by Marwa Yahya and Mohamed Hassan
CAIRO, June 24 (Xinhua) -- The week before the start of Ramadan used to be a time of selling peak for the shop owners in Egypt. But in Cairo this week, Mohamed Ali isn't displaying food commodities outside his store as usual in this time of the year, as economic woes hurt his business.
Egyptians used to flock to the markets during the days before and after the beginning of Islam's holy fasting month of Ramadan buying supplies known as "Ramadan Yamish," including the nuts, dates and dried fruits. Ali, 33 years old, complained that the buyers this year seemed less than last year.
For months, Ali has been gearing up for his peak shopping season to sell Yamish before the holy month, he said, adding "The economic problems are still preventing the people from buying as they got used before the past three years of unrest."
Since the 2011 upheaval that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has been rocked by an alarming budget deficit, declining foreign currency reserves, slow economic growth which remained at 2 percent, growing debts and sliding tourism revenues. But for traders like Ali, Ramadan is a season where they could make up some of losses all over the year.
"I was expecting things would turn around, but the same slow sale is still here," he said while standing outside his shop in Abdeen Square near Cairo Downtown.
The Ramadan which is a time of joy for Muslims who are required to abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk begins at the end of June.
"Most of people who got used to buy from me were low-income Egyptians who are the most affected people by the economic crisis. They are the only ones who pay the bills for the declining economy, " Sayed Mostafa, owner of another shop in the Giza province's crowded Faysal Street said.
Mohamed Omar, a 45-year-old mechanic, complained about the high prices of food commodities while intermittent work made his income irregular. To prepare for the holy month, Omar bought only some basic foodstuff without meat because of the high prices.
Egyptians welcome the holy month, the first under Egypt newly elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who won the May presidential election. But Sisi inherited a country hit by 13 percent of unemployment and 40 percent of its 94 million population living near the poverty line.
Official statistics from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), showed the price of food and drink items were 11.8 percent higher year-on-year in May. The price of vegetables soared 31 percent compared with the same period of last year. The price of beef reached 75 Egyptian pounds (about 10.48 U.S. dollars) per kg in July, 42 percent higher than that before the January 25 unrest.
In response to rising prices, Minister of Supply and Domestic Trade Khaled Mohammed announced in May the ministry will cut prices of food commodities by 30 percent over three months including Ramadan. The goods include poultry, meat, vegetables and fruits, he said.
The minister announced on Monday it will inject the markets with 20 subsidies commodities instead of the ordinary four items of rice, sugar, oil and bread as of Ramdan.
These measures are good, according to worker Khaled Ali, whose monthly income is only 1,500 Egyptian pounds (nearly 209.7 U.S. dollars.)
"The government should interfere to control the prices. It should not leave us at the mercy of traders," he said.
"The government must combat the skyrocketing prices," he added.
But for Tareq Samir, another worker, the government pledges are still rhetorical. "The government is still weak and from time to time we are hearing ministers and officials talking about austerity and cut of subsidies," Samir lamented.