Hundreds took to the streets in governorates across Egypt on Tuesday to protest against reductions in daily quotas of subsidised baladi bread. Some beneficiaries of subsidised bread were able to purchase just three loaves per person rather than the designated five leading to rumours bread subsidies were being cut. “We want to live, we want bread,” was one of the chants raised by the protesters.
Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Ali Moselhi clarified the situation during a press conference on Tuesday. He explained that most people now access their subsidised bread quota via smart cards. Bakeries, meanwhile, are issued with Golden Cards to provide those who do not have a smart card but still carry paper cards with subsidised bread through a separate quota.
On Sunday it was decided to cut Golden card allocations of subsidised loaves to just 500 a day, meaning bakeries could provide enough bread for 100 paper card holders. Before Sunday bakeries had been providing between 1,500 and 6,000 loaves daily. According to the ministry, the reduction was made because the vast majority of citizens have already been issued with smart cards.
It is estimated users of paper ration cards now number less than 300,000, yet according to Moselhi, loaves distributed through the Golden Card system accounted for up to 20 per cent of the total of subsidised bread in some governorates.
Problems caused by the change were felt most in Alexandria and Giza where the highest number of paper cards still circulate. After apologising to anyone who could not get their full quota of bread Moselhi promised to raise the number of loaves covered by the Golden Card in governorates where the number of paper cards still in use is high. He also promised all paper cards will have been replaced by smart cards by the end of March.
Moselhi sat down on Tuesday with stakeholders from various governorates to discuss how to implement the changes.
“Now a problem has emerged we are prioritising finding a solution,” said Moselhi. He stressed that building a reliable data base, securing the smart card system and streamlining distribution networks for bread subsidies are essential if the system is to work efficiently. He added the government has no intention of slashing bread, food or Butane gas subsidies.
According to Moselhi, 360 million subsidised loaves are produced daily, and while the decision to reduce Golden Card loaves was not intended to cut the daily quota for smart card holders some bakeries attempted to make up the losses by distributing fewer loaves per customer.
Alaa Ezz, secretary-general of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, was quoted as saying rumours of cuts to subsidised bread quotas were being deliberately spread to agitate the public.
The smart card system was introduced in 2014. It gives holders the right to LE21 worth of subsidised goods in addition to a daily quota of five loaves per person. Those who do not use their daily bread quota can exchange it for points that can then be exchanged for goods sold by state-owned retailers.