by Mahmoud Fouly
CAIRO, June 4 (Xinhua) -- In a public passenger microbus in Faisal Street of Egypt's Giza province near the capital Cairo, the driver and one passenger were arguing about the food price hikes as the countdown ticking for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"When there are cheaper prices for rice, cooking oil, sugar and others, it means they are of the lowest quality," said the passenger, and the driver was trying to convince him that the government-supported marketplaces provide relief for citizens with cheaper and better goods.
Ramadan is a Muslim holy month marked worldwide by the main rituals of fasting during the daytime and breaking the fast usually by a family-gathering meal referred to as "iftar" (fast-breaking) at sunset.
Although Ramadan is meant for worship, special care for food and desserts are also given during the month in Egypt, the most populous Arab country.
"Food price hikes always happen before Ramadan, as some wholesalers monopolize the market with high priced goods," said Sahbaan, a 36-year-old Egyptian citizen at a coffee shop in Boulak el-Dakrour neighborhood in Giza.
While Shabaan was complaining about the price hikes, a medium-sized closed pickup, with a poster of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and the slogan "Anti Price Hike Initiative", was selling meat and chicken for lower prices in a main street nearby Shorbagi area.
"These initiatives are supported by members of the parliament in cooperation with the Supplies Ministry to fight price hikes," said the salesman, "we sell a chicken for 35 pounds (about 4 U.S. dollars) while it is over 50 pounds (5.68 dollars) in other places, and 50 pounds (5.68 dollars) for one kilogram of meat while it exceeds 80 (9 dollars) at the butchers'."
Shabaan, hoping for stronger government supervision over the market, said that the government-subsidized food sales are just temporary "pain killers" during Ramadan.
Still, it is a relief for low-income families in the country ahead of Ramadan. As prices of vegetables and fruits also hiking, a family meal could cost up to 200 pounds (22.75 dollars), which is too much for average citizens, a vegetable seller told Xinhua at the marketplace.
He added that the rising prices of vegetables are because of "wholesalers' greed."
The same opinion was shared by Mohamed, a fruit seller. "Look at the fruit prices! They are too high compared to last year. The government should supervise wholesalers monopolizing the market," he said.
The Supplies Ministry announced a state of emergency at the beginning of Ramadan and took actions to meet people's needs during the holy month.
In Nasr City exhibition center in Cairo, a government-subsidized marketplace, which is under the name of Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, sells meat, chicken, cooking oil, rice, sugar and others, at challenging, reasonable prices.
The place, with two floors of separate partitions of stores, was crowded by citizens storing for Ramadan.
"The marketplace is really good. One kilogram of high quality rice costs here 4.5 pounds (0.51 dollars) while it reached 8 pounds (0.91 dollars) outside," said Fawziya, a housewife from Giza, while packing frozen chicken, bags of rice and flour into her shopping cart.
"It will force wholesalers to be reasonable," said another lady, Samira, waiting in line to checkout. She praised the marketplace for being comprehensive and organized.
Similar state-sponsored marketplaces can be found in several provinces across the country, providing goods of fine quality and reasonable prices.
Sameh, a cooking oil salesman in a government-sponsored market said that many other oil stores are even cheating by selling smaller quantity than it is indicated on the package.
"Our bottle is 1 liter but theirs is 900 grams. Our cooking oil is made of corn, sunflower or cottonseed, which is of a higher quality than that of palm trees sold outside at a higher price," he said.