Egypt's president declared a 30 percent salary rise for all government employees Wednesday, a day after the country's largest opposition group backed calls for a general strike to protest increasing food prices.
The call for a May 4 strike was initiated by a group of young Egyptian activists on the social networking Web site Facebook. The Muslim Brotherhood, the powerful opposition group in Egypt, decided Tuesday to back a strike timed to coincide with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 80th birthday in May. "Of course, nobody expected a 30 percent (salary) increase ... but I asked the government to search for resources," Mubarak told hundreds of cheering workers Wednesday during a speech marking the upcoming May 1 Labor Day holiday.
In his speech Wednesday, Mubarak blamed Egyptians' suffering on the global increase in food prices. The World Bank estimates that food prices have increased 83 percent in the past three years. "We are not isolated from the world," said Mubarak, according to the AP. "We import half of our needs of grain and corn and 90 percent of cooking oil, and our imports of food commodities increase year after year to meet the growth of the population."
Inflation in Egypt reached 14.4 percent in March, making life difficult for the 20 percent of the country's 76.5 million people who live below the poverty line of about $2 per day. In the last two months, eleven people have died in clashes while standing in line to buy subsidized bread, according to police.