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Thursday, February 07, 2013

It's come to this: Egypt tells its people to eat less

No, Michelle Obama hasn't put the people of Egypt on a diet. The Egyptian government has. And the diet has nothing to do with Egyptians losing weight. It has to do with Egypt's government going broke.
“Even Islamists have to eat,” I wrote under the headline “Food and Failed Arab States” in February 2011. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government takes a different view, the Washington Post reported yesterday. The trouble, the government says, is that Egyptians are eating too much. In a separate report, the government proposed to cut back its bread subsidy to three hand-sized loaves of pita bread per person per day, about 400 calories’ worth. A state that can’t feed its people is a failed state, and that’s why the Egyptian state is at the brink of collapse, as Egypt’s defense minister warned last week.
According to the Post report, the government is telling Egyptians (almost half of whom live on less than $2 a day) to eat less. You can’t make this sort of thing up. Egypt lost another $1.4 billion in foreign exchange reserves in January, and probably is flat broke after figuring in arrears to oil and food suppliers, and it imports half its food, so something had to give. In response, Egypt’s Islamist government is emulating North Korea’s approach to food shortages:
Egypt’s government is recommending that Egyptians avoid overeating in order to cope with rising food prices and chronic household shortages, according to local media reports.
“The government has acknowledged across-the-board food price inflation on a range of commodities in a new report. … In the report, the government also advises citizens not to over-eat,” Egyptian journalist Issandr el Amrani writes in the Cairo-based Arabist blog, citing local media.
According to our translation, the story from Elwatan News says: “The report also gave dietary instructions to citizens, including…that it’s up to the individual to learn what to eat and why malnutrition can develop from a lack of food or overeating, and why a balanced diet is commensurate with the real needs of people, depending on their age, weight, and level of physical activity.”

The economic struggles mean most Egyptian households don’t have enough money to buy clothing, food and shelter, according to a fall 2012 survey by the Egyptian Food Observatory. As the site Rebel Economy reported:
“Of the 1680 households surveyed in September 2012, 86 percent said their income was insufficient for covering total monthly needs including for food, clothes and shelter, up from 74 percent in June 2012.”
To cope, Egyptians are reportedly buying cheaper food items, reducing their food intake and buying food on credit.


The numbers simply don’t add up. To maintain its present, minimal consumption levels Egypt will require at least $22 billion in aid in 2013 (Bloomberg News’ estimate). In a recent essay for JINSA (“Failure IS an Option in Egypt“) I crunch the numbers, and show that they don’t add up. Nonetheless, the International Monetary Fund’s analysts go through the motions of instructing the Egyptians on the need to reduce the budget deficit, now at 15% of GDP, which means reducing food and fuel subsidies, which keep alive the more than 40% of Egyptians who are unemployment and underemployed.
We are watching something unique and terrible in modern history, namely the disintegration of a society of 80 million people, with the prospect of real hunger–a self-made famine brought about by social and political disaster rather than crop failure or war. It is horrific and dangerous. Those (like the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook) who maliciously accuse me of wanting Egypt to fail might as well accuse oncologists of wanting their patients to die of cancer. No-one proposes to cough up $20 to $30 billion a year to bail out Egypt — the taxpayers have enough troubles of their own. Instead, the establishment goes through the motions of prescribing macroeconomic measures to the Egyptian government which imply starvation at the micro level — and wonders why all the parties in Egyptian politics won’t play together nicely.
 I know: Let them eat F-16's.

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At 8:43 PM, Blogger Herb Glatter said...

No money for bread yet Egypt has ordered two submarines from Germany.


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