Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered the army Sunday to boost bread production and distribution to cope with the severe shortages that have sparked clashes at bakeries in low-income neighborhoods leaving at least two people dead. Last week, two locals died in a fight over queuing up for cheap bread in Helwan in southern Cairo. A few days earlier, the semi-official newspaper Al Ahram reported that a customer in Alexandria, Egypt's second biggest city, sprinkled petrol at a bakery after its owner refused to give him bread heavily subsidised by the government.
According to the AP, demand for subsidized bread has gone up steadily in Egypt in recent months, fueled by increasing commodity prices that have made unsubsidized bread less affordable for the 50 percent of the population that lives below the poverty line.
At the same time, the supply has declined as subsidized bakeries have allegedly sold some of their flour for a profit rather than use it to produce bread. The government has recently tightened control of the bakeries receiving subsidised flour to ensure it would not be sold on the black market, the Gulf News reported. Out of the daily 20,000 tonnes supplied to government bakeries, nearly 4,000 tonnes are sold in the black market, according to official figures.
Presidential spokesman Suleiman Awwad said Mubarak delivered his order to the army Sunday at a meeting of Cabinet ministers he had called to address the mounting crisis. The army and the Interior Ministry, which controls the police, own a large number of bakeries that they normally use to feed their own employees.