Friday, April 18, 2008



Islam produced terrorism but no bread

An update of our previous story: Explosive situation in Egypt:Al Azhar spends $10 billion on Islam while Egyptians can't find bread

The unprecedented food crisis in the most populous country of the arab world escalates into what is becoming a start of a popular uprising against the government that could lead to unpredictable consequences, not only for Egypt, but the whole arab world and beyond.

CAIRO (Reuters)

Sunday, 06 April 2008

Egyptian security forces thwarted plans for a strike by about 20,000 textile workers in the Nile Delta on Sunday when hundreds of plainclothes agents took control of the factory, worker activists told Reuters.

Solidarity stoppages and protests in other parts of the country were cancelled or failed to draw widespread support, disrupting attempts to launch a nationwide general strike.Karim Al Behiry, a blogger who works in the textile factory in Mahalla el-Kubra, 100 km (60 miles) north of Cairo, said the security men made it impossible to protest.

"They are inside and outside the factory and workers who managed to reach the place were taken one by one to their machines and were forced to work," he told Reuters. "Many workers couldn't reach the factory in the first place because of the security siege," he added.

A workers group at state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company had called for workers across the country to strike on Sunday in solidarity with their demands for wage increases to face recent rises in prices.Egypt's urban consumer inflation jumped to an 11-month high of 12.1 percent in the year to February.

Higher prices for food have hit the poorest Egyptians hardest.The strike call won overt support only from the anti-government protest movement Kefaya and some small opposition parties and movements.

The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood has said that it supported the strike but would not be participating. On the social networking website Facebook, a group in support of the protest had accumulated more than 60,000 members by Sunday morning.


Security forces arrested 28 people in Cairo, Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Mansoura late on Saturday and on Sunday as they were distributing leaflets in support of the strike, security sources and a committee of legal observers said.

"These included the opposition blogger Malek Mostafa and members of the frozen Islamic Labor Party," lawyer and human rights activist Gamal Eid told Reuters.

The organizers of the strike have called for demonstrations in main squares in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities to protest declining standards of living, especially among the poor.But the Interior Ministry threatened to prosecute any strikers or protesters and mobilized thousands of riot police in the streets of Cairo to prevent them.

The security presence was especially strong around Tahrir Square in central Cairo and at the headquarters of the lawyers and journalists association, popular venues for protests.
The curse of Islam on Egypt: "We don't have enough food to eat," Egyptians are saying.

Abdel Nabi Salim's main job in life is queuing for bread.

The graying 65-year-old retired administrator stands under Egypt's glaring noon sun, waiting in a queue that snakes out to the street to buy 20 loaves of steaming subsidized pocket bread from a barred window for 1 Egyptian pound ($0.18).

Egypt has for decades provided cheap bread for the poor because it enables millions to survive on low salaries and wards off political discontent. But bread lines have lengthened in recent months as costs of other non-subsidized Egyptian staples soared.

The current crunch means that once Salim buys his first batch of bread, he will return to the back of the line to wait, again, for the additional 10 loaves he needs to keep his extended family from going hungry.

"This is a rotten system," he said, a half hour into a daily wait for bread that can last several hours. "I come here every day. I have no work, so this is my job.

Waiting for bread."Excruciating lines have prompted media headlines of a bread "crisis" in the most populous Arab country, where cuts in bread subsidies led to riots in 1977 that killed scores and forced the government to back down.

Observers say sustained problems in the subsidy system could lead to a repeat of the 1977 crisis, if not quickly contained."It may be something far more reaching and much more violent, I'm afraid, because people are increasingly feeling that their faces are to the wall," said Gouda Abdel Khalek, a Cairo University economist.

Death in the lines

Already, at least 11 people have died in bread lines since early February, including a heart attack victim and a woman hit by a car while standing in a queue that stretched into the street, security sources said.

One person was shot dead and three wounded after a fight broke out in a queue in one Cairo suburb. Elsewhere, an argument between two boys over their place in line escalated to a brawl in which four people were hurt.

Top Egyptian officials have vowed speedy intervention to restore easy access to subsidized bread, which provides daily nutrition to 50 million Egyptians -- or over two-thirds of the population, according to U.N. statistics.Some, however, have also sensed opportunity in the current bread crunch: some bakers sell subsidized flour on the black market for a profit, a practice to which government inspectors had often turned a blind eye.

"Some of the bakery owners have no conscience ... They sell just a little bread, and the rest (of the flour) goes to the black market," said Mohamed Ahmed, who runs a bakery in Cairo's poor Sayyida neighborhood. "If everyone worked right, there wouldn't be these crowds." President Hosni Mubarak has called on the military to help provide bread to the masses.

One minister said security forces would provide an additional 2 million loaves daily and Egypt would raise the share of flour sent to bakers, state media said.Egypt's bread lines are largely fuelled by urban inflation, which hit 12.1 percent in the 12 months to February. Prices for dairy goods are up 20 percent, vegetables 15 percent and cooking oils 40 percent, Egypt's statistics agency said.

To help cope, Egypt last week waived import duties on rice, dairy products, edible oils and types of cement and steel. Trade Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid told a London newspaper Egypt had to act against inflation because of the danger it posed to its liberalization program.

"People are coming and saying we don't have enough food to eat ... and that will hijack the whole reform program of Egypt. We cannot afford that," Rachid told the Financial Times.

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