Skip to content

The Egyptian Arabic Word for Bread is the Same as the Word for Life, Showing the Foodstuff’s Importance in the Country

Nearly two-thirds of Egypt’s 106m-strong population rely on subsidised bread. Partly as a result, they devour about three times the global average per head. But as its population grows and climate change makes wheat harder to grow, the government’s determination to provide its people with cheap bread looks ever less sustainable. Bread subsidies are already expensive. They cost $2.9bn in the past fiscal year, 2.6% of the budget. Only half of the grain Egypt uses is grown domestically; it is among the world’s largest importers of wheat. That leaves it hostage to global price fluctuations. If Egypt, which is on the brink of not being able to pay its bills, wants even to start on its grand plans, it may have to rethink its pricey bread subsidy. Replacing bread subsidies with cash transfers—which would be cheaper and reduce the incentives to grow wheat—would be economically logical but politically fraught. Attempts to reform the subsidy system led to riots in the 1970s. And given that annual food inflation hit 72% in August, it is not clear what Egyptians would eat in place of their daily government-sponsored bread.