Egypt’s Sisi vows to raise price of subsidized bread

Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Tuesday his administration is preparing for raising the price of subsidized bread as part of its continued austerity measures which have badly affected Egyptians, especially the poor.

“The time has come for the price of a loaf of bread to increase from 5 piastres ($0.0032 cents),” Sisi said at a televised conference unveiling a nutrition project for schoolchildren.

“It’s not realistic that I sell 20 loaves for the same price as a cigarette… This must stop,” he added.

His remarks sparked anger from some Egyptians on social media.

Egypt, the world’s largest importer of wheat, has subsidized bread for decades. Each eligible citizen needing a social safety net is allocated five round loaves a day.

Some 71.5 million Egyptians out of more than 100 million people rely on the far-reaching bread subsidy program alone that costs the state over 50 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) annually, according to official figures.

Almost a third of Egyptians live below the poverty line, defined as surviving on less than $2 a day, according to the most recent data.

The most populous Arab county devalued its currency amid a raft of austerity measures that sent the prices of everyday goods soaring in 2016 in line with an International Monetary Fund loan worth $12 billion.

In June, the Washington-based lender approved Cairo’s request for a loan of $1.7 billion, its final disbursement under a $5.4 billion plan aiding its recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

“We are serious… and honorable people who have a responsibility for people’s livelihoods, so nobody should tell me not to touch (the price of) the loaf of bread,” Sisi said on Tuesday.

Some Egyptians reacted furiously on social media to his comments, with the top trending hashtag on Twitter being “Anything but the loaf of bread”.

Previous attempted changes to the subsidy program, which caused deadly bread riots in 1977, were agreed as part of former President Anwar Sadat’s loan deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Sisi’s government has also turned to the IMF, which granted a $12 billion loan in 2016 and a one-year $5.2 billion loan last year, but specified that food subsidies should only reach those most in need.

The loan program also required higher fuel and electricity prices.