Egyptians protest lack of subsidised bread after govt decision to reduce bakeries' quota

Ayat Al Tawy , Tuesday 7 Mar 2017

Dozens of Egyptians take part in demonstration in front of a government office in downtown Alexandria on March 7, 2017 AFP

Hundreds of Egyptians took to the streets on Tuesday to protest the lack of subsidised bread in several governorates, including the capital Cairo, after a recent government decision to partially reduce the essential commodity at subsidy outlets.

Earlier this week, the supply ministry reduced the quota of bread given to bakers nationwide for certain subsidy cardholders in a move aimed to curb misuse and profiteering by bakery owners.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked a street in western Alexandria and demonstrated on train tracks in the eastern part of the city.

In Cairo, hundreds of locals protested in the working-class districts of Imbaba and Warraq.

In the Nile Delta governorate of Kafr El-Sheikh, protesters blocked railways, while residents of Gharbiya and Assiut demonstrated in front of supply ministry offices.

Egypt introduced a smart card system in 2014 for citizens to receive subsidised food, though many continue to use old paper cards that are not registered in the new system.

The ministry's new decision involves a reduced amount of bread set aside for holders of the old cards. 

Minister Ali Moselhy said at a press conference on Tuesday that the decision was to combat "manipulation" of state-subsidised bread by bakers, stressing that the daily quota of five loaves per day for each individual remains untouched.

Abdel-Aal Darwish, the head of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce's bakeries department, told Ahram Online on Tuesday that "the ministry reduced the quota for every bakery in Alexandria from 3,000 to 500 loaves of flatbread a day for those still carrying the old paper cards. [Five hundred loaves] will never suffice for all paper card holders."

According to Darwish, before the quota was reduced nationwide to 500 loaves, the allocation varied between 1,000-4,000 loaves a day for bakers across the country based on the number of beneficiaries in each area.

Darwish says that those with smart cards are not affected by the new decision, as there is an overall abundance of bread at bakeries.

"It is not our fault that we are not getting subsidised bread," Alexandria resident Mohamed Said told Ahram Arabic news website after he failed to obtain his usual bread quota on Tuesday.

"We have been trying to get the smart cards for years, but the supply [ministry] offices are [ineffective]," he added.

Many citizens who applied for smart cards have not yet received them, with the process of obtaining the cards talking years in some cases, according to a supply ministry source.

The source attributes the delay to "inefficiency" by the three companies responsible for printing the cards, as they have to deal with a massive database of 21 million family cards with 71 million registered beneficiaries.

The government's move late last year to cut oil subsidies and the steep devaluation of the Egyptian pound has dramatically pushed up inflation in Egypt, where tens of millions rely on state-subsidised commodities.

An unsubsidised loaf of flatbread costs EGP 0.60, while the subsidised bread sells for as little as 5 piasters a loaf.

Egypt is the world's biggest wheat importer at an estimated 11 million tonnes per year, something that greatly strains the government's budget and foreign reserves.

The supply ministry denied on Monday what it said are "rumours" that the quota of bread for each individual has been reduced, saying the daily quota of five loaves per family member remains untouched.

The ministry added in a statement on its official website that it does not intend to "go near the rights of the beneficiaries of the bread subsidy," and that it is working to reduce the prices of basic commodities.

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