Egypt tries to tackle deadly bread crisis|
- Government bakeries sell subsidized bread to poor Egyptians
- Turmoil seen as effect of rising food prices on underdeveloped countries
- Police say at least seven dead in food lines
- Army bakers ordered to increase production
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Clashes have been breaking out among
Egyptians waiting in long lines for subsidized bread and the president
has ordered the army to start baking more to contain a political
The turmoil in the world's most populous Arab country is a stark
sign of how rising world food prices are roiling poorer countries.
Government bakeries sell subsidized versions of the flat, round
bread that is a staple of people's diets.
Acute shortages of subsidized bread, which is sold at less than one
U.S. cent a loaf, have caused hours-long lines and violence at some
sites in poor neighborhoods in recent weeks.
At least seven people have died, according to police. Two were
stabbed in fights between customers in line, and the rest died of
exhaustion or other medical problems aggravated by waiting in the
Independent and opposition parties have been sharply critical of
President Hosni Mubarak's government, calling the long lines a sign
that his government is failing.
"Our life has become so miserable," said one worker, Saber Ahmed,
who spends up to four hours daily in bread lines to get 20 pieces of
bread for colleagues at the cafe where he works.
The 17-year-old, wearing a ragged T-shirt as he stood in a long
line, said he and co-workers can't afford unsubsidized bread, "or any
food to eat with it."
Any Egyptian can get subsidized bread under a decades-old system
that also provides subsidies for public transportation and gasoline
for all. The system also provides subsidies for some other food staples
specifically for the poor.
Demand for the subsidized bread has grown steadily in recent months
as rising commodity prices -- especially for flour -- have made
unsubsidized bread less affordable.
More than 20 percent of Egypt's 76 million people live below the
poverty line, according to the World Bank. Unsubsidized bread can sell
for 10 to 12 times the subsidized price.
The supply of subsidized bread has been decreasing. Many people in
Egypt believe subsidized bakeries sell some of their flour on the
black market rather than make bread.
Last week, Mubarak ordered the army to increase the production and
distribution of subsidized bread to cope with the shortages.
The army and the Interior Ministry, which controls the police, own
bakeries that they normally use to feed their employees.
In recent days, the army has opened 10 large bakeries in Cairo to
produce cheap bread and has set up about 500 kiosks to sell bread to
the public, said Minister of Social Solidarity Ali Meselhi.
The state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper said Mubarak's order to the
armed forces to intervene "means that he has declared an emergency
state to combat this crisis."
Another columnist in the paper called the bread riots "a very
critical moment" for Egypt, demonstrating the gap between rich and
Egypt grows about half of the more than 14 million
tons of wheat it consumes every year.
It has also long been one of the top importers of U.S. wheat, using
about $54 million of some $2 billion a year in U.S. aid to buy it. But
its U.S. purchases have been falling as it searches for cheaper
sellers on the world market, where prices have tripled in the last 10
Mubarak has ordered the government to use foreign currency reserves
to buy additional wheat, according to his spokesman Suleiman Awad.
The government also will add 15 million new names to the list of
those receiving cheap rations of cooking oil, sugar and rice. That and
other measures will increase the government's annual food subsidy
costs by $3.1 billion to a total of $13.7 billion this year.
Original article: CNN - World
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