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Egypt’s reluctant finance minister gets to work

Samir Radwan was a surprise choice as Egypt’s new finance minister – even to himself. Appointed at the height of the chaos, the retired economist is working hard to sustain Egypt’s finances and economy through a period of extraordinary upheaval. Eric Ellis joins him in Cairo

IN EGYPT’S CHAOTIC last days of January, with his country convulsing around him and police abandoning their posts, Samir Radwan was on the streets in Maadi, one of Cairo’s more agreeable neighbourhoods, defending his hearth and home from the anarchy that’s rippling across the suddenly combustible ­Middle East. When Radwan was satisfied that his street was secure against looting marauders exploiting the power vacuum, he returned home to tidy up his study – and instead saw his life change dramatically.

“I was clearing up my papers as I’d promised my wife,” he says. “I had hardly started when I got a phone call asking me to do this – to be the minister of finance.” He astutely ignores Euromoney’s inquiry as to who made the call, but it’s clear it was either Hosni Mubarak who, as history now has it, was in his last days as dictator, or his erstwhile placeman, prime minister Ahmed Shafik.

“I was not at all flattered, it was not that type of emotion,” the amiable 69-year-old development economist says. “It was a total surprise. I hesitated, it took a bit of discussion, and it was settled when Dr Ahmed Shafik, the prime minister-designate, then spoke to me and asked me: ‘Look, are you refusing to serve your country?’”And with that patriotic arm-twist, Radwan promptly became the United Arab Republic of Egypt’s 23rd minister of finance, a job he’d never imagined he would be doing.