With gas at $1.73 a gallon, no wonder Cairo’s traffic is a nightmare. And with bread at less than a cent apiece, it’s no surprise that the city’s sidewalks are lined with discarded pitas.
By using subsidies, governments in the Middle East and North Africa ensure that everyone, including the poorest, have access to basic consumer goods at an affordable price. But energy and commodity subsidies are becoming an increasingly heavy drain on public resources, while bringing only very small benefits to those in need.
In Egypt, the middle classes, the well-off and big business are the biggest beneficiaries of the subsidy system. A typical better-off Egyptian receives roughly twice the amount in subsidies as a genuinely poor one. At the same time, subsidies to fuels and food account for almost one-third of the total government budget, or over 10 percent of the country’s GDP. Thus the subsidy issue is the key to solving Egypt’s public-finance problems