Amal Clooney and the Al Jazeera Three have had a pretty shitty weekend. But while the British-Lebanese barrister is battling for the rights of one of the three journalists who were accused of being terrorists and thrown into jail this June, the rest of Egypt has had more pressing matters to worry about than the rights of international members of media. Egyptians at large are worrying about the price of the food with which they feed their families—meat, in particular.
And instead of going to court, they've taken to social media to do something about it. Meat prices in Egypt have been skyrocketing since mid-August, reaching as high as 100 Egyptian pounds, or US $13, per kilo, in some parts of the country. Some consumers smell a rat, figuratively speaking. They claim that butchers are in collusion, trying to drive up prices artificially.
Shabaan Omar and others have had enough. They say they're not going to take it anymore. "I think it's fraud, prices increase everywhere in Egypt at the same time. Butchers are blaming it on prices of cattle feed," Omar told Al Arabiya News.
Omar and others have started a social media campaign called "Balaha Lahma" which roughly translates to "Forget About Meat." They are urging Egyptian consumers to boycott markets that they believe are artificially driving up the price of beef. Formed to "fight price increases and exploitation," the movement is hoping to drive prices down by bringing attention to the problem.
Some, like TV personality Youssef al-Hosseiny, have taken to Twitter. As reported by Mada Masr, he recently tweeted, "Boycott red meat and its products and discipline the greedy traders, maybe then the government will toughen up a bit." A Facebook group has also been formed for the cause.
Beef prices in Egypt vary widely by location, according to Omar. Some have increased to as much as US $23 dollars per kilo. The campaign began in Aswan, a city in the south of Egypt, but now it has spread to nine provinces, including Egypt's capital of Cairo.
Butchers, meanwhile, are feeling the pressure. Ahmad Shoaib, who is a butcher in Alexandria, told local newspaper Youm 7 that he has had fewer customers thanks to the boycott. "How will we feed our children?" he told the newspaper last week. Shoaib claimed the price increases were innocently caused by seasonal fluctuations in the price of cattle and buffalo. Eid—the end of Ramadan—is coming up in late September, and many Egyptians buy animals to slaughter for its festivities.
Mohammed Sharaf, deputy head of the Butchers Chamber of Commerce, agrees. He says, "It is not the fault of butchers. The meat market is based on supply and demand, and we have a weak output that does not meet the increasing consumption levels."
Sharaf also pointed out that Egypt relies on imported cattle feed and that leads to high prices: "The local production of cattle feed is not enough and the country imports about 60 percent."
But the meat industry says the true test will be the seasons of Muslim and Christian feasts. "By next month, feasts where more Egyptian typically buy larger amounts of meat will determine the effectiveness of the campaign," Sharaf said.
Meanwhile, though, thanks to the social media campaign, some butchers seem to be responding with lower prices.
"We will keep calling for boycotting items that are exploited or monopolized," Omar says.
Who can say for sure exactly what is in store for Egypt's endeavoring carnivores? Unclear as of yet, but the daunting prospect of meatless feasts might prove illuminating.