CAIRO Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei called on Tuesday for a national consensus to secure an urgently-needed IMF loan and save the country from economic collapse within months.
Ratings agency Moody's cut Egypt's credit rating on Tuesday, citing doubts about its ability to secure a requested $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan and the economic impact of a new round of political unrest.
Moody also cited a further weakening in Egypt's external payments position given a large drop in foreign reserves in January as the country battles to stave off a currency crisis.
ElBaradei, a former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, urged Islamist President Mohamed Mursi to appoint a strong, inclusive government with what he called a professional finance minister to work with the IMF.
"No one will give a cent to Egypt ... without seeing real national cooperation," he told Al-Hayat TV in an interview.
ElBaradei was the second major leader of the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) to call this week for an agreement on a package of economic priorities, apparently setting political differences with Mursi aside for a while.
Amr Moussa, a former Arab League chief and co-leader of the NSF, called for the government and opposition to agree to postpone parliamentary elections expected in April for six months and work together on the economy.
"We have in the Front top economic experts that see it is crucial to get the loan as a certificate of confidence in the Egyptian economy. But it will not happen without national consensus and a package of (economic) measures," ElBaradei said.
"There should be political stability and a return of security and simultaneously the economy (will recover) and automatically tourism and investment will return," he added.
Egypt's central bank has said foreign reserves fell to $13.6 billion in January, below the $15 billion level needed to cover three months worth of imports.
The NSF has been leading anti-Mursi public protests for months and has boycotted talks sponsored by Mursi to demand a national unity government, changes to the Islamist-leaning constitution, the sacking of the top public prosecutor, and the prosecution of police brutality.
There was no immediate response from the government to Moussa's and ElBaradei's calls for an economic consensus.
The second biggest Islamist movement, the Nour Party, said on Tuesday the loan agreement must be approved by a body of senior scholars at Al-Azhar, the state's top religious institution whose new role is embedded in the constitution.
The United States urged Egypt this week to move fast to agree a loan deal with the IMF, reform its energy sector and guarantee investors against "arbitrary acts" to avert a deeper slide in its economy.
Moussa demanded an urgent "reordering of priorities to mobilise all capacities to confront the present serious situation".
He suggested Mursi's government and the opposition, made up of liberal, social democratic, leftist and Salafi parties, agree on a four-point initiative to restore public finances, reschedule the energy debt, revive tourism and investment and shield the poor from extra burdens.
ElBaradei said Egypt faced an economic collapse "in two to three months" unless the government started to listen to the opposition and economic experts.
Asked about the opposition's real objective, he said: "We don't want to oust Dr. Mursi. It's much bigger than that: we want the country to move on."
(Reporting by Yasmine Saleh and Ali Abdelaty, Writing by Yasmine Saleh; Editing by Paul Taylor and Andrew Heavens)