Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said it was time to raise the price of the country’s subsidized bread, bringing the topic back to the forefront for the first time since 1977, when then-president Anwar Sadat reversed a price hike in the face of rioting.
Sisi did not specify the size of any prospective increase on Tuesday, but any modification to the world’s largest wheat importer’s food support scheme would be highly sensitive. Bread was the first word chanted in the 2011 uprising that deposed former Egyptian 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, and costs billions of dollars.
“It is time for the 5 piaster loaf to increase in price,” Sisi said at the opening of a food production plant. “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.
“It’s incredible to sell 20 loaves for the price of a cigarette.”
Previous attempted 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, but specified that food subsidies should only reach those most in need.
The loan programme also required higher fuel and electricity prices.