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memri
March 9, 2017 No.
6823

Protests In Egypt Following Government Decision To Cut Subsidized Bread Quotas

In the recent days, protests have erupted in Egypt following reports that the government has decided to cut the daily quota of subsidized bread from five loaves per capita to only three loaves,[1]due to the deep economic crisis the country is suffering.[2] The protests, each attended by hundreds of people, took place in Giza, Alexandria, Minya and elsewhere.[3] In the city of Desouk protesters disrupted train traffic by standing on the tracks,[4] and in Alexandria they blocked a road and demonstrated in front of the Supply Ministry's offices. In Kafr Al-Sheikh demonstrators called out "down with Al-Sisi" and "Al-Sisi is an oppressor."[5]

Egyptian journalist Hassanein Karoum, who reviews the Egyptian press for the London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, reported that citizens who came to the bakeries to buy their share of subsidized bread were surprised to learn from the bakery owners that the government had cut the quotas.[6]


Left: protests in Desouk (Al-Yawm Al-Sabi', Egypt, March 7, 2017); right: protests in Alexandria (rassd.com, March 7, 2017)

In response to the protests, the minister of supply, Dr. 'Ali Al-Moselhy, hurried to hold a press conference on March 7, in which he explained that the decision was meant to fight corruption and the abuse of the subsidy system, which involves ministry-issued cards specifying the number of subsidized loaves each bakery can sell.[7] He assured the public that the aid provided to the public by means of subsidies on food staples, including on bread, would not be reduced. He also explained that the Alexandria and Giza Governorates, and several areas in the Kafr Al-Sheikh and Al-Wadi Al-Jadid districts, would be exempt from the cuts.[8]

The decision to cut the quotas of subsidized bread sparked responses from MPs and social organizations. For example, MP 'Ali Al-Kayal tabled an urgent question about it to Prime Minister Sherif Isma'il and Supply Minister Al-Moselhy. He also said to reporters that the decision was arbitrary, irrational and unjust and would jeopardize security and enrage millions of Egypt's poor.[9]Muhammad Al-'Asqalani, head of the Citizens Against Price Rises movement, said that the protests were a warning for the government since bread was a sensitive issue for the citizens.[10]

Criticism was also heard from oppositionists, including elements associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Oppositionist and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi wrote on Facebook: "A regime that starves its people will not remain in power."[11] Muhammad Mahsoub, who was minister for parliamentary affairs under Muhammad Mursi, wrote on his Facebook account: "This is not a revolution of the hungry but a revolution of rights that have been trampled by a regime that cannot [even] run a bakery, let alone a large country like Egypt.[12] The Karama party warned against reinstating the economic policy of the Mubarak regime, stressing that the only way to resolve the crisis was by meeting the demands of the January 25, 2011 revolution.[13] The Popular Coalition Party condemned the government's policy and noted that the poor bear the brunt of Egypt's economic crisis. It demanded the prime minister's resignation and called to end the suffering of the poor and save Egypt from the dangerous repercussions the bread protests could have.[14]

Responses to the protests appeared on social media as well. Twitter users launched a "Supply Intifada" hashtag, under which user "Muhajir" wrote: "#Supply Intifada – because the people do not distinguish between success in [providing] security and failure in the economic [domain]."[15]

User "Muhammad Ibn Al-Thawra" wrote: "The #SupplyIntifada has reached Cairo... Umm Baba residents blocked Al-Matar Road."[16]

The Egyptian press, including the government daily Al-Ahram, published articles criticizing the government's decision and warning about its possible repercussions. The articles stated that the bread subsidies were a "red line" and demanded to suspend the decision.

The following are excerpts from articles on this issue:

Egyptian Columnist: The Supply Minister Must Suspend The Decision To Slash Subsidized Bread Quotas

Ahmad 'Abd Al-Tawab, a columnist for the government daily Al-Ahram, wrote under the headline "First of All Suspend the Bread Decision!": "How did [Supply Minister] Dr. 'Ali Al-Moselhy, a veteran minister, experienced politician and an expert on all aspects of supply, fail to realize that his decision to cut bread [subsidies] would inflict all these negative consequences on the [Egyptian] masses?... The decision was no doubt rash and short-sighted, and harmed only the people for whom the [subsidy] system was created [in the first place]! The surprise, or even shock, was over the fact that the decision does not hurt the corrupt [people it is meant to fight]. Instead it hurts others: the masses, the shopkeepers and the bakery owners, to an extent they never even imagined! This is unacceptable... Before things get even worse, it might be helpful if Dr. Al-Moselhy announced the suspension of the decision and launched a wide-scale, open-minded dialogue with all the [relevant] parties..."[17]

