Ahram Online (AO): How can cooperation between Arab countries help solve the region’s problems, such as unemployment and lack of food security?
Moustafa Benbada (MB): The file of food security has already been open for some time.
AO: But no steps were carried out in this field. How do you move the issue forward?
MB: This time, it must be considered more seriously. In general, it is necessary to try to implement these political hopes and decisions. The Arab League and its experts must improve their evaluation mechanisms and performances in order to find more effective ways to move forward, especially on these sensitive issues.
AO: Can you give some concrete examples for what can be done?
MB: The majority of our countries depend on imports to feed their people. We need more solidarity in this field. First of all, it is necessary to utilize and activate the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development; we can also create funds to finance agricultural projects. On the topic of purchases, if Arab countries procure their needs jointly they can get better prices. Plus, we should not forget that a country like Sudan can be a large supplier of agricultural food products.
AO: On the national level, how will you deal with people’s anger, generated by the rise in the price of food products?
MB: We already have a subsidy system for milk and flour, made possible by an annual $400 million subsidy fund, applicable to everyone. Recently, the system was widened to also include sugar and oil. The prices were reduced. The recent crisis is artificial, because the government did not increase the prices. Our prices are liberalized – they are those of the market.
AO: Aren't you worried that the Tunisian scenario will spread to Algeria?
MB: The situation in Algeria is not similar to Tunisia. What happened in Tunisia is the consequence of things which accumulated for years. In Algeria, freedom of expression is guaranteed; the press can criticize officials even more severely than in some European countries. The access to internet and to the information sources is also guaranteed. It was not the case in Tunisia.