| ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, March 7
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, March 7 Hundreds of Egyptians
protested around the country on Tuesday, blocking roads and
surrounding government offices, after a change to the way bread
rations are managed raised fears that the government was cutting
food subsidies by the back door.
Bread subsidies are an explosive issue in Egypt, where over
70 million receive state rations. Core inflation in the country
has soared above 30 percent since Egypt floated its currency in
November, securing a $12 billion loan package from the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) to support a government
Protests began on Monday after changes to a bread subsidy
scheme left some people without their ration.
Unrest grew on Tuesday, with angry crowds gathering in the
port city of Alexandria, in at least one poor Cairo
neighbourhood, and several other cities across Egypt.
Supply_Uprising became the top trending Twitter hashtag for
Egypt as Egyptians posted pictures of confused people outside
bakeries and in the street.
"We were surprised when the bakers refused to give us bread
with the excuse that the Supply Ministry reduced their rations,"
said Ahmed Faraj, an Alexandria resident.
Most protests drew small crowds and dissipated quickly, but
offered the first major evidence of public anger over rising
"We are suffering from high prices. We have nothing left to
live on but bread and now the government wants to deprive us of
it," said Samia Darwish, a 50-year-old homemaker in Alexandria.
Egypt operates a system in which each family receives
a plastic card to buy five subsidised loaves per person per day.
The government then pays bakeries a subsidy per loaf.
Bakers also receive "gold cards" to sell bread to individuals
without a smartcard – generally those waiting for cards.
The Supply Ministry issued a statement on Monday denying it
planned to cut bread subsidies after local media reported that
rations would go from five to three loaves a day.
However, last week it did reduce the amount bakers can sell
via the "gold card" scheme, according to a document seen by
Reuters. The move is likely aimed at reducing misuse of those
cards, which costs the government hundreds of millions of pounds
A Reuters report last year revealed flaws in the system
allow bakers to overstate sales to profit from the black market,
where they sell subsidised flour to private bakeries at a
profit, costing the government billions of pounds.
The dangers are not lost on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,
in a country where economic discontent has helped unseat two
presidents in five years. He has promised prosperity and
stability in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, and
has committed to protecting the poorest from the pain of
"We want the president to know that the poor are dying of
the high prices," said Gamal Ahmed, from Alexandria.
Abdel Aal Darwish, the head of the bakeries division at the
Alexandria Chambers of Commerce, called on the government to
reverse the move and issue all Egyptians with cards.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Eric Knecht in
Cairo, Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Julia Glover)