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The Arab Awakening and Middle East food security

The Arab Awakening and Middle East food security

A recent article in The Economist discussed the effect that rising food prices played in the unrest leading up to the Arab Awakening, and how efforts to combat high food prices continue to affect governments in the Middle East.

Record prices during the global food crisis of 2007-2008 brought unprecedented food riots to countries like Egypt, where dissatisfaction with the government became a focal point of the Arab Awakening protests in 2011.  The autocratic governments offered high subsidies on basic food items because nearly half was imported.  The new governments have continued subsidies, further bloating public spending and engendering new dissatisfaction.

“These subsidies are having perverse effects. According to the Gallup World Poll, between a half and three-quarters of Arab populations say they are dissatisfied with their government’s poverty-reduction efforts. And cheap calories are bad for people’s health. Arab countries are seeing some of the biggest increases in obesity in the world. About 30% of Egyptian adults and 35% of Jordanians are obese. Most of all, subsidies are unaffordable, at least for oil importers.”

Recognizing the need for some food subsidies in the short term, the article discusses a proposal by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) for these countries to adopt targeted subsidies on food items rather than blanket subsidies on all food.

Image credit: Wired