- Ahmed Shousha
The smell of fresh bread drew Muhammad to a bakery in one of the side streets of the Agouza neighborhood, in the Giza district, to buy 20 loaves.
Mohamed was holding plastic bags of vegetables, cheese, canned goods, and other household necessities, in which he paid up to 70 Egyptian pounds (about $3), while all the loaves cost him only one Egyptian pound.
The Egyptian Ministry of Supply is currently working on a study to determine the increase in the price of a loaf of bread, to submit its results to the Council of Ministers for discussion.
This comes after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi raised the controversy over the difference in prices, saying, “It is unreasonable for twenty loaves to be the price of one cigarette.”
Al-Sisi, whose statement came during the inauguration of a food project in the northern Delta, explained that his intention to reduce subsidies on bread comes to help the government fulfill its obligations and support school feeding for children.
Muhammad works as a government employee, supports his wife and three children, and tells the BBC that “he knows many people who have this loaf of food and dinner, so if they can’t buy it, what will they eat?”
Most Egyptians depend on subsidized bread. The Egyptian government allocates about two billion seven hundred million dollars annually for bread, and more than 70 million Egyptians benefit from it.
Mohamed asks the Egyptian president to look at these people “with more mercy and not in a purely economic way.”
Don’t bite my loaf
I was walking around that area, an hour after Sisi’s statements, to prepare a television report on the controversy that erupted as soon as it was announced that the subsidy would be lifted.
As soon as I stood next to the photographer and prepared the photographic equipment, the owner of the bakery tried to convince passersby not to talk to us or to refrain from talking about politics, “if they fear imprisonment and abuse.”
However, a number of those who passed by seemed to be coming to the conversation, and Khaled said: “I do not have the ability to pay more to buy bread. You bite my heart, not my loaf.”
For his part, Saeed encouraged the Egyptian government to take these decisions, saying: “These are our economic conditions and we must be realistic.” “I don’t buy subsidized bread at all,” Syed interrupted us while riding his motorcycle.
As for Mahmoud, he saw that “there is nothing new, the prices of everything have been rising for years.”
Since the so-called economic reform program began years ago, the Egyptian government has lifted subsidies on fuel and electricity, liberalized the exchange rate of the dollar and took harsh measures. But bread stayed away from that, retaining its special attachment to the poor.
Experts fear that raising the price of a loaf of bread will increase the burden on Egyptians, a third of whom live below the poverty line, according to official statistics.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said that the proposed increase in the price of a loaf of subsidized bread will not reach the actual cost, which, he said, ranges between 60 and 65 piasters, but rather it will be reasonable, as he described it.
The price of one subsidized loaf is currently 5 piasters, while the average price of unsubsidized bread is one pound.
Economic researcher Mosbah Qutb believes that raising the price of bread should be followed by other measures that mitigate the consequences of this decision on the poor classes who are already suffering from the high cost of basic services such as health and education.
Qutb explains that among these measures are increasing salaries, raising the minimum wage, and providing more money to families benefiting from the Takaful and Karama program.
The Egyptian government is trying to mitigate the impact of its economic measures on the poor social strata through the Solidarity and Karama program, which it says serves about 14 million people in Egypt.
A quarter of a billion loaves
During the era of the late Egyptian President Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, his decision to cut bread subsidies triggered massive demonstrations that ended with him reversing his decision.
But Sisi seemed more daring in making such decisions, which he himself admits are tough measures for Egyptians.
Egypt produces about a quarter of a billion subsidized loaves daily.
In recent years, the controversy revolved around the size of the loaf of bread, its weight, and its health safety, but it is the first time that the controversy extends with this force to its price, although the Egyptian government has not taken the decision to increase the price officially so far.
The cinema also touched on the subject of the loaf. In a scene from the movie “Morgan Ahmed Morgan”, the Egyptian actor Adel mocks subsidized bread. In the film, Imam plays the role of a pro-government member of the Egyptian parliament, and in the scene he confines a large and appetizing loaf with him, to respond to the opposition’s criticism, and takes a piece of it and invites his colleague to eat it, saying: “This is not a living, this is a biscuit.”
After his statements about bread, the Egyptian president returned and said that he “accepts the difference in viewpoints”, expressing his readiness “to study other viewpoints and amend positions if necessary.”
In his meeting with a number of journalists, Sisi explained that the cost of school feeding has increased over the past years from 300 million pounds to about 8 billion pounds (about half a billion dollars), because millions of students suffer from diseases due to malnutrition such as anemia, obesity and stunting.
The difficult economic measures taken by the Egyptian government in recent years seemed to help the cohesion of the Egyptian economy in the face of crises such as the Corona epidemic, as Egypt maintained its economic growth rates despite the repercussions of the epidemic.