Post-Revolutionary Egypt: NO FOOD, ECONOMIC DISASTER


Charlene Gubash / NBC News


Hany Sayed, 40, and his wife Layla Ali, 30, sit with four of their five children in the two-room windowless shack they were forced to move into after he lost his job as a carpenter’s assistant.


By Charlene Gubash, Producer, NBC News


CAIRO, Egypt — Egypt’s revolution has not been kind to Hany Sayed and his family.


When Sayed lost his job as a carpenter’s assistant in the capital six months ago, he, his wife and their five children were forced out of their three-bedroom home and into a two-room shed used to store saddles and tack.


Together the couple earn $143 a month, most of which is spent on food. Still, the children, aged 2 to 13, rarely eat meat or chicken. A doctor at a free clinic told them that the children were calcium and iron deficient and needed extra vitamins, which Sayed said he cannot afford.


Even the youngest children don’t drink milk, only water and tea, he said.


“Sometimes when we watch them sleep, we just cry,” said the 40-year-old, who now works mucking out stables.  “We see there is no food and we don’t know what to do.”


Ahmed Youssef / EPA

Eighteen days of popular protest culminated in the downfall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011.


Sayed and his family would be forgiven for expecting better. When the Arab world’s most populous country rose up to depose President Hosni Mubarak two years ago, the desire for change went beyond the political – hopes ran high that a new regime would usher in a revitalized economic era.


Protesters that helped bring down the old government adopted the slogan: “Bread, freedom and social justice!”


So when Mohammed Morsi came to power in June on promises of economic and political reform, as well as and help for the poorest, many thought their lot would improve.


But instead of getting better, the economy has stagnated, the country’s currency lost much of its value and inflation bumped up food prices.


While the government subsidizes basic types of bread, other staples are becoming more expensive: Kidney bean prices grew by nearly 24 percent in the year to March, onions were up 12 percent,  and tomatoes 10.1 percent, according to Egypt Independent newspaper.


Dr. Nadia Belhaj Hassine, of the International Economic Research Centre, a Canadian organization that supports researchers and experts in the developing world, cited a slew of issues that help ensure families like the Sayeds are stuck in crushing poverty. They include the global downturn, regional turmoil and Islamist rhetoric frightening away international investors.


But she also blamed the “huge problem of inexperienced government.”


“They are not aware of what has been done in the past and what should be done,” she said.  “They don’t have any vision about what kind of economic reforms to undertake in the short and long term and how to improve the investment environment.”


Officials at Egypt’s planning and finance ministries did not respond to requests for comment.


Some hope a $4.8-billion International Monetary Fund loan will help stabilize the economy, but the deal has not been signed. Foreign reserves, which were $36 billion in 2011, now stand at $13.5 billion, just enough for three months of such crucial imports as wheat and gas.


Ahmed Ali / AP

Egypt holds its first elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.


Meanwhile, the Egyptian pound has lost 13 percent of its value against the dollar in the past year.  This makes essentials more expensive, which hits families like the Sayeds directly.


Life is difficult, and looks to getting worse for many, according to Gian Pietro Bordignon, World Food Program country director.


Around a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, with another 20 percent hovering just above it. And while there are no statistics for the period 2012/2013, indications are that malnutrition rates of around 30 percent are also on the increase, he said.


Poverty and malnutrition has visible and long-term effects, he added.


“Without essential nutrients, minerals, vitamins, children cannot grow their brain potential. They have a lower academic performance,” he said. “Malnutrition is not only a personal problem of human suffering but impacts the nation as a whole.”


It isn’t only meat, milk and new clothes that have disappeared from the Sayeds’ lives. The chance of a better future is also fading: All five children stopped going to school when even the meager expenses needed for free education became too much.


“I feel sad when I see my friends go to school,” daughter Fatma, 13, said.


Her father has darker thoughts: “Sometimes, I even think of selling my kidney to live.”




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