This is the Gustav Vigeland Sculpture park here in Oslo, and this quite amazing 46m monolith quite appropriately is called 'Life'. It's the sculptor's life's work as well. There's 121 human figures in that piece, all of them apparently struggling for survival. Half a world away from here to the south, in Egypt, the word for 'life' also turns out to be the same word as the word for 'bread'. Now, with world food shortages being what they are in Egypt, like so many other countries, many Egyptians are literally struggling for survival. Here is Sherine Salama in the teeming Egyptian capital of Cairo.

REPORTER: Sherine Salama

This Cairo bakery is under siege.

WOMAN (Translation): No one should push anyone! Take the money, please, and give me bread for a pound.

For many Egyptians, just getting their most basic foodstuff, bread, has become a daily ordeal. These people have been waiting since before dawn and tempers are fraying.

WOMAN (Translation): People are fighting to get a loaf of bread. They are fighting to get a loaf of bread. What can we do? We've been here since 6 o'clock and got nothing yet. It's a shame. People are being humiliated.

For those working behind the bakery's steel bars, the situation is not much better.

BAKER, (Translation): It causes me problems, a lot of problems, and it gets really unpleasant. It gets hostile. It's not good.

This shop is selling cheap bread subsidised by the government. The price of wheat has doubled in the past year on world markets and bread is now beyond the budgets of many of the 15 million Egyptians living below the poverty line. In response, the government has just expanded an existing scheme that provides subsidised wheat to selected bakeries. In a normal shop, bread like this, costs 10 cents a loaf, but the government-subsidised bread here costs just 1 cent.

BAKER, (Translation): The price of unsubsidised bread has increased insanely. It's rare now that people buy unsubsidised bread. That's what causes the crowds. Unsubsidised bread used to be affordable but prices now have skyrocketed.

With more and more Egyptians flocking to government-subsidised bakeries in order to feed their families, there are now barely enough bakeries to meet the demand. Last month the President ordered thousands of military kitchens into action to help ease the shortage. The scramble for bread is a scene repeated all over Cairo. Just a few streets away, people are again queuing for subsidised loaves. But here too, desperation is bringing out the worst in people.

MAN (Translation): Get out of the way. Out of the way. Move! Go to hell! Out of the way.

WOMAN (Translation): You get out of the way.

MAN (Translation): Get out of the way for the bread. OK, don't get out of the way.

Fights are common, and so far 16 people have died in bread queues.

MAN (Translation): Out of the way! Out of the way!

HODA (Translation): Good morning, Hussein.

HUSSEIN (Translation): Hello.

HODA (Translation): How much are onions?

HUSSEIN (Translation): A pound.

HODA (Translation): From 80 piasters to a pound?

HUSSEIN (Translation): Right, a pound.

It's not just the price of unsubsidised bread that's climbing beyond the reach of Egyptian households. Staples like rice, pasta and lentils – not to mention fruit and meat – have become luxury items. More and more people are simply going without.

HODA (Translation): Give me a kilo of rice. How much is pasta?

MAN (Translation): 4 pounds. It's still 4?

HODA (Translation): Give me a kilo of pasta and a kilo of rice.

Hoda Suliman is a weaver and her husband works in a coffee shop. They earn the equivalent of $4 a day between them. With six children to feed, it's not easy to make the family budget stretch. Everywhere Hoda goes people are talking about the rising price of food.

WOMAN (Translation): Nothing is cheap at all. Frankly, people are going around talking to themselves, they're muttering to themselves about these exorbitant prices.

WOMAN 2, (Translation): How are you dealing with it? I get half a kilo of rice to last me three days. What am I to do? We can't afford to eat. Everything's expensive, pasta is now 4.5 pounds. And lentils are 8 pounds a kilo. That's sinful! We can't afford to eat. May God help us. God help us.

REPORTER (Translation): How has your life changed because of the rising prices?

HODA (Translation): My life has changed, as I've had to give up many things just to feed the kids. I've given up many important things due to the high prices.

REPORTER (Translation): Like what?

