Egypt's central bank governor resigns as economic woes mount

FILE - Egyptian Central Bank Governor Tarek Amer speaks during a press conference at the Central Bank of Egypt in Cairo, Nov. 3, 2016. Amer resigned as the country has struggled to address its financial woes. According to a Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022 statement from President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi's office, el-Sissi accepted the resignation and named him a presidential adviser. The brief statement offered no reason for Amer’s resignation and no replacement was immediately named. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s central bank governor resigned Wednesday as the Middle East's most populous nation struggles to curb inflation triggered by Russia's war in Ukraine, high oil prices and a drop in tourism.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi accepted the resignation of Tarek Amer and named him a presidential adviser, the Egyptian leader’s office said in a statement. The brief statement offered no explanation for Amer’s resignation.

No replacement was immediately named for Amer, who had been appointed governor of the central bank in November 2015. He has been criticized for his handling of Egypt’s financial challenges.

The currency is under pressure, sliding in value to more than 19 Egyptian pounds to the dollar. That followed a central bank decision allowing the currency to depreciate by around 16% in March to try to stem a growing trade deficit.

“It seems there's a lot of tensions within policymaking circles, and I think that's ultimately what led to Mr. Amer's resignation," said Jason Tuvey, a senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.

Tuvey said there are officials that oppose devaluing the pound and instead support measures like rationing gas consumption by curbing electricity usage, which could in turn harm business activity. Amer had traditionally been seen as in the camp that supported the pound's depreciation as a way to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund.

The London-based Capital Economics research firm predicts that Egypt’s currency will continue to slide, reaching 25 pounds to the dollar by the end of 2024 amid sustained pressure.

The resignation of the central bank head comes after key ministries were reshuffled Saturday as the government faces mounting pressure from economic challenges. The Cabinet shake-up, which was approved by parliament in an emergency session, affected 13 ministries, including health, education, culture, local development and irrigation. The country’s minister of tourism and antiquities also was replaced.

Egypt’s expansive tourism industry, which employs millions, was hit hard by years of turmoil, the COVID-19 pandemic and then the war in Ukraine. Prior to the conflict, around a third of tourists to Egypt came from Russia.

Russia’s war has been deeply felt in other ways in Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer that sources around 80% of it from the Black Sea region.

In the first weeks after the invasion of Ukraine in late February, the price of wheat and other grains skyrocketed, as did the price of fuel. Although prices have come down somewhat, the cost of grains remains at least 50% higher than before the pandemic in early 2020. Furthermore, the cost of shipping to export those grains through the Black Sea is high.

Inflation in the country of 103 million people reached 14.6% in July, increasing pressure on lower-income households and everyday necessities. Around a third of Egyptians live in poverty, according to government figures.

The World Bank notes that Egypt's government announced an assistance package worth 130 billion pounds (more than $8 billion) just before devaluing the pound in March to alleviate the impact of rising prices. The package aimed to increase public-sector wages and pensions, as well as expand direct cash assistance programs.

Egypt's Gulf Arab allies have come to its assistance with multibillion-dollar investments buoyed by high oil prices that have helped their bottom line.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, recently established a division in Egypt that has already announced deals worth $1.3 billion with the aim of bringing in $10 billion into Egypt.

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Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.