I noted back in January that Egypt's stability might be in danger from rising wheat prices. Egypt is the world's second-largest importer of wheat, and some 14 million Egyptians depend on subsidized bread. Prices for non-subsidized bread have risen by 26 percent already this year, and corruption is rampant within the state distribution system. Given that the Egyptian Arabic word for "bread," aish, is the same as the word for "life," this is a huge problem.
Hosni Mubarak is worried, too. Government daily Al-Ahram reported Monday that the Egyptian president has ordered the Army to boost its own bread production to addess worsening shortages. Mubarak appeared to blame the shortages on population growth, not on market distortions and forces. But the problem is likely to get worse unless global wheat prices suddenly ease -- something that is not likely to happen for another few months, if at all. Four people have reportedly been killed thus far in social unrest related to the bread crisis, and there will likely be more deaths to come. With the government already cracking heads in advance of municipal elections coming up on April 8, it's going to be an ugly couple of weeks in the Arab world's most populous country.