HODA (Translation): Like chicken, meat, fruit... there's none of that. A small child can't have fruit or meat or chicken. Would my wages of 280 pounds be enough to buy chicken, meat and fruit for six kids? Of course not. No. It's wrong. It's wrong.
Why were you late, dear?

SON (Translation): The bakery was crowded.

HODA (Translation): Was it? It's OK.

Hoda's son has had to give up more than just fruit and meat.

HODA (Translation): Sit down and rest. You got tired, did you? It's all right.

Each day he queues for the family's bread, when he should be in school.

REPORTER (Translation): How long does he queue for bread?

HODA (Translation): Three or four hours. Every day, just to get bread. He can leave at 6am and return at 10 or 11. If he goes late at 9 or 10 o'clock he returns at 1 or 2 o'clock.

REPORTER (Translation): He misses school just to buy bread?

HODA (Translation): Yes, he can miss school for a day to buy bread.

HEBA KANDIL, WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: We have families taking their children out of school, they are not educated, they see the doctors less, they are not getting their health checked and they are eating less nutritious foods or they are cutting down on the number of meals a day. These are all leading to a situation that is very alarming for the World Food Programme.

Heba Kandil works for the UN's food aid branch, the World Food Programme. She says the current food crisis is not just hitting the poor. The middle class is starting to be affected too.

HEBA KANDIL: This has transformed into a certain situation which we call the new face of hunger, meaning that more and more people - urban dwellers, middle-income earners - are feeling the crunch of food price rises. They have the food in the stores but they are unable to buy it, their wages haven't risen according the price rises. There's this gap and it just keeps growing.

MAHMUD AL-ASQAUANI, JOURNALIST (Translation): See what the crisis has done to us? I used to take 3 spoons of sugar, now I take 1.5, or 2 maximum.

Mahmud al-Asqalani is a journalist who has also been feeling the squeeze from soaring food prices.

MAHMUD AL-ASQAUANI (Translation): Of course, as a journalist, my income is not bad, but I have been affected by the crisis because the increase in prices has been too high even for the wages of the middle class.

He felt so strongly about the price rises that he's formed a consumer watchdog group called Citizens Against Price Rises.

MAHMUD AL-ASQAUANI (Translation): I want to achieve through this group a... a popular movement that stands up to high prices. Because the crisis we're now suffering in Egypt is unjustifiably high prices. Some people are profiteering, and the consumer must tell these companies to stop.

Today al-Asqalani has joined a demonstration in downtown Cairo. They're protesting against Egypt's pro-business government.

CROWD (Translation): They've increased the price of sugar and oil, they've increased the price of lentils and oil, they're making us sell our household furniture! They even stole the price of plain bread.

This protest was part of a national strike day called by opposition groups. On the same day, in the northern town of Mahalla el Korba, security forces clashed with textile workers who were demanding higher pay. Over several days of rioting 3 people were killed and nearly 100 injured - many more were arrested. The violence sparked memories of 1977, when widespread riots over bread prices left more than 70 people dead.

MAHMUD AL-ASQAUANI (Translation): It was necessary for them to take a stand. I believe it's a time bomb that they don't feel which might explode anytime. And I can say now that no political analyst can predict the enormity of the coming explosion or its destructive effect on the country.

HODA’S HUSBAND (Translation): What's for lunch?

HODA (Translation): Rice and lentils. Are you hungry?

While families and governments are feeling the pinch, the international agencies that are meant to be providing assistance are now also struggling. The World Food Programme runs a number of aid projects in Egypt, but rising costs have left it with a $700 million hole in its global budget.

HEBA KANDIL: We have felt the crunch of the food price rises. The WFP has recently launched an emergency appeal, we're asking donors to be even more generous and help fund our project.

REPORTER (Translation): How do you see the future?

HODA’S HUSBAND (Translation): There is no future for the children. There's no money to make them a future tomorrow. I earn 20 pounds a day and nothing is left after domestic expenses.

HODA (Translation): Nothing is left for the kids. There is nothing extra to prepare a child, give lessons or to do anything for a child's future, or even ours. After rent, water, electricity and food nothing is left of our wages. Nothing is left for anyone's future.










 Cairo Researcher




Original music composed by


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