Government programs in the US and other countries to force consumers to use ethanol in place of gasoline have led to skyrocketing corn, grain, and meat prices around the world. (The irony–ethanol requires more fossil fuel than gasoline, is more expensive and produces more carbon emissions. Double irony–the US restricts ethanol imports from Brazil.) That’s a problem here in the US but it is a disaster in poor countries where food purchases still take one-third of family income. This is producing political unrest in many places. Egypt is the latest victim.
Nearly 40 percent Egypt’s 76 million people live below or near the poverty line of $2 a day. The prices of staples such as cooking oil and rice have nearly doubled in recent months, amid widespread shortages of government-subsidized bread.
Thousands of demonstrators angry about rising prices and stagnant salaries torched buildings, looted shops and hurled bricks at police who responded with tear gas Sunday in a northern industrial town as Egyptians staged a nationwide strike. You can read the full story here, Egyptian Workers Riot Over Rising Prices.
150 people were arrested and 80 were wounded in Mahalla el-Kobra, where riots broke out among residents and workers at the largest textile factory in Egypt. Protesters stormed city hall, burned tires in the streets, smashed chairs through shop windows and ran off with computers. At least two schools were set ablaze and facades of banks were vandalized, police said. Nearly 100 others were arrested elsewhere across Egypt, officials said, as thousands skipped work and school and hundreds protested over the rising cost of food and deteriorating working conditions.
The strike and riots in the north came two days before key elections for local councils, causing jitters in the government, which last week lifted import duties on some food items in an effort to soften economic discontent.
The U.S.-backed government strongly warned citizens against participating in the strikes and demonstrations. Strikes and protests are illegal in Egypt, and protesters are often detained by Egyptian security forces.
In an effort to thwart mass protests downtown, the government sent hordes of riot police to many of Cairo’s main squares to intimidate people from showing up.
In Mahalla, workers at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Factory initially planned to stage a sit-in Sunday at the mill, which employs 25,000 people. But the sit-in was canceled after hundreds of security forces showed up at the facility and labor leaders said the government promised to pass a law raising the minimum wage. Disgruntled workers and younger activists instead held a protest that turned violent in the main town square later Sunday.
An Egyptian security official said the 2,000 protesters damaged property and hurled bricks, forcing police to disperse them with tear gas. About 50 were wounded in the riots.