On wheat prices and politics

Text: Sophie Matlary, board member of Internasjonalt Forum
Photo: Alva Thylén

The ongoing war is disastrous and is affecting millions of innocent people.  The world’s eyes are all turned to Eastern Europe where the war waged by President Putin is not only destroying Ukraine, but also now threatening Middle-Eastern and North-African food security, and putting forward a need for swift economic reforms in the region.

The negative effects of the horrific war are spilling over globally, and is having a detrimental effect on everything from commodity goods such as wheat prices, oil, electricity and gas – as well as the economy at a large.

As an example, and right now, bread prices are raising by 50% in all of the North-African countries. Bread is a basic commodity in North-Africa in is an elementary staple of the local diet. As wheat prices – but also other prices – such as oil and electricity – are massively soaring, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, along with several other Arab countries – are fearing a massive inflation and food crisis short-term. This fuels panic and is felt by everyone in society.

 As the countries import much of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia, many in North-Africa fear that the Russian invasion will lead to not only more poverty and hunger but also to civil unrest, short-term. This is especially true for those countries that have a sharp memory of how rising food prices played a role in several Arab uprisings this last decade such as in Tunisia and in Egypt.

In Egypt, president El Sisi and Egyptian authorities are trying to manage an almost impossible juggling act:  How to keep their supply chains alive, from not only Russia – but also from Ukraine, while at the same time not taking full sides with anyone in the war.

 Effectively, the Egyptian government has an obligation to secure grain for the coming months as the country receives 80% of its grain and wheat from Russia. Egypt is the biggest grain importer in the world – with a population of more than 100 million in 2022.However, the war has not changed the relationship between Egypt, Russia and the West – economically or politically.

The North African countries are hoping that their political and diplomatic relations will not be forced to change drastically either, in such a way as they have been changed between Russia and the West, these three last weeks.

Indeed, and as many countries outside the West are today, Egypt is long standing strategic partner of the Kremlin – but also of the West. The relationships between Egypt and these now very polar sides has been resilient throughout the last decades and has certainly not shown any  interest or desire to be changed.

 Egypt collaborates uniquely with both parties: Economically through trade and development, militarily through trainings, weapon sales, cooperation and by being a strategic partner in the region, and diplomatically through good fruitful ties. These lasting diplomatic bonds is what made it possible for President El Sisi to speak directly with President Putin just recently:

 El-Sisi spoke with President Putin last week by phone call, even after President El Sisi himself had voted in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution, which was condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ongoing war is creating an immensely difficult balancing act for the political leaders of the Mediterranean and the Middle East: How to secure supply lines – secure diplomatic lines – but most importantly, in how secure their own populations throughout these turbulent years ahead.