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FEATURE | Family struggles reflect Egypt economic deterioration
Sunday, December 15, 2013 5:33 PM
Abdel Hakim Abdel Ghafar and his wife tell Aswat Masriya about their financial struggles in an interview in December, 2013.
By Mohamed El-Baaly and Nader Hassan
CAIRO, Dec 15 (Aswat Masriya) Sitting at his home in the underprivileged neighborhood of al-Waraq, north of Giza, Abdel Hakim Abdel Ghafar looks at a photograph of his older son, Ahmed, on the beach and smiles and says his family has not gone on vacation since the picture was taken, 18 years ago.
Abdel Ghafar told Aswat Masriya that his family is not only unable to afford vacations, but even eating out at a medium-priced restaurant as a family has become a luxury above their budget.
The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) has shown that Egyptian families spend less than 2% of their incomes on entertainment.
Abdel Ghafar struggles to support his family of five with his income of 2,000 Egyptian pounds (290.41 US Dollar) to 3,000 Egyptian pounds (435.62 US Dollar) a month, even though he earns above what would qualify his family as living under the poverty line.
According to CAPMAS, living under the poverty line includes those who are unable to meet their basic needs or earn below 3,920 (569.21 US Dollar) a year or about 326.7 (47.44 US Dollars) per month.
Poverty rates have increased at a noticeable pace in Egypt since the beginning of the century, going up from 16.7% in 2000 to including more than quarter of Egyptians, or 26.3% of the total population, in the past year.
The slow economic growth in the past two years has introduced even more pressures on Egyptian families.
The economy grew by 7 percent a year in the period leading to the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but has since slowed sharply because of the collapse of tourism and the fall in foreign investment.
GDP growth last year was only 2.1 percent, down from 2.2 percent in 2011, very low for a country whose population of 85 million suffers from high unemployment and is expected to reach 100 million by 2030.
According to World Bank statistics, which measure poverty line at 2 US Dollars per day, Abdel Ghafar would have to earn below 2,100 Egyptian pounds to be living under the poverty line.
However, according to Egypt’s CAPMAS, a family of Abdel Ghafar’s size, would require 1,650 Egyptian pounds (239.59 US Dollars) a month to be living above the poverty line.
Abdel Ghafar’s wife, Amal, said that entering a market to buy vegetables and meat to cook dinner for the family has become a nightmare for some people, pointing out that she has not seen any signs of the government’s recently announced guidelines regarding prices.
“We don’t find these goods,” she explained.
The government announced some changes in July in an attempt to control the inflation which had stayed above 10% for several months.
Amal added that even though she goes to local markets in her neighborhood, the prices are high, where one kilo of red meat is at 65 – 70 Egyptian pounds (9.44 – 10.89 US Dollars) compared to about 55 Egyptian pounds (7.99 US Dollars) last year.
Abdel Ghafar, who is an accountant at a private company that organizes conferences, said that his work was affected by the economic instability that followed the January 25 uprising.
He explains however that he is not unhappy with the “revolution” which he described as an attempt by the young people to remove the old faces that led the country to the worst state.
He believes that the removal of elected President Mohamed Mursi returned these old faces back to power though.
Egypt’s army ousted Mursi in July in response to mass demonstrations across the country calling for early presidential elections and the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood government.
Abdel Ghafar and his wife said that the struggles they experienced before 2011 have remained, pointing to the long queues for bread and shortage of cooking oil as examples.
A butane gas cylinder costs eight Egyptian pounds (1.16 US Dollar) for home consumption and 16 Egyptian pounds (2.32 US Dollar) for commercial consumption.
Amal added that her sister who lives in Meet Ghamr in north Cairo has not been able get her hands on one cylinder of butane gas in the past 20 days.
“I wish I could eat a loaf of bread for five piasters,” Abdel Ghafar said, explaining that in order for him to buy subsidized bread, he would need to arrive at the bakery at 6 in the morning before the crowds gather.
Subsidizing bread costs Egypt about 16 billion Egyptian pounds (2, 323, 312, 000 US Dollar) a year.
Even though Abdel Ghafar seemed sad to say his family only eats breakfast together on the weekends due to their different time schedules, he explained that it is an expensive habit.
A traditional Egyptian family breakfast, including beans, eggs, cheese and bread, costs about 15 Egyptian pounds (2.18 US Dollar).
Abdel Ghafar has three children, Yasmine who is in grade seven, Eslam who is in first year of college and Ahmed who has finished high school and is now trying to get into college.
Abdel Ghafar explained that private lessons for Eslam used to cost him about 100 Egyptian pounds (14.52 US Dollar) a week and now Yasmine’s are costing him less, but Eslam’s pocket money costs about the same.
He strongly criticized the education system, saying that it drained his family’s budget because his children were forced to resort to private lessons.
His wife said that all public services are in poor shape, including healthcare, explaining that she has to take her elderly mother to a government hospital where she is not carefully examined and is given a prescription that she cannot trust.
Ahmed Abdel Ghafar said that after he performed an x-ray on his arm at a private medical center, he had to get a cast on his arm at a central hospital in Imbaba which he described as being in very bad condition.
Abdel Ghafar concluded his talk with Aswat Masriya, saying that the government deals with the people with the approach that: “If you can’t afford it, there’s no need for it.”
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