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Living on the breadline

Guardian: First of series on the world food crisis, struggling to get by in Cairo after price increases

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Story Transcript

SAMIA SAMID (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): My name is Samia Said. I was born in Shariya, in northern Cairo, but now I live in a neighborhood called el Marg. My family is made up of my husband, a son and a daughter.

VOICEOVER: Samia works as a cleaner three days a week and brings in 40 Egyptian pounds a day, the equivalent of four English pounds. She’s the main breadwinner in the family, and is finding it increasingly difficult to survive, due to the escalating cost of living.

SAMIA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Before 2008, I would spend 20 Egyptian pounds (LE) on food and would have LE20 left over. I would survive the rest of the week on that. I was able to manage my budget from week to week. Since the beginning of 2008, I return home with nothing.

VOICEOVER: The Egyptian government has been trying to contain growing public discontent. On April 6, the riots broke out in Mahalla El-Kubra by workers frustrated by low wages. And though the government has since introduced a pay rise of 30 percent for government employees, the price of commodities such as fuel and cigarettes also rose at the same time. Samia’s brother drives a taxi in the city and has had to adapt to the changes.

SAMIA’S BROTHER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Before the price increases, petrol was affordable, at about LE0.9 or LE1 per liter. It wasn’t a priority for me to convert my car from petrol to a gas system, which is not very good for the car’s engine. But recently, I had no choice but to convert to gas. Even the prices of sugar, oil, rice and things like that have increased. It’s not how it used to be, of course.

SAMIA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): With the LE40, I buy some vegetables, some potatoes. Of course, there is no meat. The kilo of rice that used to cost LE2 now costs LE5, so I get a kilo and a half of rice and my LE10 is gone.

STREETER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Price increases are an international phenomenon.

STREETER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The most important thing is for the price of cigarettes to go down!

STREETER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Of course we’re tired from the lack of money. Everything is expensive.

SAMIA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The kids have been suffering from health problems such as anaemia – it always comes and goes due to the food shortages. If they eat lunch, they don’t eat dinner.

GIRL (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I’m 10 years old. I go to the Mostafa Kamel School and I want to be a doctor.

VOICEOVER: Rice, bread, and potatoes are the staples of the family’s diet. Though they used to eat quite a lot of meat, the price has doubled and is no longer affordable, causing a knock-on effect on butchers like [inaudible].

BUTCHER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Customers are low, trade is down. When you came in, were there any customers waiting? There are no customers waiting. This kilo of meat – this is LE36. When a customer goes to a supermarket, the meat is packaged up, but does he know what meat this is? No, he doesn’t know. Prices have gone up for customers, so they obviously don’t buy meat like they used to.

VOICEOVER: Bread has also been an issue. Eleven people have died in the last two months in fights that have broken out in bread queues.

SAMIA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): In the beginning, it was hard two wait in the bread cue in order to get bread, but the government issued a decree that subsidized flour should not be sold on the black market, and that’s why they’ve placed a policeman in front of every bakery and so it’s now more readily available. That’s the only thing that is readily available in Egypt. It was a severe crisis – people were killing each other in the bread queues. For lunch, it’s fries and salad. Occasionally, I’ll get liver to have with the fries. Sometimes it will just be potatoes, or vegetables like courgettes. For dinner, maybe some yoghurt with something. For example, a piece of cake … anything. My biggest fear is that I won’t be able to educate my children well. My son might face failure in his life or be led astray due to the cost of living, like so many other people around us. In my opinion, the government is partly to blame. In other countries they give a lot of handouts. Things that benefit us, they export. If people were comfortable economically, then they would be more content and fulfilled. And that’s why people are down – the reason is the price rises.

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