Sunday, May 4, 2008

A staple for the masses

Egyptians have a complex history with bread.

The Egyptian government has subsidized bread for decades, and the 40% of people here who are living in poverty depend on it to feed their families. A round of subsidized bread sells for 5 piasters, or about a penny, and it is so essential people call it "aesh" which literally means "life" in Arabic.

Earlier this year, rising inflation and low wages, combined with a corrupt system, caused bread shortages throughout Egypt. Bread lines grew, and several people died from fights that broke out at public bakeries.

The Egyptian economy is growing, everything is getting more expensive and the poor are less able to buy the necessities of life. The bread crisis is only one sign of discontent among the populace here. A strike by textile workers last month led to clashes with police in the city of Mahalla al-Kubra, resulting in 3 deaths and hundreds of arrests.

In response to the bread shortages, the Egyptian government increased production. The bread lines have gotten shorter and people are calmer. It is a tense calm, however.

I went to Imbaba, one of Cairo's poorer districts, to photograph some of the public bakeries. I was fortunate that my taxi driver Saleh happened to be from Imbaba--he helped me get access and really seemed to look out for me.

It was a Wednesday morning and everything seemed pretty calm, a situation quite different from a month ago. Saleh, the driver, told me that the bakeries are much busier after prayers on Friday, so I decided to arrange to go back to Imbaba with him on Friday just to check it out.

Friday was busier and people were definitely more tense--and they seemed nervous that I was there. They were asking a lot of questions and some were getting agitated. I'm not sure if they were worried about problems with the police or if they were just suspicious of me.

Perhaps the bread shortage has subsided, but people's desperation is still evident.

That's the universal sign for "no photos" in case you did not know.

1 comment:

cmulvany said...

Nice photos Holly! Hope all is well with you. Miss your smiling face around the office. It's kind of a boy's club back in photo without you. I keep a close eye on your blog, so keep posting. Also, add some links to your blog roll--you will get a ton of new viewers by doing so.