. Prices of most staple foods, as well as government-subsidized goods and services, such as electricity, have risen sharply. The country also is expected to face even more austerity measures because the International Monetary Fund recently granted Egypt a $12 billion loan.
Many Egyptians asserted that the public has previously responded to similar calls and have collectively donated billions for mega-projects that never achieved the promised revenue. For instance, a few months after Sissi was elected president in 2014, after ousting Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt collected more than $7 billion through selling bonds to the public. The country also used $850 million in bank loans to fund an expansion of the Suez Canal, a key economic gateway for the region.
Officials promised a $3.5 billion profit from the new extension by 2023, but the revenue soon dropped significantly in the first year, helping create a severe foreign-exchange shortage that has added to the burdens of Egyptians.
Last year, Egypt received $23 billion in aid from Gulf states, but many Egyptians have continued to suffer economically. Nearly 28 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, on less than $2 a day.
But Sissi's supporters love his "spare change" idea.
The executive director of Long Live Egypt Fund, a charity established by Sissi shortly after he was elected, told the privately owned Egyptian Today newspaper that they have "communicated with the two biggest national banks in Egypt — Al Ahly National Bank and Egypt Bank — to study the initiative and reach a decision concerning it in coordination with the Central Bank of Egypt soon."
"If you allow me, I want this money. How should I take it? I don't know," Sissi declared in his speech, directing his message at the banks.
The crowd seated in front of him clapped and cheered.