Egypt's Sisi calls for price hike on subsidised bread
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Tuesday said it is time to increase the price of the country's subsidised bread for the first time in decades.
Sisi did not propose an amount for any potential increase, but any change to the food support system in the world's largest wheat importer are highly sensitive. Bread was the first word in the signature slogan chanted in the 2011 uprising that unseated Egypt's former president, Hosni Mubarak.
Bread is currently sold at 0.05 Egyptian pounds ($0.0032) per loaf to more than 60 million Egyptians who are allocated five loaves a day under a sprawling subsidy programme that also includes the likes of pasta and rice.
“It is time for the 5 piaster loaf to increase in price. Some might tell me leave this to the prime minister, to the supply minister to (raise the price); but no, I will do it in front of my country and my people,” Sisi said at the opening of a food production plant.
“It's incredible to sell 20 loaves for the price of a cigarette.”
Previous changes to the subsidy programme, 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.
The fund has specified that food subsidies should only reach those most in need, with the loan programme also requiring higher fuel and electricity prices.
“I'm not saying we make it significantly more expensive, to as high as it costs to make it, 65 or 60 piastres, but (increasing the price) is necessary,” Sisi said.
“Nothing stays stagnant like this for 20 or 30 years, with people saying that this number can't be touched.”
Sisi has sought to rein in Egypt's massive subsidy programme by targeting those deemed to be sufficiently wealthy while leaving bread prices untouched.
Last year the country shrank the size of its subsidised loaf of bread by 20 grams, allowing bakers to make more fixed-price loaves from the standard 100kg sack of flour.
“I hope that this is not poorly received, as if we are planning to make a big jump in prices ... we are only talking about achieving balance,” Sisi added.
In its 2021/22 budget, Egypt allocated 87.8 billion Egyptian pounds ($5.59 billion) to subsidise supply commodities and support farmers.