What you need to know about Egypt’s bread crisis

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Over the past two days, protests erupted across Egypt in the wake of government cuts to bread subsidies, mirroring anger among the country’s unprivileged over living costs.

Fearless protesters couldn’t care less about police or even the country’s sophisticated protest law when they took down to streets, blocking roads and surrounding government offices, after a change to the way bread rations are managed.

Why were the protests held?

Because bread is an essential commodity in the lives of all Egyptians, protests began on Monday after a cut to a bread subsidy left some people without their ration.

Unrest grew on Tuesday, with angry crowds gathering in the coastal city of Alexandria, working class district of Cairo’s Imbaba neighborhood, and several other cities across the nation.

What did the government do?

Egypt’s Supply Ministry decided to reduce the amount of subsidized bread provided to bakers for holders of old subsidy cards – individuals waiting to receive smart cards and have been issued temporary paper cards in the meantime.

The decision does not comply to holders of newer electronic smart cards.

What is the “gold card”?

Bakers receive “gold cards” to sell bread to individuals without a smart card until their cards are ready.

What triggered the crisis?

The ministry reduced the amount bakers can sell as per the “gold card” scheme on Sunday.

It decreased the amount of bread to 500 loaves a day, down from 1,000 to 4,000 allocated for each bakery depending on beneficiaries in the area.

Why was the decision made?

The ministry said on Tuesday that it has reduced the bread subsidy quota for bakeries in order to limit misuse of the cards and stop profiteering by bakery owners.

Will citizens see their rations reduced?

Supply Minister Ali Moselhy told a news conference later on Tuesday bread rations will not be reduced for citizens as temporary paper cards are phased out and replaced by smart cards.

“Apologies to all citizens that have not received loaves of bread. Rest assured that this issue will be resolved within 48 hours ... Every citizen has a right to bread,” he said as quoted by AhramOnline.

Has the crisis been resolved?

An official source in the Supply Ministry told Ahram Online on Wednesday that the bread crisis “is now over,” adding that “the ministry is distributing 100,000 electronic subsidy cards to citizens in eight governorates.”

What is Egypt’s bread subsidy system?

Egypt introduced its recent smart-card bread subsidy system in 2014, which allows card owners a fixed ration of five loaves of bread per day.

A Reuters report last year revealed flaws in the system allow bakers to overstate sales to profit from the black market, where they sell subsidized flour to private bakeries at a profit, costing the government billions of pounds.

(This article includes information from Reuters, Ahram Online and other local news reports)

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