Soaring prices and crowds: Egypt's Ahlan Ramadan fairs struggle to welcome citizens

Menna Osama, Monday 19 Feb 2024

Egypt has initiated its annual Welcome Ramadan (Ahlan Ramadan in Arabic) fairs to address the crisis of soaring prices, with Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Ali Moselhi encountering obstacles during the opening of the initial outlet on Saturday in Qalyubia governorate, due to overwhelming crowds and escalating tensions.

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Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Ali Moselhi encounters obstacles during the opening of the inaugural "Ahlan Ramadan" fair outlet on Saturday in Qalyubia governorate, amid overwhelming crowds and escalating tensions.

 

The annual fairs, organized in collaboration with the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, offer basic commodities at discounted rates, up to 30 percent lower than market prices, to citizens on the occasion of the holy month of Ramadan. 

Ramadan, which comes this year on 11 March, typically witnesses a surge in the consumption of food products, with the fairs aiming to meet the increased demand for food commodities by providing a variety of goods to citizens.

The fairs come amid a surge in commodity prices, which have risen by up to 50 percent since the beginning of 2024, with increases occurring almost weekly and sometimes daily.

In a phone interview on CBC satellite channel, Mohamed Attia El-Fayoumi, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Qalyubia, said a minimum of three main fixed outlets would be inaugurated in each governorate, lasting until the end of the holy month.

"In previous years, attending the fair was optional for me," a working-class housewife told Ahram Online (AO), lamenting the loss of such freedom this year.

"With the rise in food prices and the unavailability of certain items, I will have no choice but to purchase my family's Ramadan necessities from the fair this year," she said.

The prices of almost all commodities saw a significant increase in December 2023 compared to December 2022, according to figures released by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).

The foodstuffs recorded an increase of 60.1 percent on average, with various items witnessing notable price changes: grains and bread by 44.5 percent; meat and poultry by 73.7 percent; fish and seafood by 70.1 percent; dairy, cheese, and eggs by 55.4 percent; oils and fats by 27.9 percent; sugar and sugary foods by 46.7 percent; and coffee, tea, and cocoa by 57.9 percent, as reported by CAPMAS.

The price increases are linked to the rising price of the dollar in the black market, which importers are forced to resort to as Egypt has been suffering a shortage in hard currency.

While the official trading price is EGP 31 per dollar, the parallel market rate has fluctuated in the past few weeks between EGP 50 and EGP 70

Commodity prices at the fairs will be as follows: a rice pack will range from EGP 30 to 34, a sugar pack will be priced at EGP 27, the pasta will range from EGP 28 to 33, and beans will range from EGP 50 to 55 per kilogram, El-Fayoumi said, giving a hint on discounted prices.

There will be a high demand for commodities like sugar. Thus, it will be pumped into the exhibitions until the end of Ramadan, El-Fayoumi added.

Egypt has been grappling with a severe sugar crisis in recent months, with market prices soaring to above EGP 50 per kilogram.

The government has taken steps to alleviate this crisis, including increasing amounts of subsidized sugar, implementing initiatives to reduce prices, imposing temporary bans on exports, and intensifying control measures. However, sugar prices remain far from the targeted level of EGP 27 per kilogram.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly stated that he has reached an agreement with Chambers of Commerce and manufacturers to pump significant quantities of commodities into the Egyptian markets during this period to stabilize prices while increasing Ahlan Ramadan outlets.

Madbouly also directed officials to establish a small operational team in each governorate to monitor goods availability in the markets and ensure price stability, with a requirement to submit weekly reports.

Moselhi stated on Sunday that the Holding Company for Food Industries participates in the fairs with 30 affiliated companies, including 146 outlets.

The company will also provide 8,200 tons of fresh meat, 2,000 tons of frozen meat, and 2,500 tons of frozen poultry, he added.

Egypt's annual headline inflation recorded 35.2 percent in December 2023, up from the 21.9 percent recorded in December 2022, according to CAPMAS.

In December 2023, Egypt designated seven essential food items – mixed oil, beans, rice, milk, sugar, pasta, and white cheese – as strategic commodities, to regulate prices in the market in cooperation with the private sector.

The Egyptian government said in January it plans to develop an AI-based system to predict crises in the local market, especially hikes in commodities and staples prices.

In early February, to alleviate the cost of living pressures on citizens, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi raised minimum wages for all government workers and pensions, starting in March.

The presidential decree stipulates raising all salaries by 50 percent, at a minimum rate of EGP 1,000 to EGP 1,200, for government employees, to reach EGP 6,000.

The minimum wage for government employees was last raised in September 2023 from EGP 3,500 to EGP 4,000.

Meanwhile, the social package allocates EGP 15 billion for increasing the salaries of doctors, nurses, teachers, and university faculty.

As only two fairs, both in Qalyubia, opened until Saturday, El-Fayoumi said the next 10 days would witness fairs spur nationwide, including Cairo and Giza governorates.

“I have been expecting the opening of the fair in Cairo. However, after viewing videos of the disorganized opening of the Qalyubia outlet, I won’t attend,” a middle-class citizen said.

Another individual said he would wait and observe how things would go initially with the fair outlets in Cairo.

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