Save the middle class

After zuhr prayers on Friday, I went to buy my weekly needs from the grocery store, and I stopped at a famous branch of Al-Tawhid Wal Nour department store in Madint Nasser, in front of which is a public bus station.

As I was crossing the street on foot, I saw a woman sitting on a chair at the station and crying. At first I felt too shy to ask what was making her cry, but I conquered my discomfiture and headed over to her.

"What's wrong with you? Can I help you?" I said.

Then she cried much harder and spoke in a broken voice, saying: "God will help me. I don't need anything from anybody."

She was about to leave, but she recognized me and apologized politely, saying: "Sorry to be angry like this, but I’m going crazy. You are more of a younger brother. Tell me what to do.

"I’m a state servant and my salary is LE2,000. I also receive my deceased husband’s pension (God rest his soul) of LE1,500. Meanwhile, I’ve got four daughters, the eldest of which is in the fourth year at university, and the rest are in preparatory and secondary schools.

"I’ve got to pay for their tuition fees, feed them and buy them clothes, depending only on myself without asking anyone’s help, so as not to get into debt, which is the thing I can't stand.

"My daughters are well educated and help me to get by, and they are not demanding. We don’t go on holiday, nor shopping nor dining out, and we get by on our tight budget.

"But during the last few months I haven't known what to do. The prices are soaring — food, electricity, transportation and everything we buy.

"They [the government] installed a prepaid meter for electricity at my place, and I always recharge it with LE400 to stop the power cutting out, but it still does. We only have an air-conditioning unit, a refrigerator and a water heater. Should I spend all my income on electricity or my daughters’ food or their education?

"I went to buy their clothes and stuff for school before Eid al-Adha and the school crowds, and I found the prices were unbelievable and soaring — sometimes doubling — and my income is the same. So what am I going to do?

"I made the two eldest girls work during the summer vacation to help, but the little pay they get is spent on transportation.

"I’m from a decent family and my late husband was a decent employee. It’s impossible to resort to charities and ask for help."

I felt helpless and could think of nothing to say. She was one of millions of unassuming poor Egyptians battered by the high cost of living and still striving to stay alive.

What hurts me is that this woman and her daughters are considered to be from the middle class, which is being eaten up and is now paying for the economic crisis.

I wonder how the poor people are coping? How are those people who live below the poverty line?

Meanwhile, the middle class families are hardly getting by, and every day it's getting harder.

We are going through a difficult phase that is being felt by every family in Egypt. Effective steps must be taken to control prices, along with protecting the rights of the poor and the middle class, so they don't become mere fuel for the economic reforms.

The state is responsible for social solidarity. God be gentle with the Egyptians.

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