Egypt's Next Huge Problem is Crippling Bread and Gas Shortages

The Muslim Brotherhood-lead Egyptian government may be in for a very difficult summer due to potential impending wheat and diesel shortages. Egypt, which is one of the biggest wheat importing nations in the world, has halved its imports this year due to depleted foreign currency reserves, and is banking on a significantly larger-than-normal domestic wheat harvest to make up the difference. The government is hoping to secure an International Monetary Fund loan later in the year, but is attempting to limit foreign currency spending in the mean time.

A recent report put out by the U.S. agricultural attaché in Cairo claims that Egypt is grossly overestimating its wheat crop yield for the year by as much as a third. Egyptian farmers have also corroborated the attaché's pessimism, calling the government's hopes for a bumper wheat harvest a "dream." According to one farmer, wheat growers have not been supplied with sufficient water, fertilizer, fuel, or enrichment seeds, deficiencies that have long plagued Egyptian agriculture.

Compounding the issue of actually growing sufficient wheat, diesel shortages promise to make wheat transportation prohibitively difficult, as trucks are required to bring the crop to the urban mills. As energy usage during the hotter months increases, the availability of diesel will likely plummet, potentially causing an even greater strain on bread production, a staple of the Egyptian diet.

Egypt currently heavily subsidizes wheat and diesel, both of which are incredibly important basic commodities, especially for the lower classes. Subsidies have historically been a very sensitive issue in Egypt; massive riots took place in 1977 after then President Anwar Sadat attempted to end the bread subsidies, and he eventually was forced to reverse the decision.

In a modern Egypt where protests have become a weekly, if not daily, occurrence, it is very likely that a similar situation could ensue in response to bread shortages, this time targeting the Islamist-dominated government. The popularity of the Brotherhood and Islamists in general has been severely waning as of late, and if President Morsi's government gets blamed for a food crisis, it may spell his political doom.

The timing is particularly bad for the MB, as parliamentary elections will (supposedly) be held sometime next fall, directly following what may be a terrible political summer. The Brotherhood has already been the target of much criticism regarding its ability to deliver basic services to the populace, and bread supply is a red line. While the MB's popularity is quite tenacious, coming events may provide an opportunity for other Islamist and non-Islamist parties to establish a more dominant place in Egypt politics.

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Karl Lindemann

After graduating from Tufts University, Karl spent a year in Syria studying Arabic. He slipped out just before the entire country exploded in uprisings against the oppressive Assad regime, and he currently resides in Washington, DC, where he is focused on Middle East policy and international development.

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