Inflation: Rising Prices in Egypt
The article was written by Polish archaeologist Kamil Zachert, first appearing in Polish on the Polski Egipcjanin travel & lifestyle blog.
Unfortunately prices in Egypt keep rising and nothing will save Egyptians from them. All of this is the result of inflation, which has plagued Egypt to the tune of 30% since January of 2017. Three months after the Egyptian Central Bank released controls over the Egyptian pound (EGP), inflation had almost tripled, in proportion to a corresponding fall in the value of the Egyptian pound. To compare, inflation in the Central European, European Union member-state Poland is below 3% – a rate which the relatively fortunate Poles nevertheless complain about.
After the revolution, I would be able to buy 8 EGPs for one dollar. From about the Fall of 2016, it was possible to purchase 30 EGPs on the black market. Suddenly, my wallet became more bulky. At first I through that I might be able to afford more on my next trip to Egypt. Unfortunately, this was a delusion, the increased number of EGPs barely made a dent in my budget. It mattered little that I had more of the currency, when I’d have to pay more for everything. Purchasing power is far more important than a currency’s nominal face value.
When I first traveled to Egypt in 2003, I took only $100 USDs with me. That amount had to last for the three long months from October to December. At least, at the time, I did not have to pay for accommodations and my meals. I had to tighten my best so I could afford local cafés and still be able to buy all the perishables I was going to need: personal cosmetics, sweets, drinks, etc. I was even able to bring several books I bought back to Poland. Nowadays, such a modest budget would have been nearly impossible for an archaeologist.
I try not to penny-pinch too much on food while in Cairo, these days. I have my favorite places, which are quite inexpensive. I eat where everyday Egyptians eat, while completely avoiding those places geared towards foreign travelers. Dinner in Cairo is about 55 EGP per person. In that, I account for a lentil soup, kofta with fries and a salad. Nowadays, however, I am not surprised if I end up paying an average of 20 EGPs more. The food at McDonald’s will come out to exactly the same amount, but the quality is often questionable.
In Luxor, I have for years eaten at a friend’s pub on the West bank of the Nile, where for about 35 EGPs I can eat like an Egyptian pasha. My favorite order consists of a half-grilled chicken, soup, vegetables and beans in a delicious sauce, rice, salad and unlimited bread. For less pressing moments of hunger, I am more than satisfied with two halves of a “beret”, stuffed with braised liver with caramelized onion for only 7 EGPs. For those of you who are vegetarian, you can expect to have even cheaper meals. A standard koshary dish costs around 5 EGPs, and even then it’s difficult to finish the food on account of the portion size.
I fear that when I make my return to Luxor in the Fall that pub may no longer exist. No business will survive without customers, and these have gradually decreased. Thus far the selling point for these restaurants have been the low prices, but these will inevitably go up because all food products are becoming more expensive – especially meat. In the traditional, Egyptian diet, meat never played an important role as it had in countries like Poland. Meat is yet again becoming a rare luxury that few can now afford – exactly like in the days of the pharaohs. Beef and dairy products are now extremely expensive in Egypt.
It really is no different with imported goods, such as western cosmetics. I prefer to bring my own with me, where they are rather cheaper than to buy them locally. Theoretically, I can buy Polish chocolate or muesli in Egyptian supermarkets, but these are horrendously expensive – about three times more expensive than in Poland. Unfortunately, Egypt does not have many good local alternatives to those products with which one has become accustomed to in the West. In general, when it comes to Egyptian sweets, it is better to order something in a pastry shop or a café than to buy a factory-made product at a grocery store.
Alcohol can be obtained from Egyptian Cotps, but everywhere beyond Alexandria prices will be very high, which does not mean that they are justified by anything more than the undaunted greed of the merchant. Really good, Western vodka costs about 120 EGPs, and a can of 0.5L Stella about 10 EGPs. At a bar, it is unlikely to be below 15 EGPs). Prices keep moving and sometimes like to reach the heights of absurdity, so you have to patiently try to negotiate around them. This is of course not at all easy, especially with looming price hikes on the horizon.
