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Egypt opposition files court case to reveal budget

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 27, 2013 at 2:25 pm •  Published: April 27, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Several Egyptian opposition parties and civil society groups filed a lawsuit on Saturday to try to force the government to disclose the upcoming fiscal year's planned budget for the country where the economy has waned amid continued unrest.

The lawsuit is the latest move by groups complaining that President Mohammed Morsi's government has not been transparent about economic measures they say could hurt Egypt's poor.

Egypt's economy has been hard hit by two years of turmoil following the ouster of longtime autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.

The new draft budget for the fiscal year beginning in July was presented earlier this week to the economic committee of the Shura Council, an elected advisory body that is serving as a temporary parliament. It is dominated by Islamist parties, which have swept all of Egypt's elections since the fall of Mubarak.

Egypt's finance minister, El-Morsi Hegazi, told lawmakers in the council this week that the new projected budget deficit is expected at $28.5 billion, around $1.7 billion more than the current fiscal year's.

The government has been burning through its foreign currency reserves, which have fallen to a critical level of just $13.4 billion, a third of the pre-uprising level. Much of that has been spent on propping up the currency and importing fuel and wheat for the country's subsidy system.

Egypt spends some $14.5 billion a year subsidizing fuel and $4 billion in food subsidies, the bulk of which goes to bread.

Hegazi said the new budget would slash fuel subsidies by $5.2 billion and food subsidies by just over $300 million.

Cuts in subsidies are linked to talks underway for a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The loan could help cover some of the government's deficit and might build investor confidence in Egypt. Talks for the loan, though, have dragged on for more than a year.

The government has been hesitant so far to implement wide-scale austerity measures that could spur further unrest. Nearly half of Egypt's 90 million people, around 5 million of which live outside the country, subsist on around $2 a day and rely on subsidies for survival.

Many Egyptians and economists say that with parliamentary elections scheduled for some time later this year, the president's Muslim Brotherhood party might be reluctant to push forward with painful subsidy cuts that could hurt them at the polls.

Representatives from prominent opposition parties, including rights advocate Mohammed ElBaradei's Dustour Party, said the new draft budget must be released in full. They said the Shura Council only received proposed government spending in vague terms and that the general public has yet to see what the draft budget looks like.

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