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Egypt's Sisi calls for first bread price rise in decades

A bread seller walks in front of Al-Azhar Mosque in central Cairo on March 23, 2018. [FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images]
A bread seller walks in front of Al-Azhar Mosque in central Cairo on March 23, 2018 [FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images]

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said it was time to increase the price of the country's subsidised bread, revisiting the issue for the first time since 1977 when then-president Anwar Sadat reversed a price rise in the face of riots, reports Reuters.

Sisi on Tuesday did not specify the amount of any potential increase, but any change to the food support system in the world's largest wheat importer would be highly sensitive. Bread was the first word in the signature slogan chanted in the 2011 uprising that unseated 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 allocated five loaves a day under a sprawling subsidy programme that also includes the likes of pasta and rice, and costs billions of dollars.

"It is time for the 5 piaster loaf to increase in price," Sisi said at the opening of a food production plant. "Some might tell me to leave this to the prime minister, to the supply minister to (raise the price); but no, I will do it in front of my country and my people.

"It's incredible to sell 20 loaves for the price of a cigarette."

READ: Ramadan helps Egypt female bakers make a living

Previous attempted changes to the subsidy programme, which caused deadly bread riots in 1977, were agreed as part of former President Anwar Sadat's loan deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Sisi's government has also turned to the IMF, which granted a $12 billion loan in 2016 and a one-year $5.2 billion loan last year, but specified that food subsidies should only reach those most in need.

The loan programme also required higher fuel and electricity prices.

I'm not saying we make it significantly more expensive, to as high as it costs to make it, 65 or 60 piastres, but (increasing the price) is necessary. Nothing stays stagnant like this for 20 or 30 years, with people saying that this number can't be touched, Sisi said

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