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Arabeyes: Looming Food Crisis

Inflation and rising food and oil prices are a reality around the world, and Arab bloggers are not only feeling the pinch, but writing about it too. Here is a snapshot of reactions from Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Egypt.

Lebanon:

In a post on the trail of death left behind from the cluster bombs still claiming lives today from the Lebanese-Israeli war of 2006, M Bashir, from Lebanon, accuses the government of turning a blind eye to increasing food prices. He says:

The same government that is so busy NOT caring for the spikes in food and gasoline prices, it does NOT have time to clean the leftover cluster bomblets.

Still in Lebanon, Rami Zurayk links to a petition by Avaaz to “stop the food crisis.”

In another post, Zurayk asks:

The Arab World is one of the most food insecure regions in the world, with the least biophysical and human potential. I believe it will be the hardest hit from the food crisis. Oil producing countries will be able to buy food, but what about the others?

Syria:

Sursock, Reporting Lebanon, sheds light on the food crisis in Syria. He explains:

Syrians are concerned that sharp price increases in basic foods like bread will have a major impact on an economy that is already in poor shape. The economics ministry recently announced that 15 million Syrians—or about three-quarters of the population—have been affected by rising food prices. Bread has reached 40 lira [80 US cents] for a kilogram sold on the open market, compared with 25 lira at the end of last year. The government also offers subsidised bread, of poorer quality.
The rising prices have been widely covered in the media, and many Syrians see the cost of bread in particular as the latest and most serious example of rising inflation. While the government has downplayed the issue, many people say they fear hungry days lie ahead.

Kuwait:

Charts and Numbers zooms into Kuwait and writes:

Annual inflation in Kuwait has reached an all time high of 9.5% spurred by strong housing and food costs. Inflation is on the rise across the Gulf region with Saudi Arabia and Qatar at all-time highs. In Kuwait, the recent parliamentary regulations and central bank reforms created to aid the economy’s inflationary dillema has yet to show progress. In the December 2007 index, housing was a major factor effecting the figures.

Egypt:

Inflation and rising food costs, particularly bread, has resulted in a stand off between workers and the authorities in Egypt, culminating with a much publicised face off with the government on April 6 and 7. Elijah Zarwan sheds more light on the situation here, warning of dire consequences:

The riots followed marginally successful calls for a general strike and months of escalating unrest over inflation, especially in the price of bread and other basic foodstuffs. Bread prices rose by almost 50 percent last year, driving more Egyptians into ever-longer breadlines at government-subsidized bakeries. Fatal violence erupted in some of the breadlines, and the president ordered the army to begin baking bread.

In the days after the strike, as the country’s security apparatus arrested young girls who had publicized the strike on Facebook and hundreds of protesters detained in Mahalla dropped off the face of the Earth, the question on everyone’s mind was, “How serious is this? What next?”

He further explains:

The Mahalla unrest was apparently sparked by more fundamental problems. The government cannot order world grain prices down, and thousands of riot police cannot increase wages.

If it’s dangerous to dismiss what’s happened in Egypt as mere agitating on the part of a few left-wing activists, it’s equally dangerous to imagine that Facebook and Twitter are going to usher in a Gucci Revolution in Egypt. Food shortages and breadlines might, but the people who depend on government bakeries to survive don’t have Facebook accounts, they have never heard of Twitter, and if they take to the streets, they’re not going to be wearing tube tops with cute little Egyptian eagles painted on their boobs. They’re going to be carrying Molotov cocktails and bricks.

Still in Egypt, D B Shobrawy paints another picture – blaming rising gas prices and the greed of the Arab oil barons for the current food crisis. He explains:

The cost of living has risen drastically around the world from increasing real-estate, gasoline, education and now food. But its not fillet mignon or sauteed lobster tail that have risen in cost, it’s the basic essentials of developing nations. Take Egypt for example and the increase in simple staples of nourishment, rice, bread, beans, onions even vegetable oil. Foods such as these have increased more than double since 2004 and some cases quadrupled in only a few months. We’ve all heard of the massive bread shortages in Egypt due to the increased cost of wheat but now what used to cost 2 EGP for vegetable oil now costs 15 EGP. Fava beans, the most basic food, afforded by the poorest of the poor costs 8 EGP per Kg, something that cost a quarter of that a year ago.

[…]

Ironically the increase in the cost of beans, grains and oil’s have come from developed nations and their response to increased oil costs. Governmental policies within the U.S. and E.U. have caused an increased demand on beans and grains to be used for bio-fuel, a supplement of petroleum.

[…]

Do I blame the U.S. like every Osama bin Laden loving Arab will once this news reaches the mainstream? No, no, no, quite the contrary. I blame Arabs! You heard me. As always Arabs manage to shoot themselves in the foot out of their own greed and their inability to see past their own nose. Do you happen to notice something here?

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