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Social media campaign tackles Egypt’s meat crisis

A campaign, called “Balaha Lahma” urges Egyptian consumers to boycott outlets that increase the price of beef

Shounaz Meky

Published: Updated:

Over the past few weeks, soaring meat prices in Egypt have triggered calls on social media for a boycott.

A campaign, called “Balaha Lahma” – which translates from Arabic to “Forget about Meat” - urged Egyptian consumers to boycott outlets that irregularly increase the prices of beef.

The campaign founders took to social media and the streets to reach out to mainstream Egyptians, who in some parts of the country, are reportedly paying about 100 Egyptian pounds ($13) per kilo of meat.

The movement says it aims to “fight price increases and exploitation” and is trying to exert pressure on butchers to lower prices.

Al Arabiya News spoke to campaign spokesman Shabaan Omar, who said that the consumer boycott began from Egypt’s southern city of Aswan and spread to the capital Cairo. Nine provinces have joined the self-funded campaign so far, he said.

Starting mid-August, meat prices began increasing, Omar said.

“I think it’s fraud, prices increase everywhere in Egypt at the same time. Butchers are blaming it on prices of cattle feed,” Omar said.

Limited agreement

Omar noted a variation in price increases depending on location. Prices in some areas increased from $10 to $23 per kilo.

Thanks to the campaign, some butchers agreed to decrease meat prices, Omar added.

Poorer customers who cannot cope with skyrocketing meat prices approach outlets belonging to the country’s powerful armed forces and the agriculture ministry, where beef is sold at a lower rate.

“We will keep calling for boycotting items that are exploited or monopolized,” he said.

When asked if the campaign will escalate if meat prices continue to rise, Omar said their aim is only to exert pressure and spread awareness.

An Alexandria-based butcher named Ahmad Shoaib, who was quoted by local newspaper Youm7, complained about the boycott campaigns after noticing fewer customers at his shop.

“How we will feed our children?” he told the newspaper Friday.

Rising costs

Shoaib blamed the price increase on the seasonal rising costs of cattle and buffaloes. He said their prices differ prior to and after slaughter, which prompt butchers to raise prices in order to increase profits.

To measure the campaign’s success, a member of an Egyptian committee of butchers told Al Arabiya News that the seasons of Muslim and Christian feasts would determine the move’s effectiveness.

By next month, feasts where more Egyptian typically buy larger amounts of meat will determine the effectiveness of the campaign, said Mohammed Sharaf, deputy head of the Butchers Chamber of Commerce.

Sharaf, who is himself an owner of a meat-distribution shop, noted that several factors could have contributed to people’s reluctance to buy meat, such as the resumption of schools and summer vacations.

“It is not the fault of butchers,” he said. “The meat market is based on supply and demand, and we have a weak output that does not meet the increasing consumption levels.”

“It is not for our benefit to keep the meat with us for a long time, we want to sell it to customers as soon as possible.”

Sharaf said Egypt’s reliance on imported cattle feed also contributes to increasing prices.

“The local production of cattle feed is not enough and the country imports about 60 percent.”