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Wikileaks, Bahrain and Saudi: Concerns over Rising Food Prices Spread

February 27, 2011


Bahrain, which saw deadly protest this month, is eager to control the price of food according to Wikileaks

Rising food prices have been at the centre of the recent riots to hit the Arab world and so it comes as no surprise that many Arab nations are working hard to avoid similar food price rises.

According to the Wikileak revelations, Bahrain increased government subsidies in an effort to off-set rising prices for lower-income families in 2008 and has promised more generous subsidies recently. Even so, this hasn’t stopped political turmoil as the tiny Gulf state has been rocked by explosive protests this month that left seven dead and hundreds injured when troops opened fire on protesters.

Bahrain, which has a population of just over 1 million, has struggled with rising food prices although generous subsidies have been promised to take the edge of the high prices. Bahrain, like other Gulf states imports most of its food and consumer goods making it particularly vulnerable to price hikes.

It was reported by the Economist that the site of recent protests in Bahrain- Pearl Square in the country’s capital- now houses a sprawling camp of several thousand protesters with free-food stands. The protests also led to the cancellation of the Formula Grand Prix event which normally brings in $600 million in total revenue to the Gulf state.

The high price of food is believed to have contributed to the success of revolts in places such as Tunisia and Egypt. In fact, the riots have also had an affect on world food prices by pushing up the price of oil which has impacted the price of food production and consequently the price of food.

In Saudi Arabia, where food makes up a quarter of household costs (more than anywhere else in the region), there have also been attempts to stem food prices. The King of Saudi, who is 83, returned for a health trip abroad and announced a very generous $37 billion for new public spending to stave off unrest.

Other Gulf states such as the UAE have attempted to improve their food security due to the high level of imported food in the region. However, concerns have been raised at the methods that the oil-rich countries have attempted to achieve their food security- namely buying up huge tracts of land across Africa.

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