A quarter of bakeries in Egypt's second-largest city of Alexandria have been forced to stop operations after the state failed to pay them their dues for subsidised bread, and are threatening a wider strike if the problem is not solved within days, an official told Al-Ahram Arabic news website.
According to a new system for Egypt's popular bread subsidy programme, the government pays the bakers to cover the lost profit from selling bread at a subsidised price.
"Bakery owners will not be able to continue working without receiving their money which was due earlier this month [March] ... they have commitments such as workers' wages and bills that need to be paid," said Abdel-Al Darwish, head of the bakery owners division for the Chamber of Commerce in Alexandria.
Last year, authorities launched a new subsidised bread programme which aims to reduce smuggling and cut down on wheat spending by selling flour to bakers at a non-subsidised price and encouraging beneficiaries to exchange their bread ration for other subsidised foodstuffs through a smart-card system.
The system, which is being introduced gradually throughout the country, currently covers over a dozen of Egypt's 27 governorates, including Cairo, Giza, and Alexandria.
Bakery owners are threatening a full work stoppage if they do not get paid in the coming days, added Darwish.
For his part, the Alexandria-based deputy minister of supply told Al-Ahram that the bakeries will be paid this week, although Darwish said that similar promises have not been kept.