Egypt government moves to lower food prices weeks before presidential elections

Policy is one of the best ways of promoting El Sisi's election campaign, prominent lawyer tells The National

Adverts bearing President El Sisi's face and slogans in support of his third term have sprung up all over Cairo. AP
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After increasing 72 per cent since 2022, prices of essential food items could drop next week as the Egyptian government plans to pump more supply into the nation’s markets, two months before the presidential election.

Following a meeting on Tuesday between Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, Supply Minister Ali El Moselhy and representatives of Cairo's chambers of commerce, the government promised that prices of sugar, cooking oil, rice, pasta, fava beans and some dairy products would decrease by “a noticeable amount”.

To accomplish this, the government has in recent weeks increased the amount of goods being cleared for import.

Since January, it has cleared goods worth $53.7 billion from the nation’s ports, the cabinet said on Monday.

A dollar crunch that began in March last year had hindered the government’s ability to clear imported goods, which piled up at ports in a wait for foreign currency to clear the backlog.

The Central Bank governor Hassan Abdullah was also present at Tuesday’s meeting and his institution was this week instructed by the presidency to ensure the necessary foreign currency was provided.

Egypt is a mainly consumptive economy that relies on imports for its people's needs and for its industrial sector, which is heavily dependent on components from overseas.

That the scheme was announced two months ahead of the coming presidential election – which is widely expected to result in a third term for Egypt’s incumbent President Abdel Fattah El Sisi – was noted by some commentators.

The National spoke to Negad El Borai, a prominent lawyer who sits on the board of trustees of Egypt’s National Dialogue, a forum convened this year by the government as a platform for the country’s opposition to bring their issues to the state.

“The decision to reduce prices is undoubtedly connected to the election,” Mr El Borai said. "The main problem that most Egyptians are suffering from today is the rise in prices, so the government deciding to alleviate that is one of the best ways of promoting the president’s election campaign.

“But you can’t really question the government about the intention behind its decision and lower prices is a good thing at the end of the day.”

While he conceded this constitutes a privilege for Mr El Sisi’s campaign, Mr El Borai claimed that in many countries the incumbent enjoys privileges that his opponents do not, including greater funds for political campaigns.

Thus far, the list of candidates running against Mr El Sisi have not been finalised, however, the most prominent opponent is presidential hopeful Ahmed El Tantawy, a leftist parliamentarian who has been a vocal critic of the state for years.

Mr El Tantawy’s supporters have in the past week reported being harassed and barred from filing their official endorsements of him, with campaign managers accusing the state of foul play.

A statement from the country’s election commission on Monday rejected such claims and said the reason why people could not register their endorsements was due to high traffic at state notary offices in addition to malfunctioning devices being used in the process.

Mr El Sisi will most likely win the upcoming election, Mr El Borai said, and his campaign’s access to media outlets, support from the business community, coupled with the state’s clear authority, was more than enough to defeat “a weak opposition that is unwilling to admit its weaknesses”.

“The opposition did not enter this race to win, they know they won’t," he said. "They entered it to be good sports and raise awareness around key issues.

“Even someone like Tantawy, he announced his intention to run one year ago, which in my opinion is not enough time to gather the necessary funds, resources and support you will need to win an election in a country like Egypt.”

With two months until the election, Mr El Sisi has received numerous endorsements from public figures and businessmen in addition to various political parties. Billboards bearing his face and slogans in support of his third term have sprung up all over Cairo.

“The President does not pay for these promotions from his campaign’s pocket, these are endorsements from people whose interests are aligned with him," Mr El Borai said. "Opponents cannot and will not be able to afford to keep up, that is the reality.”

Egypt will hold its presidential election in December amid an economic crisis in which inflation has hit record highs. The Egyptian pound has lost half of its value since last year.

Updated: October 05, 2023, 2:06 AM