Egypt’s minister of supply and internal trade has implied that over 45 million citizens will no longer be eligible for bread subsidies.
Currently, 70 per cent of Egypt’s population are eligible for five loaves of subsidised bread per day, a lifeline for many as roughly a third of Egyptians live below the poverty line and live on less than $2 a day.
Ali Al-Moselhi, who oversees subsidies, said that whilst a loaf of bread is sold for five piasters with a ration card, in reality it costs 65 piasters and that is before the recent rise in the cost of wheat.
Egypt is the largest importer of wheat in the world, the majority of which comes from Russia, which made up 50 per cent of the country’s wheat imports in 2021, and Ukraine at 30 per cent.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been ongoing for almost a week, with at least 136 civilians dead, according to the UN yesterday, including 13 children.
The fighting has raised fears in Egypt and across the Middle East that a protracted conflict will disrupt their wheat supply, which could bring further unrest in the region.
Russia is the top exporter of wheat worldwide and the biggest producer after China and India.
The issue of slashing the bread subsidy has been ongoing and is a major source of contention among the Egyptian population, already made worse by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
On 17 February the Egyptian government announced that the price of a loaf of subsidised bread was rising and that it was considering replacing the bread subsidy with a cash payment as global wheat prices soared due to inflation.
Late last year the UN announced that global food prices had hit a ten-year high with one of the major contributors – wheat – up by almost 40 per cent.
Late last year the president warned that subsidy cards would cover two people only and that they should not expect the state to feed their children.
In 2017 Egyptians protested across the country after the government cut bread subsidies with exacerbated already dire living conditions following a cut to fuel subsidies and the devaluing of the currency.