Aswat Masriya presents a special coverage on the struggle of Egyptians for a living in light of the country’s deteriorating economy.
Family struggles reflect Egypt economic deterioration
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.”
Expert: Govt mechanisms to tackle poverty not enough – INTERVIEW
CAIRO, Dec 15 (Aswat Masriya) An economics expert said last week that the mechanisms that the Egyptian government depends on to confront poverty, such as subsidy, are not enough at the time being.
Applied Statistics Professor at Cairo University, Heba al-Leithy, told Aswat Masriya that she urges the government to establish a governmental body to deal with the issue.
Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) said that the number of Egyptians living under the poverty line has increased in the year 2012 – 2013 to 26.3% compared to the 25% of the year 2010 – 2011.
The CAPMAS produces poverty statistics every two years to alert decision-makers into making policies to provide assistance to locations that most need it.
According to CAPMAS, living under the poverty line includes those who are unable to meet their basic needs or earn below 3,920 Egyptian pounds (569.21 US Dollar) a year or about 326.7 Egyptian pounds (47.44 US Dollars) per month.
Leithy, who is working closely with CAPMAS, said that poverty has 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 in the past year.
She added that the largest portion of impoverished Egyptians live in rural Upper Egypt, which includes the three poorest governorates; Assiut, Qena and Sohag.
The Cairo University Professor added that the ongoing political instabilities and security vacuums since the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule have only had a slight influence on poverty ratios.
Leithy added that successful mechanisms that help elevate the living standards of the poor include: 1) Government efforts to enforce policies that prevent the rising prices of goods, 2) expanding the healthcare and social insurance umbrellas to include more citizens, 3) unemployment allowances and 4) regulating subsidy so that it reaches those who most need it.
The CAPMAS said in December that the Consumer Price Index in Egyptian cities has reached 13% in comparison to the 10.4% of October of 2010.
Leithy explained that there are long-terms plans that the government must execute to elevate the living standards of the poor and revive the economy, which include developing the infrastructure – especially of the roads and water and sewage networks.
She urged the government to raise education standards and make it easier for common citizens to obtain loans to support the establishing of small businesses.
She also urged the government to amend its system of subsidizing specific products like it said it would, explaining that the government often subsidizes goods of low nutrition value.
To feed my children or take the bus
CAIRO, Dec 15 (Aswat Masriya) A famous line by prominent Egyptian poet Bayram al-Tunsi says, “O vender of radishes, one for a penny, how much goes to the children, how much to the municipal council?”
Even though Tunsi was criticizing taxation and other regulations imposed on everybody without discrimination, the line can be used today, but instead amended into: how much goes to the children and how much to transportation?
Abdu used to take one minibus from his home in north Giza’s Imbaba district to his workplace, but drivers have now divided that commute into three parts, which means he has to take three minibuses.
Abdu’s trip to his office, which lies near Giza Square, now costs him four Egyptian pounds (0.58 US Dollar) as opposed to less than 2 Egyptian pounds in the past.
Even though a round bus ticket would cost Abdu, who is an accountant, two pounds, he would rather avoid public buses because they are very crowded and do not arrive very frequently.
Egypt has increased its budget for Alexandria and Cairo transportation to 1.4 billion Egyptian pounds from the 1.2 billion of the year before.
According to a study by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) for the year 2012 – 2013, Egyptian families spend about 5.2% of their annual incomes in transportation.
At least two million Egyptians take the metro (underground) on a daily basis, but thousands also depend on trains, bus lines, minibuses and even Nile buses.
Minibuses, which are run by individuals not the government, have become the main mean of transportation for many Egyptians living in Cairo and Giza and their suburbs in light of the growing population and the deteriorating conditions of public transportation.
Abdu’s middle child, Selim, says that he has almost forgotten the looks of the public bus which used to come to his area because it rarely comes to the neighborhood anymore.
The government announced earlier this year that it intends to add about 500 more buses to what it already has to cover a larger portion of Greater Cairo, which includes Cairo, Giza and Qaliubiya.
Selim added that he has to wake up at 5 in the morning to catch his first lecture at Cairo University which begins at 8, because the road from Imbaba to campus takes two hours even though the distance is not higher than 10 kilometers.
Abdu added that it used to take him less than an hour from his house to the Giza Square until the second half of the 90’s.
Transportation and Road Safety expert Khaled Mostafa measures loses caused by the overpopulation of cities in Egypt at billions and adds that road accidents alone cause annual losses worth at least 10 billion pounds.
At least seven million and half people live in the Giza governorate, which seconds Cairo (the capital) which comes at about nine million Egyptians.
Abdu added that his family requires over 10 Egyptian pounds for transportation on a daily basis, even though his wife does not work and his older son and youngest daughter do not take transportation in their daily lives.
Abdu, whose income is 2,500 Egyptian pounds (363.02 US Dollar) a month, criticized what he described as lack of supervision over minibuses and their drivers who are often thugs and sometimes even resort to violence to terrorize the passengers.
There are many stories of drivers imposing their conditions upon passengers, with some passengers surrendering and others resorting to confrontation, as well as stories of drivers violating traffic laws or even driving without license.
(Abdu is a pseudonym name because the subject in this interview did not want to reveal his real identity.)
Living costs and income of Egyptians in 2012-2013
– The average rate for poverty line in Egypt equals 3920 pounds per year or 326.7 pounds per month. Poverty line is the estimated minimum level of income needed to secure the necessities of life.
– An Egyptian family spends around 26.161 pounds annually, the monthly expenditure ranges around 2180.2 pounds. (Note: Urban governorates are more likely to spend than the rural ones)
– Households that spend less than 10 thousand pounds annually are estimated at 5.6 percent, while households that spend from 25 to 30 thousand pounds annually amount to 23.6 percent.
– Most households’ expenditure goes on food and drinking at a 37.6 percent, while the spending on entertainment and culture is only up to two percent. Spending on communications (phone calls and internet) amounts to 2.3 percent annually which equals 597.9 pounds.
– The average of annual spending on education levels at around 2518.9 pounds, up to 9.6 percent. In urban areas the spending reaches 3771 pounds while in rural areas it is up to 1575 pounds.
– The average gross annual income of a family ranges around 30.5 thousand Egyptian pounds.
Source: A field research by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), which monitored the aspects of income, expenditure and consumption of Egyptian families for the fiscal year 2012-2013.