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Rising prices set to stoke ‘inevitable’ rise in civil unrest in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon

May 11, 2022 at 12:13 pm

Security measures during a protest against the economic conditions in Lebanon on 28 April 2020 [Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency]

A report by a risk consultancy has said that rising fuel and food prices are set to stoke a rise in civil unrest in developing middle income countries, with Egypt and Tunisia among the states which will take the hardest hit.

The report compounds what international organisations including the World Bank have said, that soaring food prices could trigger social unrest across the MENA region. Rising food prices played a central role in the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

The cost of living was already being driven up by climate change, conflict and COVID-19. According to the Civil Unrest Index Projections, over half the world already experienced a rise in civil unrest since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Eighty per cent of Egypt’s wheat imports are from Russia and Ukraine. Three weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the price of subsidised bread, which a large segment of the population relies on, was already up by 25 per cent.

Ukraine crisis raises concern in Arab world over wheat supplies

Soaring food prices have sent Egypt’s inflation levels to the highest level since mid-2019.

Roughly a third of Egyptians live below the poverty line and have lived through austerity measures and rising prices for several years already.

Brazil, Argentina, Pakistan and the Philippines are also among the ten countries to watch because they are highly dependent on food and energy imports, reports Reuters, as are Lebanon, Senegal, Kenya and Bangladesh.

Lebanon also imports 80 per cent of its wheat from Ukraine. Last year, the cost of the minimum amount of food per family per month had already risen 351 per cent.

This was compounded by the 2020 Beirut blast which destroyed Lebanon’s largest grain stores.

Egypt: authorities release critics of high prices

The United Nations has said that the Ukraine war led to a giant leap in food prices as it is the world’s biggest exporter of sunflower oil and a major producer of maize and wheat.

Global food prices hit an all-time high in February and March and energy prices have also risen, a problem that will continue into 2023, says the report, “with no resolution of the conflict in sight.”

Kazakhstan’s attempt to cut fuel subsidies has already sparked unrest in the country, as has the rising food and fuel prices in Sri Lanka.

The report goes on to state that it “should come as no surprise” that three out of the ten countries on their watch list are in the Middle East and North Africa region as it is dependent on food imports, vulnerable to price rises and source significant amounts of grain from Russia and Ukraine.

“All three are currently seeking IMF support to offset the risk of financial crisis. Cuts to food and fuel subsidies programmes are often set as conditions for accessing financing, meaning that further, painful price rises for citizens are increasingly likely.”

“Mass civil unrest in response is therefore a possibility, which we expect will be met with a violent state crackdown in countries that have a poor record when it comes to security forces and human rights.”

Official: Tunisia to raise fuel prices by 30% until end of 2022