Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Bread crisis is developing in Egypt:
Across Egypt this year, people have waited in line for hours at bakeries that sell government-subsidized bread, sign of a growing crisis over the primary foodstuff in the Arab world's most populous country. President Hosni Mubarak has ordered Egypt's army to bake bread for the public, following the deaths of at least six people since March 17 -- some succumbing to exhaustion during the long waits, others stabbed in vicious struggles for places in line.

Similarly, rice crisis comes to Philipines, food concerns everywhere.

by das monde on Wed Apr 9th, 2008 at 05:29:15 AM EST
That Post article is really excellent, IMHO, and not just because of the snappy headline.  She really nailed the "two Egypts" problem -- the yawning and rapidly widening chasm between the very rich and the grindingly poor, at a time when the latter group is increasingly starting to encompass those who were, just last year, the middle class.  Doctors, civil servants, factory workers, university professors, administrators -- all these people have complained to me that they are having to stretch and adjust their budgets in order to keep affording basic foodstuffs.  These are people with good jobs, paying "good" wages (by Egyptian standards).

I mean hell, if I've fretted about how much higher my grocery bills have gotten -- on my hard-currency salary as a foreigner who is, comparatively, obscenely wealthy -- it's hard for me to imagine how terrifying this whole thing must be for someone on a pension or absurdly low government salary.  According to the World Bank, 20 percent of the population here lives on less than $2 a day (that's what they call the poverty line), and another 20 percent lives "just above" that line.  And food prices have doubled since the beginning of the year.  Doubled.

But prices have been rising for a while -- I've been hearing these complaints from workers for the last year, at least -- and the government is just now starting to sit up and take notice.  And they're doing what they can -- ordering the Army to bake bread, if that's not too surreal for us to comprehend -- but not really addressing the root of the problem here, which is not just rising prices (that's global) but stagnant wages and an entire wage system that's just corrupt and broken, and doesn't just encourage "rent-seeking" behavior on the part of civil servants, teachers, doctors etc., it depends upon it.  The entire wage and employment system is built on corruption, but it benefits the people making the decisions, and so they will order the Army to bake bread poor, but they will not change the system to really benefit the poor.

/ rant

For more reasoned takes on the situation in Egypt have a look at this blog post and a very interesting comment on it, and then this excellent assessment of the general strike dynamics, and this essay on the wider situation here.  (Full disclosure:  all of those posts and the interesting comment were been written by people I know to varying degrees... good god, this city of 18 million people is seeming rather small right now.)

So anyway, those riots in Haiti made me think, for some reason, of the classic song "Marcus Garvey" by Burning Spear...

Marcus Garvey words come to pass.
Marcus Garvey words come to pass.
Can't get no food to eat.
Can't get no money to spend....
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Apr 9th, 2008 at 11:27:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was wondering if the Muslim Brotherhood could evade their ban by having people who stand as "independents" whom the MB would strongly endorse.

that might help free the log-jam. But it's the impossibiity of getting rid of the very top that makes it so hard.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Apr 9th, 2008 at 11:37:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, that's what they already do.  They can't actually back candidates as a party since they're officially a banned organization, but they back candidates that run as independents, who run with the same campaign slogan and are openly acknowledged as members of the Brotherhood.  But in this local election, the mechanisms of the state and the ruling party went to extreme lengths to keep everyone associated with the Brotherhood off the ballots -- there were 52,000 local council seats theoretically up for grabs, and the Brotherhood tried to back 10,000 candidates, and in the end they only got 20 on the ballots.  That's not a typo -- it's really 20 out of 52,000.

The Brotherhood knew this was going to happen to some extent, but they were even surprised by how far it went this time.  They had actually admitted that they were going to try to get "secret" candidates on the ballots, people whose affiliation with the Brotherhood was not publicized, but the NDP and the government (which are really the same thing) basically kept everyone off the ballots except people from their own ranks and a tiny number of people from established (but minor) opposition parties.  The so-called "independent" candidates who did run were mainly members of the NDP who quit the party having failed to secure its nomination, and who will re-join the party if elected.  (This happens in every election -- the NDP isn't really a party, it's a group of mercenaries.)

I've seen a lot of joke elections in my time, but this is the worst one.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Apr 9th, 2008 at 11:47:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Crikey, that's worse than I imagined. No wonder the place has become a powder keg.

Mind you, this kind of ballot rigging is becoming the "acceptable" face of electoral abuse and, whilst it works for a while, it just makes the resolution more violent and destructive. Nobody benefits, but the despots can't resist clinging on for just one more election.

It's terrifyng to think how much of a mess the world will become in a few years and any solution is impossible cos the vested interests won't allow it.

ps Can't find out easily but aren't there significant freshwater wetlands in SW Africa somewhere ? Can't they become cultivated for rice ? Just a thought.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Apr 9th, 2008 at 12:00:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is all part of a plan -- they revised the constitution last year to require that any independent candidate for president must be backed by at least 140 local councilors (10 from each province) -- so now the claim will be that the Brotherhood (or any other party) can't back a candidate, only the NDP can because only the NDP has the councilors to do so.  There are similar requirements for the People's Assembly and the borderline useless Shura Council, which are the upper and lower houses of parliament -- the Brotherhood has enough deputies in the lower house, but they were all but shut out of the Shura Council elections by blatant rigging.

So voila, in the next presidential election (when, one assumes, the NDP candidate will be Gamal Mubarak, the current president's son) nobody will be able to meet the constitutional requirements and field a candidate, but it will all be perfectly "legal."

But the food riots in Mahalla (and my understanding is that it really seems to have been food riots by unemployed youth, not labor riots by striking workers) are really not about the Brotherhood.  The MB is not affiliated with the striking workers of Mahalla -- they are more closely associated with the leftists, although not entirely so, and some of them are actually members of the NDP as well.  But the Mahalla thing is emphatically not a Brotherhood-related matter.

Re: rice in southern Africa... There's the Okavango Delta, which is almost entirely a protected wilderness and wildlife area, with some mining concessions.  Both mining and tourism are more lucrative for Botswana (which is one of the most water-impoverished countries on earth) than agriculture likely ever will be, and then there's the whole issue of what to do with the elephants, zebras, rhinos, wild dogs, lions, cheetahs, etc....  Hard to really do crop cultivation around so many predators and rompy-stompy herds of elephants.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Apr 9th, 2008 at 12:22:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's worth looking at Wikipedia on the Okovango Delta. A place I now understand better than I did.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:39:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why, oh why, is this not a diary?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 07:37:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because you haven't cut-and-paste it into one?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 07:47:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I'll give tsp some time to act on my comment before I act on yours.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 02:09:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 07:59:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
FT.com: Rice traders hit by panic as prices surge
Rice prices hit the $1,000-a-tonne level for the first time on Thursday as panicking importers scrambled to secure supplies, exacerbating the tightness already provoked by export restrictions in Vietnam, India, Egypt, China and Cambodia.

The jump came as the Philippines, the largest rice importer, failed for the fourth time to secure as much rice as it wanted.

The unsuccessful tender followed Bangladesh's inability to buy any rice at all this week.

Traders and analysts warned that rice demand was escalating in spite of prices rising to three times the level of a year ago as countries try to build up stocks.

by das monde on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 10:22:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jesus H. Christ.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Apr 19th, 2008 at 01:37:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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