Egypt’s Sisi pledges measures to ease strain on poor

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sought to ease the concerns of Egyptians grappling with rising prices ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by pledging a raft of economic measures including tax breaks.

Sisi, in an interview published in state newspaper Al-Ahram on Wednesday, said his government would introduce tax cuts and increase subsidized food in the coming weeks to help Egyptians struggling amid the highest inflation rates in decades.

Affordable food is an explosive political issue in Egypt where tens of millions of people live below the poverty line and hunger and economic discontent have helped unseat two presidents in recent years.

During Ramadan, Islam’s holy month which begins next week when believers abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, Egyptian families can struggle to make ends meet.

Sisi said Egypt would double quantities of subsidized food to mitigate the effects of economic reforms and “benefit middle class and low-income groups”.

It was not immediately clear if the measure would be extended beyond the holy month.

Egypt has struggled to revive its economy following the 2011 revolution, which drove away tourists and foreign investors, both major sources of hard currency.

The pound has halved in value since the central bank floated the currency in November which helped Egypt secure a $12 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

As part of reforms agreed with the IMF that authorities say are necessary to create jobs, Egypt has introduced a value-added tax and cut subsidies to curb its budget deficit, placing financial strain on families.

“The measures the president is talking about will help somewhat to absorb people’s anger at rising prices and to help them cope with the burdens of life,” said Reham El-Dessouki, an economist at Arqam Capital.

But Um Mohamed from Cairo’s Shubra El-Kheima neighborhood said she was tired of being asked to endure painful reforms and was struggling to provide food for her children.

“They asked us to have patience for one year and we bore it… then for six months and we were patient. We don’t know how long we have to be patient.”

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