Egypt says restored food subsidies to nearly 2 million after Sisi tweets

CAIRO, Oct 1 (Reuters) – Egypt said on Tuesday it had returned nearly two million people to its food subsidy program since February, two days after tweets by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in which he said he was personally following the politically-sensitive matter.

Sisi had said in a tweet on Sunday that he understood the negative impact of subsidy cuts for some citizens and urged them not to worry.

A total of 1.8 million Egyptians, previously removed from the food staples system – which includes rice and pasta – have been returned as of Sept. 30 in response to directions from the president, a statement by the supply ministry said.

Sisi’s tweets came after a tense weekend in Egypt in which police mounted a huge show of force in Cairo and other cities after calls to demonstrate against his rule.

“As part of my follow up of all procedures related to aiding people with lower income, I understand the stance of the citizens who have been negatively affected by the filtration of the subsidy cards and being removed from them,” Sisi said.

The supply ministry has since February been sifting through the bloated food subsidy system to weed out people whose income was believed to be too high to warrant access to cheap rice, pasta and other items.

Some people were removed for having a new car, paying high school fees for their children or having high utilities bills.

Small but rare protests broke out in central Cairo and other cities on Sept. 20 sparked by calls for demonstrations against alleged graft and waste by the president and the powerful military, accusations Sisi denies.

Egypt’s subsidy programme provides subsidized goods to more than 60 million out of Egypt’s population of nearly 100 million.

Changes to food support are highly sensitive in Egypt, where a decision to cut bread subsidies led to deadly riots across the country in 1977.

The ministry has said that the latest effort to reform the 86 billion Egyptian pounds a year food subsidy program does not touch bread, the country’s most important staple.

Egypt in 2016 agreed a three-year IMF programme, which will be completed in November, that unlocked badly needed funds that were tied to strict economic reforms. The lender stressed that food subsidies should be targeted towards the less well off.

Reporting by Nadine Awadalla Writing by Aidan Lewis and Maha al-Dahan; Editing by Alison Williams and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Image: A worker sells subsidized food commodities at a government-run supermarket in Cairo, Egypt, February 14, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd al-Ghany

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