Middle East

New billboards across Egypt's capital extol austerity

  • A motorist drives past a government billboard in Cairo, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, which reads in Arabic: "We sure can ... boost our exports and increase our resources. Oh, Egypt, With bold reforms, we shorten the road." Billboards and street signs have gone up across Egypt’s capital extolling austerity and hope, part of a pro-government public relations campaign aimed at preparing Egyptians for sweeping economic reforms. (AP Photo/Hamza Hendawi)

    A motorist drives past a government billboard in Cairo, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, which reads in Arabic: "We sure can ... boost our exports and increase our resources. Oh, Egypt, With bold reforms, we shorten the road." Billboards and street signs have gone up across Egypt’s capital extolling austerity and hope, part of a pro-government public relations campaign aimed at preparing Egyptians for sweeping economic reforms. (AP Photo/Hamza Hendawi)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE -- In this Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2016 file photo, a man looks at a women's boutique with discounted prices attached to the clothes in downtown Cairo, Egypt. Hundreds of giant billboards and street signs have gone up in Egypt’s capital bearing messages of austerity and hope seemingly designed to prepare Egyptians for sweeping economic reforms. Witnesses say the advertisements, which are concentrated in the heart of the capital and on its main artery roads, went up on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)

    FILE -- In this Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2016 file photo, a man looks at a women's boutique with discounted prices attached to the clothes in downtown Cairo, Egypt. Hundreds of giant billboards and street signs have gone up in Egypt’s capital bearing messages of austerity and hope seemingly designed to prepare Egyptians for sweeping economic reforms. Witnesses say the advertisements, which are concentrated in the heart of the capital and on its main artery roads, went up on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)  (The Associated Press)

Billboards and street signs have gone up across Egypt's capital extolling austerity and hope, part of a pro-government public relations campaign aimed at preparing Egyptians for sweeping economic reforms.

The advertising blitz follows last month's provisional agreement by the International Monetary Fund to give Egypt a $12 billion loan over three years to help President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government overhaul the ailing economy.

The agreement has yet to be ratified by the IMF's executive board, but the first installment of the loan is expected to be disbursed later this year.

The campaign's main slogan is: "Oh, Egypt, with bold reforms, we shorten the road." Other messages include: "Our faith in our abilities, changes our future," and "Fear and skepticism lengthen the road," as well as "Rationalize our consumption, reduce our imports."

Egypt is expected to gradually lift state subsidies on fuel, basic services and food items as part of its reform program. It is also expected to devalue or float its currency, the pound, to bolster exports and stamp out a flourishing black market in U.S. dollars.

Such moves would help wean Egypt off of billions of dollars in foreign aid -- mainly from Gulf countries -- which has propped up the economy since el-Sissi led the 2013 military overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi, an elected Islamist.

Witnesses say the advertisements, which are concentrated in the heart of Cairo and along main roads, went up on Friday. The decision to take the government's message to the streets reflects concern that the reforms, which are likely to trigger a surge in prices, could spark popular unrest. Past governments have faced protests, strikes and violence when they have sought to curb subsidies.

El-Sissi has repeatedly warned Egyptians in recent weeks that "difficult" economic decisions lay ahead and vowed to introduce a series of measures to protect the neediest from price increases. El-Sissi partially lifted fuel subsidies in 2014 without sparking any significant unrest. Last month, his government partially lifted subsidies on domestic electricity use.

Egypt's economy has been battered in the five years since a popular uprising toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. Tourism, a major source of foreign currency, has since been decimated and remittances from Egyptian expatriates have declined. Inflation and unemployment rates are in double digits and the pound has been steadily losing value against the dollar.

The government has meanwhile waged a far-reaching crackdown on dissent over the past three years, jailing thousands of protesters and other dissidents. It is also battling insurgents linked to the Islamic State group in the Sinai Peninsula.