Sisi in Egypt calls for first bread price hike in decades
- Egyptian bread prices have been unchanged for decades
- Sisi has sought to curb Egypt’s subsidy program
- Previous attempts at change led to deadly riots in 1977
CAIRO, Aug 3 (Reuters) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said it is time to increase the price of the country’s subsidized bread, revisiting the issue for the first time since 1977, when President Anwar Sadat reversed the rise in prices in the face of riots.
Sissi did not specify the amount of a possible increase on Tuesday, but any change in the food support system of the world’s largest wheat importer would be very sensitive. Bread was the first word in the signature slogan chanted during the 2011 uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.
Bread is currently sold at 0.05 Egyptian pounds ($ 0.0032) per loaf to more than 60 million Egyptians, who are given five loaves a day as part of a sprawling subsidy program that also includes pasta and rice, and costs billions of dollars.
“It is time for the price of 5 piastres bread to increase,” Sissi said when opening a food production factory. “Some might tell me to leave this to the Prime Minister, to the Minister of Supply to (raise the price); but no, I will do it in front of my country and my people.
“It’s amazing to sell 20 loaves of bread for the price of a cigarette.”
Previous attempts to change the subsidy program, which sparked deadly bread riots in 1977, were agreed to as part of former President Anwar Sadat’s loan deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Sisi’s government also turned to the IMF, which made a $ 12 billion loan in 2016 and a $ 5.2 billion one-year loan last year, but clarified that food subsidies should only reach those who need it most.
The loan program also demanded higher prices for fuel and electricity.
“I’m not saying we’re making it a lot more expensive, as high as it costs, 65 or 60 piastres, but (raising the price) is necessary,” Sissi said.
“Nothing stagnates like this for 20 or 30 years, with people saying that number cannot be touched.”
The Egyptian Ministry of Supply will immediately start studying the increase in the price of bread and will present its findings to the cabinet as soon as possible after Sisi’s remarks, Minister Ali Moselhy told local newspaper El-Watan.
Sisi has sought to curb Egypt’s massive subsidy program by targeting those deemed sufficiently wealthy while leaving bread prices unchanged.
Hussein Abu Saddam, leader of the farmers’ union, told Reuters: “The decision is right and comes at a very opportune time. This helps us to do away with the old practices and customs, in which the president was always afraid to touch the prices of bread, fearing the cry of the poor. “
A hashtag that translates to “except the loaf of bread” was trending on Twitter in Egypt on Tuesday afternoon with more than 4,000 tweets.
Last year, the country reduced the size of its subsidized loaf of bread by 20 grams, allowing bakers to make more fixed-price breads from the standard 100kg bag of flour.
“I hope it’s not badly received, like we’re planning to take a big price jump … we’re just talking about breaking even,” Sissi added.
In its 2021/22 budget, Egypt allocated 87.8 billion Egyptian pounds ($ 5.6 billion) to subsidize the supply of basic commodities and support farmers.
Of this amount, £ 44.8 billion is earmarked for the bread subsidy.
The government has set a wheat price assumption of $ 255.00 per tonne in fiscal year 2021/2022, up from $ 193.90 per tonne the year before, according to the budget. Egypt last bought wheat on Monday for $ 293.74 per tonne c & f.
Wheat prices around the world have recovered due to supply issues during the coronavirus pandemic.
($ 1 = 15.7100 Egyptian pounds)
Reporting by Omar Fahmy Additional reporting by Malaika Tapper Writing by Nafisa Eltahir and Nadine Awadalla Editing by David Goodman and David Holmes
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