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Cablegate: Protesters Clash with Police Over Flour Subsidies

VZCZCXYZ0010
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHEG #1177 1611230
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 091230Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9501
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS CAIRO 001177

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NSC FOR PASCUAL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI ECON EG
SUBJECT: PROTESTERS CLASH WITH POLICE OVER FLOUR SUBSIDIES

REF: CAIRO 932

1. (U) Summary: The northern Egyptian coastal town of Burg
al-Burullus was the site of a large June 7 impromptu protest
against the provincial governor's recent decision to halt the
distribution of subsidized flour in favor of subsidized bread
distribution. Police sent to disperse the demonstrators used
force and the protesters forcibly retaliated, causing
injuries on both sides. End summary.

2. (U) On June 7, thousands of Egyptian demonstrators
clashed with police to protest a decision by government
authorities to end distribution of flour rations in the
fishing village of Burg al-Burullus in the Kafr Al-Shaykh
governate. According to press reports, 10,000 to 15,000
demonstrators blocked a main road for several hours with
burning tires in an attempt to persuade the governor to
change his decision. In comments to journalists, the area's
MP, Hamdin Sabahi, who represents the not-yet-licensed
"Karama" (Dignity) Party, said, "most inhabitants in the
village are fishermen, and they are used to buying flour,
baking it and taking it with them on long trips at sea. This
is part of their culture and daily practice. They do not eat
baked bread. Rather, they prefer to buy flour." Al-Jazirah
reported that the governor hoped that his decision would end
the resale of subsidized flour on the black market. However,
fishermen apparently perceived it as a lack of concern for
their need to spend weeks at a time at sea.

3. (U) The protesters reportedly refused to disperse even
after police released tear-gas canisters into the crowd,
pelting police officials and security vehicles with stones.
Some 15 of the demonstrators were reportedly admitted to the
hospital after being overcome by tear-gas. One security
source told journalists that rubber bullets had been fired at
the crowd. 72 people were reportedly detained by police. Our
security contacts confirmed that 20 policemen were injured.

4. (U) On June 8, Al-Jazirah reported that the governor and
MPs of Kafr Al-Shaykh governate had reached a compromise,
maintaining the decision of the governor (canceling the
ration of subsidized flour granted to each family), but
committing to providing ample bread at subsidized prices.
According to press reports, many residents are skeptical of
the compromise and are concerned that they will not receive
enough to eat.

5. (SBU) Comment: The Burg al-Burullus protest is notable
both for its reportedly large size, and as an indicator that
tensions continue to simmer within the economically stretched
Egyptian populace over the sensitive issue of bread.
SCOBEY

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