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Egyptians start to go hungry

February 5, 2014 at 2:11 am

In the few months since the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, a major justification put forward by apologists for the coup has been that it was necessary to increase Egypt’s economic prosperity. The “interim” government headed by Hazem Beblawi is, after all, backed by a number of leading economists.

Just over 110 days later, however, the Egyptian economy continues to deteriorate, with rocketing prices of basic essentials and unprecedented unemployment and poverty rates. The government does not appear to be doing anything to alleviate the suffering of ordinary Egyptian families, who are starting to go hungry.

Recent studies show that the prices of fruit and vegetables have increased by 60 100 per cent compared to the same period last year due to supply shortages. According to Hilal Afifi, a pricing official, “The prices of fruit and vegetables have increased by 100 per cent. For example the price of potatoes is 4.25 Egyptian pounds per kilo wholesale compared with 2.25 Egyptian pounds during the same period last year; they retail for more than 7 pounds per kilo.” The prices, he added, have increased due to more produce being exported and a more unfavourable dollar exchange rate. “The price of imported plums is 13 Egyptian pounds per kilo wholesale and the price of local grapes is 4.5 pounds per kilo compared to 2.25 last year.” The price of tomatoes has increased by between 50 and 150 pounds due to the currency’s weak purchasing power. Greengrocer Rashid Mehran attributes the price hikes to high transportation costs.

The price of clothing also increased, by an average of 45 per cent in August and September, signalling a recovery of the markets during the holiday season and the start of the new academic year but in the absence of any price control mechanism to protect the poor. The prices are said to have increased due to the increased prices of yarn, dyeing, energy and labour.

Cairo’s Chamber of Commerce monthly report reveals that footwear and leather products have also witnessed an increase in prices of between 25 and 45 per cent over last year. The prices vary according to place of origin and different regions within Egypt. Local manufacturers are facing stiff competition from China.

The military coup has put Egypt’s economy into a harsh domestic and international climate which casts its shadow over international reports concerning the standard of living, poverty and unemployment. Egypt’s inflation rate stands at 13 per cent (it was 7.5 per cent when Morsi took office) while the wheat production crisis continues to deteriorate which, in turn, forces the country to rely on foreign imports. The coup has failed to contain the food crisis, preferring to resort to traditional solutions which pave the way for black marketeers to exploit the Egyptian public even more than usual. The high rate of inflation has persuaded many Egyptians to join the activities of the anti-coup, pro-legitimacy alliance.

A Centre for Public Opinion survey of the general public reveals that 74 per cent of Egyptians, almost 60 million people, are affected negatively by the price increases. The figure changes from 71 per cent in rural areas to 77 per cent in urban areas, and from 73 per cent in Lower and Upper Egypt to 78 per cent in urban governorates.