The Egyptian schoolbooks industry is facing a crisis that could force at least 80 private printing firms into bankruptcy.
The story began when the education ministry cancelled an agreement between large government printing firms (Al-Amiriya, Army Print, Ministry of Interior Print, Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar) and smaller private printing firms which determined prices and reserved a proportion of printing contracts for the smaller firms.
The ministry will now hold a tender for contracts with tough new conditions that do not allow the firms to set prices and commits every firm to publish a full pack of books (four million books). Many of the smaller firms do not have the capacity to print more than one million books and are therefore likely to go out of business.
Mohammed Fairouz, director of the culture ministry's printing sector, said the new conditions would provoke a crisis in the sector and cause 100,000 families which rely on the sector to lose a breadwinner.
Some sources say the large printing firms will be unable to cover the whole schoolbooks tender and will face capacity problems if the 80 smaller firms go out of business.
Al-Amiria, the largest printing firm in the country, refused to participate in the tender in solidarity with the smaller firms, but later received "sovereign orders" to participate from Industry Minister Hatem Saleh, the source said.
“There are many pressures on the major government printing firms to participate in the tender,” the source added.
A meeting of printing firms this week to discuss forming a collective front to refrain from printing under the new conditions failed to reach an agreement after the large firms said they had to go ahead with the printing due to government pressure.
“The problem isn’t only about the financial crisis facing the private printing firms. The large firms could face troubles. The new conditions say the government printing firms will print the whole package [of schoolbooks] amid an unprecedented rise in the price of paper that will cause them huge losses,” Fairouz explained.
“Directors of the printing firms are afraid to [print the schoolbooks] because they will be prosecuted if major losses occur, and losses are inevitable,” Fairouz added.
There is no sign the education ministry will revoke the new conditions. The owners of the private printing firms are expected to call for further protests against the education ministry.