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1977 Egyptian bread riots

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1977 Egyptian bread riots

The Egyptian "bread riots" of 1977 affected most major cities in Egypt from 18–19 January 1977. The riots were a spontaneous uprising by hundreds of thousands of lower-class people protesting World Bank and International Monetary Fund-mandated termination of state subsidies on basic foodstuffs. As many as seventy-nine people were killed and over 550 injured in the protests, which were only ended with the deployment of the army and the re-institution of the subsidies.


Lead up to riots

The riots' origin lay in president Anwar Sadat's Infitah (openness) policy, which had, since he took power at the beginning of the decade, sought to liberalise the economy. In 1976, he sought loans from the World Bank in an effort to relieve the country's debt burden. The bank criticised the state's policy of subsidising basic foodstuffs, and Sadat announced in January 1977 that it was ending subsidies on flour, rice, and cooking oil and that it would cancel state employee bonuses and pay increases. The new policies resulted in a rise in the price of food by up to 50%.

Food riots

Popular rejection of the announcement was not long in coming: On 18 and 19 January, rioting by lower-class people who would have been hardest hit by the cancellation of the subsidies erupted across the country, from Aswan in lower Egypt to Alexandria. For two days, rioters attacked targets that symbolised the prosperity of the middle class and the corruption of the regime, shouting slogans like, "Ya baṭal el-'obūr, fēn el-fotūr?" ("Hero of the Crossing, where is our breakfast?") and "Thieves of the Infitah, the people are famished." There were also shouts of "Nasser, Nasser," in reference to Sadat's predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser. The rioting ended when the state abruptly cancelled the new policies. 79 people died in the riots, 556 were injured, and over 1,000 people were arrested.

The riots had a strong impact upon the Egyptian government's subsequent willingness to enact unpopular economic policies. After the riots, according to David Seddon, the Egyptian government was "extremely cautious of provoking popular protest and political unrest through the introduction of drastic austerity measures, and it approached the IMF proposals with care." Though Egypt signed an Extended Fund Facility in 1978, the government's failure to adhere to IMF-imposed policy conditions resulted in only a small amount of funds being released. Not until it had paid back most of its debt to the IMF in 1987 did Egypt return to the IMF for a one-year arrangement.


1977 Egyptian bread riots Wikipedia

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