Soaring inflation forces Egyptians to cut back on meat

CAIRO, 1 Feb 2023:

With stubbornly high inflation and a weakening currency, meat has become both a luxury item among Egyptians and a product that butchers struggle to sell.

Sitting behind a counter, shopkeepers at the centuries-old Bab al-Louq market in central Cairo wait silently for customers who never come.

“I’ve been here since 8am and no customers have come yet. Yesterday I only sold three kilos,” says a butcher in the market that has been reduced by the crisis into a bunch of empty shops and long faces.

Once bustling, the Bab al-Louq market has become an amusement park for stray cats who wait for a chance to approach the food on display.

According to its report in December, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that meat consumption has fallen by 85% in Egypt since March.

The cost of meat has jumped by 100% in just a few months, from Egyptian £80 to £160 (US$2.65 to US$5.30) a kg, forcing Egyptians to take meat out of their meals

Inflation in the North African nation reached 21.3% in December, according to official figures, but Johns Hopkins University professor of applied economics Steve Hanke put it at 102%.

And to add fuel to the flames, the Egyptian pound has lost more than half of its value against the US dollar

One of Bab al-Louq’s shop owners tells on the condition of anonymity that a 25kg package of imported meat he bought for £1,000 a few months ago now costs between £3,000 and £4,000.

“Some butchers have had to close due to the soaring prices,” he says, adding that he has never seen such a situation during his 15 years of owning a business.

Another Bab al-Louq shopkeeper explains that while Egyptians are giving up meat amid the crisis, there are some butchers who have increased their prices “above the inflation rate or dollar value” to make up for the lack of sales.

Regretting the spiralling prices, one of the few customers passing through the market says she was forced to reduce meat and poultry consumption and increase that of fruit and vegetables.

Another shopper points out that she has been forced to change the diet of her entire family of eight.

“I used to buy two chickens a week and each family member ate a quarter, but now I buy one every two weeks and we have to manage and divide the chicken into eight pieces,” she says.

Emad, a chicken seller in Bab al-Louq, says: “Everything has gone up, even the price of lentils and oil. Nothing is cheap anymore. It seems that the Day of Judgment has arrived.”