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EGYPT: Shoppers, vendors angry as food prices soar

October 13, 2010 |  6:56 am

Egyptian women shop

Traders, market vendors and shoppers alike are exasperated over soaring food prices, which have pushed Egypt's overall inflation rate to 11.7% while putting pressure on the ruling National Democratic Party as it heads into parliamentary elections next month.

"Everything is continuously going up. Cheese, milk and eggs rose between 8% and 10%; cooking oil and sugar, 8%; and fruits, 10% and 11%. And these are wholesale prices lower than what regular consumers have to pay," Hamed Saad, the owner of a small grocery store, told The Times. 

Inflation figures for September were announced by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics on Sunday, which cited a near-21.3% hike in overall food prices as the main cause behind the rise. Vegetable and fruit prices experienced the highest increases as the price of tomatoes, an essential ingredient in Egyptian cuisine, rose a stunning 51%.

"To pay more than [$2.20] for a kilogram of tomatoes is an absolute madness,"said housewife Samiha Ashour as she handpicked tomatoes in a northern Cairo market. "How much of my money will be left to buy the rest of one meal's contents?"

Ashour's technician husband makes the equivalent of about $210 a month -- "barely enough to cover our three kids' education fees."

Meat and poultry, which, according to another shopper, "have become a luxury we can't afford on our  tables," registered a 28.6% increase in prices.

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif tried to cool consumers' anger by blaming higher prices on the effects of hot weather on summer crops. He said prices should drop in coming weeks. Some financial analysts, however, say the government should play a greater role in controlling markets.

"The lack of supervision over farmers and their sector causes crises like these," said Sherif Kassem, head of the Syndicate of Commercial Professions. "The government can't wash its hands clean by claiming that it’s a free market because poor consumers end up bearing the whole burden."

Despite the country being dubbed "a star performer" in a new report from Standard Chartered Bank, many Egyptians have yet to benefit from the steady economic growth of recent years. One-fifth of Egypt's 80 million population lives on less than $1 a day, despite statisics showing 5.3% economic growth in the fiscal year ending June 2010.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Egyptian women shop for vegetables in Cairo. Credit: Nasser Nuri / Reuters

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