Eat Less, Egypt’s Government Tells Its People
“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, asEgypt’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.”
Amid reports of Egypt’s ongoing political violence, it’s a reminder that the country is also dealing with an incredibly weak economy that its new leaders have struggled to rehabilitate.
Tourism, once a pillar of Egypt’s GDP, has dried up, and there is little foreign investment. Egypt’s unemployment rate is projected to hit 14 percent this year, up from about 9 percent in 2010, and the United States is questioning whether to cut the $1.5 billion in aid it sends to Egypt each year.