Thursday, June 05, 2008

Bread Crisis

The Christian Science Monitor has an update on Egypt's bread crisis:
"Egyptians are living through the worst food crisis in a generation, caught in a storm of stagnant wages, rising global food prices, rampant corruption, and a quickly advancing inflation rate that hit 16.4 percent in May. The price of basic commodities like bread, wheat, rice, and cooking oil has doubled since this time last year – prompting bread riots...

"Under a government order, bakers now start work at 4 a.m. to produce enough bread for everyone waiting in the city's bread lines, says Yasser Shalaby, who owns a bakery with his brother Said in another part of Imbaba.

"Once at work, they labor under the careful watch of government supervisors. The supervisors ensure they bake through the day, but there are allegations that they participate in theft and smuggling as often as they prevent it...

"Mr. Ali says people are economizing by cutting back on fruit purchases. So he's extended his hours by sleeping on the sidewalk under his cart, in case someone wants to buy something in the middle of the night. The price increases have turned bananas and oranges into luxuries...

"The government has announced a string of measures to put more money in people's pockets. In February, Mubarak ordered the military to begin baking and distributing bread in the country's major cities. On May 1 he promised public employees a 30 percent pay increase in his annual May Day address.

"In May, the government announced the expansion of its food ration program to cover 55 million people, more than 70 percent of the population. Under the program, families can purchase 2 kilos of rice and sugar, 1.5 kilos of cooking oil, and 50 grams of tea per person for 15 Egyptian pounds ($2.80)

"But public enthusiasm for these measures has been dampened by the realization that the government is paying for them by ending subsidies on gasoline and cigarettes. The prices for both gasoline and cigarettes jumped by 35 percent after parliament approved ending the subsidy, which the powerful Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement derided as 'a conspiracy against the poor.'"

The government is probably better off subsidizing food than gasoline and cigarettes, though the huge number of Egyptian nicotine addicts might disagree. The rising cost of living, of which food is a major component, has also led to rare protests in Syria.

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