Middle East: Amer throws the ball into Egyptian banks’ court
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Middle East: Amer throws the ball into Egyptian banks’ court

The Egyptian central bank’s decision to allow the pound to float freely in November caught many bankers in Cairo by surprise. But it was a long-held ambition of governor Tarek Amer, a veteran of Egyptian finance with a reputation as a straight-shooter. Now he needs to show the move heralds a cultural, positive shift for Egypt’s economy.

Tarek Amer illustration-600
Illustration: Pete Ellis

Thursday, November 3 dawned as another regular day for banker Hisham Ezz Al Arab, the long-serving chief executive of Egypt’s biggest non-state bank, Commercial International Bank.

At around 8am, Hisham was at home with his usual workaday routine: showering and dressing before a quick breakfast and a look through his mail and the overnight markets, his car waiting outside for the 10 minute drive to the office in Giza.

Across the Nile, at the Central Bank of Egypt’s heavily defended fortress in Cairo’s old financial district, the CBE governor of just one year’s standing, Tarek Amer, had already been at work for hours with his team, about to enact a policy no Arab central banker has done before him – to release his nation’s currency to the vagaries of the free market

I had just come out of the shower to get dressed and was putting my shoes on. The assistant called me up to tell me what was going on. I said: ‘Shit’ - Hisham Ezz Al Arab, CIB

A crucial part of Amer’s long-planned flotation process was to summon Egypt’s most senior bankers to an early morning meeting at CBE headquarters downtown.

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