I had a beautiful dream that I had set aside Egyptian “ful” and for a change made a Polish breakfast: bread with butter and yellow cheese or cold meats and black coffee. Of course, I woke up from the dream drenched in sweat, because, as it turns out, after a week of my European lifestyle in Luxor, I’m close bankruptcy. Normal Egyptians would never eat like that.
Yellow cheese and butter, of course, assuming they are of the highest quality, which usually means imported, cost at least two times as much as they do in Poland. Sausages, however, are nasty wherever you find them, yet still very expensive. In Poland you can easily afford to buy a kilogram of excellent ham without preservatives and glutamates. For that same amount of money in Egypt, you will get a cured product of unknown composition, probably produced by Chinese oil companies. A small can of sardines is a safer option (from about 10 EGPs upwards).
It is quite the hassle to try to find bread that resembles something that you would get in Poland. Even then, when one finds it, the bread not only looks but also tastes like a frozen cake from Lidl – hardly edible. Last time I checked, it cost around 10-15 EGPs, although in my opinion it is money poorly spent. Personally, I prefer a long roll of sorts, called a “crocodile”, for a mere 25 piasters (now probably half an Egyptian pound, if I’m to keep up with inflation). There was once a time when I used to buy an entire bag of “crocodile” rolls, and whatever I didn’t eat I gave to the many goats that can be found in Luxor. The rolls simply wouldn’t keep long. Those good old days are over. Any expenditure on basic foodstuffs in Egypt must be planned carefully.
A little black coffee costs a mere 2 EGPs. This is how much I paid while in Heliopolis, in the capital. Come to think of it, I’ve never paid more than 5 EGPs, whether it was Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor or Aswan. Time will tell if I will have to change my habits. If so, I would be willing to take the Cairo subway to another, more reasonably-priced neighbourhood. So far, subway fare is only 1 EGP, but according to news media next year I will have to pay 4 EGPs. Renting a vehicle in Egypt is not an economically sound choice. Petrol costs almost 5 EGPs per liter of ninety-two octanes (the cheapest available). Not that long ago, one would fill up for less than 2 EGPs, which was already considered expensive before the revolution.
When running a hypothetical conversion from EGPs to USDs, and from USDs to Polish Zlotys, everything nevertheless appears great. So what’s the problem, you may ask? The problem is that I do not operate in a bubble and am not blind to the plight of everyday Egyptians. We cannot forget that Egyptians still receive their wages in increasingly devalued EGPs. I may bring USDs to Egypt, but the Egyptians are nevertheless tied to devalued Egyptian pounds. Wages in Egypt are very low to start with. Statistics show that the average wage is about 6 thousand EGPs (ie. less than 400 USDs), but I have yet to meet someone in Luxor who’s lucky enough to make even that much. The income of most of my Egyptian friends is usually around 1200 to 3000 EGPs.
The lowest monthly wage in Egypt is just around 750 EGPs, if one has a job in the first place. If you take that and convert it back into USDs or Polish Zloty’s you quickly see the grim reality Egyptians face. Imagine a typical, large Egyptian family, where the wife is not working, and you begin to appreciate the situation. Personally, I only know of Egyptians who struggle to make ends meet.
I expect it’s going to get much more expensive. I mean that the situation is going to get worse for everyday Egyptian but also for tourists from abroad who can now expect a lower standard of service for the same money, valued in Egyptian pounds. However, I have to say that I am not an expert in the Egyptian travel market, and to what degree the profit margins of Egyptian resorts have been squeezed. I have no idea how much a drink at the pool bar costs, dinner at the hotel restaurant, or diving in the Red or Mediterranean seas, mainly because I do not have the pleasure of time to enjoy such attractions.
My experience is limited to the ordinary Egyptian street and everyday situations. I’m sure the situation varies throughout the country. I know that my pale complexion provokes a certain reaction among merchants, and prices often rise accordingly. For Egyptians, their inherited social position from their parents will likely determine the quality of life of the children. Dunya keda (That’s life), as it is said here in Egypt.
I am saddened to see how, as a result of inflation and runaway prices, the social divide continues to deepen in Egypt. Every day, the anger and frustration of everyday Egyptians continues to grow. Just like after the January 2011 Revolution, where Egyptians were promised freedom and plenty, the hopes for a better tomorrow are fading quickly.
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