Egyptian consumers reject price hikes
Cairo - As commodity prices rise in Egypt, causing suffering to millions and embarrassment to a government enthusiastically applying economic reforms, a campaign has been launched calling for a boycott of red meat. It aims to pressure producers and traders to bring down prices.
“Meat prices are reaching such a peak that most of Egyptians cannot buy it,” said Islam al-Borae, one of the founders of the “Let’s Do without Meat” campaign. “This is why we are launching this campaign, to send a warning signal to the government that the poor are no longer able to cope with prices.”
The price of red meat has risen from about $8.80 to almost $15 per kg. The increases are so sharp that some Egyptians have stopped buying red meat.
The campaign comes at a traditional busy time for meat sellers, animal breeders and butchers before the major Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, a time when observant and financially capable Muslims buy live animals to sacrifice and distribute meat to the poor.
The “Let’s Do without Meat” campaign aims to empower consumers, a new concept in a country in which commercial monopolies and exploitation have remained unchecked.
“Prices are rising simply because there is no state control over the markets,” economist Rashad Abdo said. “The government says it does not want to impose regulations that contradict the free-market economy it wants to create here, but it needs to put limits to the profits traders make on the commodities they sell.”
Prices of vegetables and fruit across Egypt have more than doubled in recent months and the cost of services is taking a similar upward trend.
According to the state-run Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, urban prices increased 0.6% in July compared with June. The agency said the rise was caused by an increase in housing, water, electricity and food prices, resulting in a core annual inflation rate of 8.3% in July.
The rising prices are not just about businesses trying to profit; they are also about the government making major cuts in subsidies. Aiming to bring down a growing budget deficit, Cairo spent almost 30% less on fuel subsidies during the first half of the 2014-15 fiscal year, which ended in July, compared with the previous fiscal year, according to the government.
Water and electricity subsidies have been falling in a similar fashion, raising the prices of those services and leading to financial pressure on a majority of the population.
In 2014, the subsidies made up almost 75% of the state budget.
Mahmoud al-Asqalani, the head of a local society lobbying against commodity price hikes, said he had been trying to form a coalition of civil society organisations aimed at breaking up commodities monopolies and reducing pressure on consumers.
Meat is one of the commodities Asqalani and like-minded activists have focused on. They opened shops in different provinces where they sell meat at reduced prices, having bought live animals from the source and selling them directly to consumers at zero profit.
Asqalani and his colleagues sell meat to the public at the shops for about $7 a kg, a massive saving from the going rate of $15.
“The problem is that the government favours businessmen, importers and traders at the cost of poor consumers [by failing to introduce market regulations],” Asqalani said. “This is why the government needs to reconsider its policies and create a fair market where no harm is done to either the producers or the consumers.”
Borae and his colleagues at the boycott campaign said the government would not introduce regulations so they would maintain their call for a meat boycott.
Their effort appears to be paying off in some places. In the southern province of Sohag, the price of meat has fallen to about $8 per kg, the campaign said.
“Price hikes are eating at the middle class and leaving us with two classes only, namely, the super-rich and the super-poor,” Borae said. “Some people are living in palaces, while others take homes from the cemeteries. This must change.”