Egypt’s Next Revolution: Will Egypt’s impending food and water crisis spark another uprising?
Pouring onto the streets in an unprecedented uprising last year, Egyptians toppled their dictator of three decades with resonating, populist chants for “bread, freedom and social justice.”
But while more freedom and social justice remain a possibility for Egypt, bread might be harder to come by.
The country’s growing population, and its loosening grip on the Nile, are threatening its water supply, weakening its capacity to irrigate crops and boosting the desert nation’s reliance on food imports from an increasingly volatile global commodities market.
It’s a dangerous situation many fear could lead to renewed political strife.
“People are scared of going hungry. They’ll give up anything but bread,” said 32-year-old Mohamed Maysara Hassan, an employee at one of the many bakeries that sell Egypt’s subsidized bread — a staple — in the heart of Cairo.
If the ailing government was forced to lift its hefty bread subsidy, which keeps one saucer-sized loaf at just $0.008, “There will be another revolution,” Hassan said.
Egypt, with its long history, is no stranger to food-based unrest.
As far back as the pharaohs, who presided over one of human civilization’s first recorded droughts, food shortages brought on by water scarcity led to a political breakdown, war and depopulation.
More recently, the “bread riots” of 1977 and 2008 — where rising prices or rumors of impending subsidy cuts led to deadly protests in the streets — exposed the dangers Egyptian leaders face when the country’s poor can’t afford food.
“Bread can be the fire-starter or the fire extinguisher of a revolution,” said Noor Ayman Nour, a prominent pro-democracy activist and son of Egyptian presidential candidate.
As much of 80 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people rely on subsidized bread.
“The regime [of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak] was very successful in keeping prices high enough so that people were on just the brink,” Nour said. “They were just insecure enough to remain subdued but not uncomfortable enough to revolt.”