Egyptians Struggle to Feed Children as Prices Soar

Published July 2nd, 2017 - 06:00 GMT
An Egyptian petrol station worker fills up a pickup truck's tank in the capital Cairo on June 29, 2017. Egypt announced a new sharp increase in fuel prices on June 29, 2017 as it slashed government subsidies in a tough IMF-backed reform program. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)
An Egyptian petrol station worker fills up a pickup truck's tank in the capital Cairo on June 29, 2017. Egypt announced a new sharp increase in fuel prices on June 29, 2017 as it slashed government subsidies in a tough IMF-backed reform program. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)

Mohammed Abdel-Ghafar says he isn't sure about the exact definition of inflation. All he knows is that he won't be able to feed his family, as the cost of living has soared in Egypt.

On Thursday, Egypt's government hiked the prices of various types of fuel - the second such increase in less than a year - as part of tough economic reforms.

Abdel-Ghafar, 53, who works at a Cairo restaurant, says: "All what I know is that I won't be able to feed my four children and their mother."

While petrol and diesel prices skyrocketed by 43 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively, the price of butane cooking gas doubled.

"Before the new increases in prices of petrol and butane gas, we could hardly make ends meet. What will the situation be now?" Abdel-Ghafar says.

"We are dying slowly," he adds.

In November, Egypt slashed the fuel subsidy and floated the local pound, measures that secured the country an International Monetary Fund bailout loan of 12 billion dollars over three years.

That measure had already triggered a series of price increases across various goods and services. Many of Egypt's 93 million people have long relied on subsidies for basic products.

Then on Thursday, which was a national holiday, Egyptians woke up to the shock news that the government had implemented new increases in fuel prices.

"I want to leave this country and escape its suffocating economic crisis," says Akram Samy, a journalist and father of one. "All my plans to decrease my family's expenses have failed since November."

Like millions of Egyptians, Samy, 28, is not sure how to cope.

"Everything will be affected, not only the prices of transportation, but also those of all commodities," he says.

The government has said the cuts in the fuel subsidy are necessary for revitalizing the economy battered by the unrest that followed the 2011 uprising against president Hosny Mubarak.

The main sources of national income have since declined.

The latest increases in fuel prices are expected to cut the annual subsidy by about 35 billion Egyptian pounds (1.9 billion dollars), according to the government.

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi has acknowledged that the reforms are "painful," but has repeatedly called on Egyptians to be patient.

This has done little to placate people.

"I haven't received any pay increase since the first rise in fuel prices in November," Samy says, adding that he uses his car only two or three times a week and depends largely on on public transportation.

"But, the new increases in petrol prices will raise my transport expenses from 560 [Egyptian] pounds (31 dollars) to 880 pounds a month, says Samy, who works at a Cairo-based newspaper for a monthly salary of nearly 5,000 pounds.

Mona Ahmed, who works at a private health institution, also feels helpless.

"Over the recent months, I have tried hard to manage my family budget. I have reduced purchases of fast food, new clothes and recreational travel," the 32-year-old says. "I have no clue what else I should do now."

Last month, al-Sissi doubled the value of subsidized food items that ration card holders can buy, and also ordered increases in wages and pensions, in an attempt to cushion the impact of economic reforms.

To Safaa Essam, a single mother, these measures will do little to improve her financial situation.

She is particularly worried that her 5-year-old's school will hike its fees as a result of the rise in fuel prices.

"I used to pay 4,500 pounds for the school bus. The charge will most likely increase when my son goes back to school in September," the 34-year-old woman says, referring to the beginning of the new school year in Egypt.

Yet, there are few avenues for ordinary Egyptians to vent their frustrations and direct their complaints. Street protests are heavily restricted in the country.

However, in a sign of defiance, a group of angry drivers briefly stopped their cars late Thursday on the October 6 Bridge, a major link between Cairo and its twin city of Giza, activists said online. No arrests were reported.

Even Egyptians living abroad complain about the rising cost of living at home.

"Some years ago, I left with my husband to Saudi Arabia in order to save money before we can return to Egypt," says Racha al-Wazzan, a 30-year-old mother of a newborn.

"But apart from a short summer holiday, we won't be able to stay in Egypt because prices of all commodities and services will increase rapidly."

Egypt's annual inflation hit a record 30.9 per cent in May. The latest cut in fuel subsidy is projected to further increase inflation to about 35 per cent.


© 2019 dpa GmbH

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