Egypt’s president slices bread subsidies

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s name to boost the value of sponsored bread has sparked controversy in Egypt; supporters welcomed it as a clever and well timed determination whereas critics condemned it because the final straw.

“It is time to improve the value of the 5 piaster loaf,” Sisi mentioned in reference to the sponsored bread supplied to a minimum of 60 million Egyptians. His remark got here in the course of the opening of a meals manufacturing plant in Sadat City within the Northern Delta Aug. 3.  

“Some might tell me to leave this [matter] to the government, to Prime Minister Madbouly or to the supply minister. But no, I will take it upon myself [to raise the price] in front of my country and my people,” Sisi introduced defiantly.

In an try and allay public issues concerning the potential worth hike, he continued, “I’m not saying we raise the price [of bread] significantly to 60 or 65 piasters — the cost of producing it — but it [an increase] is necessary.”

Sisi stopped brief, nonetheless, of stating how a lot the rise could be. Meanwhile, Minister of Supplies Ali Moselhi was quoted by Al-Watan newspaper as saying that his ministry would instantly start learning the difficulty in gentle of the president’s directives and current its findings to the Cabinet.       

Sisi defined that the potential worth improve would contribute to the price of much-needed faculty meals that he vowed could be made out there to tens of millions of scholars. “Eight billion Egyptian pounds [$510 million] are needed annually for the school meals,” he famous.       

The worth of sponsored bread has remained unchanged in Egypt for many years. In a rustic the place 32.5% of the inhabitants lives in excessive poverty — in response to a 2019 survey revealed by the nationwide statistics company, CAPMAS — any change to the meals subsidy system is a sensitive problem that some analysts like Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science and economics at Cairo University, warn could spark social unrest.

“The issue of raising the price of subsidized bread is very dangerous; no unilateral decision should be made regarding this issue,” Nafaa tweeted. “Rather, it merits a serious societal dialogue in a healthy atmosphere free from fear and hypocrisy.”     

Bread was on the forefront of the calls for of the anti-government protesters that took to the streets in January 2011 calling on then-President Hosni Mubarak to step down. “Bread, Freedom, Social Justice,” the activists in Tahrir Square had chanted in what turned the signature slogan of the 18-day mass rebellion that unseated Mubarak.

In March 2017, protests broke out in Alexandria and different Egyptian cities — in defiance of an anti-protest regulation in place since 2013 — when Minister of Supplies and Domestic Trade Ali Moselhi introduced plans to chop bread subsidies by lowering the variety of loaves to 3 per ration cardholder.

“We need to eat. We want bread,” was the echoing cry of the protesters on the time. The unrest pressured the federal government to rapidly rescind its determination. Fearing a repeat of the lethal bread riots of 1977 that erupted after then-President Anwar Sadat introduced a change within the subsidy program to fulfill International Monetary Fund (IMF) calls for.

The authorities introduced it might maintain the value of sponsored bread unchanged for shoppers. The dimension and weight of the sponsored loaves have significantly shrunk since final August. A loaf of the sponsored bread now weighs 90 grams (3.2 ounces) as an alternative of the unique 110 grams (3.9 ounces). As bread is without doubt one of the primary staples of the Egyptian weight-reduction plan — notably for the poor — extra loaves are actually wanted to fulfill individuals’s starvation.    

Under Egypt’s subsidy program, which additionally consists of cooking oil, rice, pasta, tea and sugar, ration cardholders are allotted 5 loaves a day every on the sponsored fee of 0.05 Egyptian kilos ($0.0032) per loaf. 

The slashing of gasoline and electrical energy subsidies — a part of austerity measures undertaken by the federal government to fulfill circumstances set by the IMF for Egypt to acquire a $12 billion mortgage in 2016 (and one other tranche of $5.2 billion final 12 months) — has piled stress on impoverished households struggling to make ends meet.

The phrase bread in Arabic actually interprets into “life,” and for a lot of Egyptians — exhausting pressed by the hikes within the costs of housing, primary commodities, transportation and electrical energy that resulted from the November 2016 flotation of the native forex — a rise within the worth of bread is tantamount to denying them life.

On Aug. 4, a handful of shoppers gathered outdoors a small bakery within the southern Cairo neighborhood of Maadi, awaiting their flip to purchase the sponsored bread. Shaker, the bakery proprietor, who requested to be recognized by his first title solely, assured them that the value of the sponsored loaves “remains unchanged.”

“It may be a while yet before the government implements the price hike,” he advised Al-Monitor. “These kinds of decisions take weeks, even months before they are carried out.”

But his phrases didn’t pacify the nervous shoppers.

“If the price of bread goes up, God knows what I’ll be feeding my children then as all we eat is bread,” complained Mostafa Metwally, a road cleaner. “I urge the government to have mercy on us.”

“In the past, I used to stack up on groceries with my monthly ration of 21 pounds [$1.34]; now the supplies I buy [at subsidized prices] fall well short of my family’s needs, although the ration has doubled,” mentioned Fatma Merghani, a retired schoolteacher and registered cardholder.

In 2017, the federal government doubled rations allotted to tens of millions of cardholders to 50 kilos ($3.18) from the earlier 21 kilos, for as much as 4 individuals registered on a single-family ration card, however the extra subsidies have performed little to alleviate the burden on the poor and needy within the face of the hovering worth of staples resembling rice and oil.    

“It would be catastrophic if bread prices too were to be raised,” Merghani advised Al-Monitor. “How would we survive?”

Meanwhile, Sisi’s feedback met with a firestorm of condemnation from critics on Egyptian social media platforms. The Arabic hashtag #Anything But (Our) Loaf of Bread rapidly went viral on Twitter Egypt, and a video of Sisi from some years in the past vowing in a TV interview broadcast on the unbiased CBC channel to not contact the value of sponsored bread was broadly circulated on social media.

On the opposite hand, media networks loyal to the state quoted distinguished figures resembling  Ahmed Karima, professor of Islamic regulation at Al-Azhar University, as saying they absolutely assist the president’s determination. “The excess bread in rural communities is used to make prohibited [alcoholic] drinks,” Karima was quoted by Al-Masry Al-Youm as saying.

Attia Hammad, head of the Bakeries Division on the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, advised Al-Monitor that the choice was “long overdue” and “a historic step.”

“The price of subsidized bread has remained unchanged for decades; it should have been adjusted every 10 years or so,” he mentioned. “It is a step we have been calling for quite some time. The 5 piaster note is no longer in use nor valid, and so it was necessary to increase the price [of bread].”    

It stays to be seen whether or not Sisi will comply with via on his determination and whether or not these affected will categorical their grievances by rioting as has occurred previously. In a sarcastic submit on his Facebook web page, journalist and former TV speak present host Hafez al-Mirazi questioned whether or not Egyptians themselves have modified or if the small area totally free expression that they had previously has been all however fully shut down.

“No citizen would risk his/her life [to protest] having less bread or the high cost of living … unless they have no bread at all. Then perhaps, they would have nothing more to lose,” he wrote.      

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