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Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Sugar Crisis

If you follow Egyptian news, you probably heard about the shortage of sugar last fall.  The New York Times reported on it in an article during October.  (There is a great picture accompanying the article.)

Sugar is a vital commodity in the Egyptian way of life.  It is the principal ingredient in tea, for example - the tea is just in there for color.  And, without tea all commerce in Egypt would cease - probably most conversation would stop as well.

Sugar is a big part of "lamoon" and it is even spun into ghazal al banat and sold on the street.
Sugar1-2 LindaPosts-3

When we arrived in January, our sugar bowl was almost empty.  We checked the stores: Ragab Brothers, Metro, Spinneys, even Carrefour - there was no sugar to be found anywhere.

 Linda is the cookie ambassador.  While we are here each winter, she supplies cookies to friends, neighbors - even to the papyrus and perfume salesmen down the street.  Without sugar, many people are going to be disappointed.

When we talked to anyone about sugar, they immediately offered us as much sugar as we needed.  Everyone had plenty.  It just wasn't available in the store.  I should mention that the "government stores" described in that NYT article allocate one kilogram (2.2 pounds) per person per month at a very generously subsidized price.  So for a family with four children, pretty typical here, your allocation would be 13 pounds.  Rich or poor - everyone is eligible.

About two weeks ago sugar, quietly and without fanfare, reappeared on the shelves at Spinney's Supermarket.  It is back everywhere now.  And no one is buying.  Who needs more sugar?

For an economics paper on scarcity and hoarding, follow this link.  If you are just interested in "conspiracy theories," ask any Egyptian about the sugar shortage.  Five people will give you at least six explanations.