Board Chairman Of Al-Masri Al-Yawm: Bread Is A Red Line

Muhammad Amin, board chairman of the Al-Masri Al-Yawm daily, wrote that President Al-Sisi surely knows that, with the economic crisis raging in Egypt, bread is the last thing the citizens still have, and therefore they must not be deprived of it. He wrote: "Minister 'Ali Al-Moselhy knows that bread is a red line, and the prime minister knows that he cannot leave Minister [Al-Moselhy] to handle this matter alone, even if he is amazingly competent. And the president knows even better than those two that [he] cannot take away the citizens' bread, which is the only thing still left to them today... This is a message of warning to all the relevant parties... The minister surely presented his position to the President before implementing [the plan].

"The novelty is that this Bread Revolution did not break out in Greater Cairo but came from the periphery and from the rural hinterlands. It is not political in character and is not led by the left or by any [other political] faction... I have no doubt that Minister Al-Moselhy stayed up all night to put out the fires.

"Both the president and the minister surely know that bread is the food of the poor and that we are not talking about oil, sugar, butter or spring chickens... At the end of the day, people [just] want some bread to eat..."[18]

Board Chairman Of Al-Misriyyoun: The Rage Of The Hungry Is A Dire Warning

Gamal Sultan, board chairman of the independent daily Al-Misriyyoun, noted in an article titled "First Warning before the Revolution of the Hungry" that the citizens who took to the streets belong to Al-Sisi's main support base, and added that these protests prove that in order to save the economy, Al-Sisi must enact political reforms and grant the Egyptians freedoms, which he has not done so far. He wrote: "The rage of the hungry that erupted yesterday and the day before yesterday in Egypt's streets after the bread quotas for the poor were slashed constitutes a very clear and dire warning, especially since it was a spontaneous popular response that was not led or prompted by any political party... The people who took [to the streets] yesterday and the day before, some of whom uttered slogans explicitly criticizing President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, are the president's main support base. They are the ones he has always relied upon in consolidating his regime and [proving his] claims regarding his popularity with the people, far from the elites and the middle class who are angry over the lack of freedoms. Al-Sisi always wagered, even in his explicit discourse, on the [assumption] that the Egyptian people are preoccupied with [attaining] better living [conditions] and better healthcare, education and nutrition, rather than with democracy and transition of power. Today everyone, in and out of Egypt, understands that Al-Sisi has lost this wager, because the poor, who want [only] a slice of bread to protect them [from hunger] and keep them and their children alive, are taking to the streets – or [perhaps] it is hunger that drives them to [take to the streets] – and calling out anti-Sisi slogans.

"Al-Sisi's problem is that, as a military man with a very outdated mentality, he thinks he can spark economic growth [in Egypt] without [enacting] any political or social reforms. This is an assumption that the entire world has discarded as an illusion, with the exception of a few rulers in the Third World. This is because, in an open world like today's, economic growth requires a healthy and transparent political climate, an independent and serious oversight mechanism, fairer laws that reflect public rather than personal or partisan interests... and a political regime that ensures the peaceful transition of power, [for] this places the leader under the constant pressure of public oversight...

"What has happened and is still happening in Egypt has effectively quashed the myth that a leader with an [impressive] military record is the best man to rule Egypt because he has the greatest chances of success... We see the poor gradually [taking to the streets] to protest against this 'manly' president with his military record, and this proves that Egypt needs something else, completely different."[19]

 

 

[1] Rassd.com, March 7, 2017.

[2] For more on the economic crisis in Egypt, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No.1278, Egypt's Severe Economic Crisis Sparks Harsh Criticism Of Regime's Economic Policy, Calls To Topple Regime On November 11, November 10, 2016.

[3] Rassd.com, Al-Watan (Egypt), Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), March 7, 2017.

[4] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), March 7, 2017.

[5] Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), March 7, 2017.

[6] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 9, 2017.

[7] Parlamany.com, March 8, 2017.

[8] Minister Al-Moselhy's official Facebook account, March 7, 2017; mubasher24.org, March 8, 2017.

[9] Rassd.com, March 7, 2017.

[10] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 7, 2017.

[11] Facebook.com/Hamdeen.Egypt, March 7, 2017.

[12] Facebook.com/Mahsoob, March 7, 2017.

[13] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 9, 2017.

[14] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 9, 2017.

[15] Twitter.com/haithammorad3, March 7, 2017.

[16] Twitter.com/mhedewa, March 7, 2017.

[17] Al-Ahram (Egypt), March 9, 2017.

[18] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 8, 2017.

[19] Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), March 8, 2017.