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Egypt seizes sugar stocks amid bitter national shortages

Pepsi Cola among companies targeted by government, as calls for protests mount against lack of staple foods amid economic crisis
A man buys subsidised sugar from the back of a truck amid a nationwide shortage (Reuters)

Major food companies have halted production in Egypt after the government seized weeks of sugar supplies, amid nationwide shortages of the staple.

The companies include Pepsi and Edita, which is one of the country’s largest food manufactures and produces the popular US snack Twinkies.

By Sunday, an Edita factory in the northern town of Beni Suef had been out of action for four days, the chairman said, blaming a raid in which government officials seized sugar supplies meant to last for the next three weeks.

Egypt said it had seized a total of 2,000 tonnes of sugar from Edita.

“Our sugar has been purchased legally through a certified long-term supplier,” Hani Berzi told a popular talk show. “I want to know what we did wrong.”

Pepsi Cola halted production on Sunday after a similar raid, Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Yaum reported.

It is not known what happened to the seized sugar supplies.

On Saturday, Egyptian MP and broadcaster Mustafa Bakri distributed four tonnes of sugar to crowds gathered around a truck in a suburb of Cairo.

Translation: Along with my colleague Hani Marjan, I distributed four tonnes of [subsidised] sugar from the Ministry of Supplies

Later that night, Bakry told viewers of his satellite television talk show that people will “eat” protesters who take to the streets for a planned day of demonstrations on 11 November.

Bakry, a member of parliament, said that “the masses” would “annihilate” anybody who tries to call for protests.

“We will defend this country with our blood,” he told viewers. “Any criminal who violates this country will be annihilated by the Egyptian people.”

The Ghalaba Movement, meaning Movement of the Marginalised, has called for mass protests on 11 November amid growing unrest over goods shortages and subsidy cuts in the struggling country.

The identity of those calling for the protests is not known, but the call has been backed by opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Bakry warned that those who join protests on 11 November risk being “eaten by the teeth” of opponents.

“The masses, before the security services, will annihilate” those who encourage others to demonstrate, Bakry predicted.

Bakry also warned of a “fifth column” within Egypt, represented by civil society organisations that receive funding from the US and other western nations.

In an emotional rant, Bakry went on to address the country’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi directly, warning of a “conspiracy” that threatens to unseat him.

“Why are you silent. Get angry! Get angry Mr President! We are tired.

“I tell you this from the bottom of my heart: you need to bring your country together. Erdogan brought his country together in five minutes," referring to a failed coup against the Turkish president in July that brought millions of people to the streets in his defence.

"You yourself have warned of a conspiracy. Now the conspiracy is right in front of you.”

The government has blamed the sugar shortages on local factories and profiteering traders, who it says have been hoarding stocks to push up prices.

Egypt imports about one million tonnes of sugar annually, but an acute shortage of dollars has cut the flow of sugar imported by private traders, leaving the market short in recent months as the government scrambles to fill the gap.

Egyptians have been left queuing for hours to buy supplies of subsidised sugar from the backs of trucks.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.