Egyptians, short on food, are told to eat less

February 5, 2013

Egypt's government is recommending that Egyptians avoid overeating in order to cope with rising food prices and chronic household shortages, according to local media reports.

An Egyptian man collects bread to buy from a street in Cairo on June 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
An Egyptian man collects bread to buy from a street in Cairo on June 27, 2012. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

"The government has acknowledged across-the-board food price inflation on a range of commodities in a new report. ... In the report, the government also advises citizens not to over-eat," Egyptian journalist Issandr el Amrani writes in the Cairo-based Arabist blog, citing local media.

According to our translation, the story from Elwatan News says: "The report also gave dietary instructions to citizens, including...that it's up to the individual to learn what to eat and why malnutrition can develop from a lack of food or overeating, and why a balanced diet is commensurate with the real needs of people, depending on their age, weight, and level of physical activity."

Amid reports of Egypt's ongoing political violence, it's a reminder that the country is also dealing with an incredibly weak economy that its new leaders have struggled to rehabilitate.

Tourism, once a pillar of Egypt's GDP, has dried up, and there is little foreign investment. Egypt’s unemployment rate is projected to hit 14 percent this year, up from about 9 percent in 2010, and the United States is questioning whether to cut the $1.5 billion in aid it sends to Egypt each year.

"The [Egyptian] government subsidizes fuel and foodstuffs — things it can't afford — but it also can't afford to unwind those subsidies politically, so it is really in a very serious situation," Middle East expert Steven A. Cook told the Council on Foreign Relations recently.

The economic struggles mean most Egyptian households don't have enough money to buy clothing, food and shelter, according to a fall 2012 survey by the Egyptian Food Observatory. As the site Rebel Economy reported:

Of the 1680 households surveyed in September 2012, 86 percent said their income was insufficient for covering total monthly needs including for food, clothes and shelter, up from 74 percent in June 2012.

To cope, Egyptians are reportedly buying cheaper food items, reducing their food intake and buying food on credit.

The Egyptian government has tried to subsidize certain staples, such as everyday bread loves. But accounting mechanisms are shoddy, Rebel Economy writes, so people end up stocking up on the subsidized bread, leading to further shortages.

Reports like this highlight the reality of most Egyptians' shoestring existence, especially as the Egyptian government is trying to find ways to end subsidies to save money.

“The subsidy issue has to be tackled in this fiscal year,” Amr Adly, Economic and Social Justice director at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said in November, according to the Egypt Independent. “The government is facing this paradox, even though the poor [are] not benefiting the most from the subsidies, but it’s them who will be hurt with their removal.”

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Max Fisher | February 5, 2013